Japanese Grand Prix: The PUMA Perspective

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After 15 gruelling races in which he failed to finish lower than fourth, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing clinched the 2011 FIA World Championship for Drivers on Sunday in Japan. The 24-year-old German placed third – having needed just one point – in the thrilling 53-lap race at the classic Suzuka circuit to put the title beyond reach of his only remaining challenger Jenson Button, who took his McLaren to a third 2011 race victory.

Sebastian’s second consecutive title ends the reign of 2005/6 champion Fernando Alonso as the sport’s youngest-ever double champion, and effectively completes Vettel’s compendium of ‘youngest’ awards, having previously been the youngest competitor in Formula 1, youngest pole starter, youngest race winner and youngest world champion. He clinched the championship with four races to go, and his performance brackets him with greats such as Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher.

In fact, Fernando (30) has now issued a renewed challenge to Seb: to become the youngest triple champion in history. To clinch that one either driver would need to beat the record set by Senna, who achieved the feat at 31.

Vettel’s title aside, the race was a real humdinger, with three drivers – the winner, second-placed Fernando driving for PUMA’s partner team Ferrari, and Vettel – all in the running for overall victory until the drop of the flag. In fact, just three seconds separated the trio, with the result being in doubt until the end.

Arguably Man of the Race was Fernando, for the Spaniard had gridded fifth as opposed to starting from the front row as did the other two, then drove a relentless race to finish between two patently faster cars. Afterwards Ferrari sporting boss Stefano Domenicalli praised Fernando, calling his performance ‘amazing’.

“I use the adjective ‘amazing’, this time to describe Fernando Alonso's race. Our driver was always on the attack and came very close to a win - which would have been incredible given our performance two weeks ago in Singapore. All these changes of fortune in terms of who is competitive confirm once again how hard it is to understand [fully] the real performance of car-tyre packages at each track,” the Italian said.

However, if Fernando enjoyed his Sunday afternoon in the Japanese sun, Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa again had a race to forget after again being assaulted by Button’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who has now visited the FIA’s stewards more often than the season has had grands prix. Having crashed into Felipe in Singapore, the Briton was investigated on Friday for a yellow flag infringement. Their tangle on Sunday led Felipe to repeat his calls for the FIA to investigate Hamilton’s driving, and he certainly found a lot of support in the paddock.

Now it is off to Korea and the 16th round (of 19) in the championship, with the constructors’ and runners-up in the drivers’ being very much topics of interest. The former will inevitably go to Red Bull from McLaren (with Ferrari third), but Button, Alonso, Hamilton and Webber all have the consolation prize in their sights. Last year Yeongam delivered a scintillating inaugural race; will it be able to top that and Suzuka come Sunday?