09
Oct
11

2011 Japanese GP

Sebastian Vettel makes it official and wins his second World Drivers’ Championship.  Good for him!

Besides the new kid, a lot of the old guard came out with solid performances today.  In contrast to most of last year, Jenson Button has the measure of the MP4-26 (and the Pirellis, with which Hamilton seems to struggle) and cruised to the sort of win we’re used to seeing out of Vettel.  Michael Schumacher wrung about as much pace as I’ve seen this season out of the Mercedes W02, finishing 6th.  I don’t know that we can really count Alonso as one of the old men of Formula One just yet, but he drove the wheels off of the Ferrari and even if he didn’t exactly scare Button for P1 he earned some respect.

As we saw in qualifying, the Mclaren was the class of the field, easily on pace with the Red Bull car.  Unusually, the Ferrari didn’t struggle with its tires, while the Red Bull got fewer laps out of the options here than it did at Spa-Francorchamps.  Similarly, the Mercedes and Force India cars (not exactly famous for their performance through fast corners) distinguished themselves, while the Renaults and STRs found themselves well back in the field.

BBC commentators Coulthard and Brundle spent some time in the first few laps talking about the nature of tire life at Suzuka, claiming that the tires’ enemy was temperature rather than wear.  This would seem to be consistent with what we saw out of the “high downforce” cars like the Red Bull and Renault: normally, more downforce is good for tire longevity as the tires slide around (and abrade themselves) less, but in this case the extra energy pushed into the tires from the car seems to have overheated them more quickly, blistering the surface and changing the composition of the rubber for the worse.  That the Red Bulls did reasonably well on the prime tires — harder rubber usually wants a higher operating temperature — supports this guess.

Speaking of pace: Lotus finally has it.  Both Kovalainen and Trulli finished on the lead lap, and managed consistent lap times that were competitive with some of the midfield teams.  I hate to say it, but I suspect that Lotus will start taking positions off of Williams next year unless the latter’s new technical staff can get its shit together with the FW34.  I don’t expect them to earn any points this season the way that, say, STR has, but they could easily capitalize on a little bit of luck and score something in the remaining races — particularly if there’s rain at one of the newer circuits and they can keep the cars on track.

In any case, I’m looking forward to Yeongam next week.

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