Japan has proved a happy hunting ground again for Sebastian Vettel, having won at Suzuka in 2009 and 2010 and claimed the world championship here last year, he has now ensured this year's title race almost begins again from scratch after a flag-to-pole win that puts him four points behind the championship leader Fernando Alonso, who was knocked off at the first corner.
Vettel's drive was untroubled but while he takes the season's first back-to-back wins and momentum into the final five races, it was the other crash, immediately after Alonso's, yet again involving Romain Grosjean, and Lewis Hamilton's tussle with his McLaren replacement, Sergio Pérez that attracted most comment.
Already under fire for his driving, Grosjean did himself no further favours in the race, having only made it to Turn Two before shunting into Mark Webber's Red Bull, guilty of watching Perez who was alongside him, rather than the Australian who was in front.
He has already been punished with a one-race ban after causing the crash that knocked out Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at the first corner at Spa. But that was just the most spectacular (and potentially dangerous) of a season littered with errors. This marks the eighth time the Frenchman has been involved in an incident in 15 races and, more worryingly for the other drivers waiting for the lights to go out, it is the fifth time it has happened on the first lap.
Webber had no joy when he went knocking on the driver's motorhome door but he and others were quick to speak out on the incident. "The guys confirmed that it was the first-lap nutcase again – Grosjean. The rest of us are trying to fight for some decent results each weekend but he is trying to get to the third corner as fast as he can at every race," Webber said.
The FIA issued no further sanction to either the driver or his team but Webber had several suggestions of his own. "It makes it frustrating because a few big guys probably suffered from that and maybe he needs another holiday," he said, referring to the post-Spa ban. "Maybe we have two separate starts, one for him and one for us."
Interviewed after the race Grosjean, however, dismissed the clash as a racing incident. "Nothing special. Trying to avoid any contact was my main objective and [it] didn't work. It was a stupid clash," he said.
But Webber, who finished ninth, was not alone. Jenson Button, finishing the race in fourth after chasing down Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi who held on to take third behind Ferrari's Felipe Massa to the elation of the local fans, was also critical of Grosjean. Informed of the number of incidents he has had this year, the British driver responded bluntly. "Unbelievable isn't it? Is it for Formula One to do something about it? Or should he just take a good look at himself and sort his shit out, because that what he needs to do," he said.
"He's quick, he's very talented in terms of speed and results. But you can't do that," Button added. "We saw it a lot in GP2 with him. He'd either win or crash and it seems he has the same philosophy and he needs to change his views."
Button's team-mate Hamilton, who started from ninth and finished fifth, was not involved in the Grosjean incident but was, in turn, less than complimentary about Pérez, the driver who takes his seat at McLaren next year. Pérez passed him on the inside at the hairpin once and went wide a second time at the same corner that ended the Mexican's race.
"He didn't catch me napping. I am racing for the championship and I have no time to be messing around with people that are taking silly risks, I saw him coming from a long way away," Hamilton said. "I thought that he was going to do a crazy manoeuvre, which he did.
"Then [later] when he was behind me, I saw it coming again so I moved a little to the inside, thinking that he was going to go up the inside so he couldn't get by, and he just flew down the outside of me."
Red Bull still lead the constructors' championship from McLaren but by only 41 points and the team were clearly annoyed that Webber, who had started on the front row alongside Vettel, had not been able to claim more points for the team.
Christian Horner, Red Bull's team principal, said of Grosjean: "I think he needs to have a talk with himself. At this level I think it's completely unacceptable. Hopefully he'll have a good look in the mirror or his team need to get him under a bit more control."
Red Bull, however, with Vettel's victory here, combined with Alonso's failure to score, have made a huge move forward.
Ferrari can no longer expect that decent points finishes and reliability are enough to win them the title and are in what Alonso described as "a mini championship". They have to try and match Red Bull on the track, which is a big ask, as the latter are peaking in development terms at just the right time. If they take the same speed to Korea next weekend, Vettel has a strong chance of finally being ahead of the Spaniard by Sunday night.
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