x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sebastian Vettel can play dirty when he needs to

Five things we learnt from Japanese GP Too little too late for McLaren; Alonso offers encouragement for next season; Japan are the perfect hosts and Liuzzi will be looking over his shoulder.

McLaren-Mercedes are closing the gap on Red Bull-Racing as the season goes on.
McLaren-Mercedes are closing the gap on Red Bull-Racing as the season goes on.

McLaren found their pace, but too late in the season.

If only Button and teammate Lewis Hamilton had been provided the car they have now, the season would undoubtedly still be alive. And they know it.

On Sunday, Button beat Vettel fair and square. There was no last minute spin by the champion and no wet weather to prompt cautious driving: McLaren were better than Red Bull. Had Hamilton posted a flying lap in qualifying, the result could have been even worse for Vettel. Admittedly, the champion knew he only needed a top 10 finish to secure his second title, but he showed few signs of settling for a middle of the pack finish.

Vettel said afterwards if there had been another five laps he might have caught Button. But there wasn't. Red Bull will be acutely aware that while they may be on the brink of securing the constructors' championship, their rivals are getting stronger by the race.

Sebastian Vettel can play dirty when he needs to

With a growing list of records and achievements, the 24-year-old German has clearly learnt a lot from his early years spent idolising compatriot Michael Schumacher. But he showed at the start of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix that can also show his teeth when necessary.

Vettel's defensive lunge to hold off Jenson Button and squeeze the Briton off the track was classic Schumacher: ruthless, unsporting and barely legal. It was perfectly understandable for Button to expect his rival to be penalised and was clearly still irked even after winning his maiden Suzuka title. The two had a heated discussion immediately after the race and it continued into the press conference.

When asked how each would drive now that the championship race has been decided, Button replied: "Hopefully exactly the same". Vettel then asked if that meant he would always park immediately after the chequered flag, to which Button responded: "Yeah. I might not lift off next time you pull across at the start though."

Vettel had the last laugh though. "That means I'm on pole, so that's good," he said mischeviously.

Fernando Alonso continues to amaze

There is nobody in Formula One more tenacious than the Spaniard when it comes to chasing down a potential race victory. The Spaniard conceded post-race that he never even considered the possibility of winning in Japan, which makes his second-place finish - just 1.16 seconds behind Button - all the more impressive.

The 30 year old, in a vastly inferior car, had absolutely no right to be fighting for the second step on the podium let alone finishing so close behind the winner. Yet such is his animalistic instincts that he can never be ruled out. With Ferrari promising a dramatic improvement next season and Alonso showing no signs of letting up, it is little surprise he is already talking about taking the focus from Vettel and becoming the sport's youngest three-time world champion next year.

No better crowds than the Japanese

Italy's fervent tifosi are often said to be the most passionate fans in Formula One, but Japan proved once more that when it comes to supporting the show, it is they who are unrivalled. Spectators flooded Suzuka Circuit on Thursday, a day of no on-track action, and they returned each day with increasingly more colourful, fun-loving and at times downright weird costumes.

Japanese culture dictates a reserved nature that sees them clap rather than whoop and bow rather than besiege their idols, but no circuit on the 19-race calendar has seen as many creatively dedicated spectators. From Scuderia red samurais to hand-crafted giant Red Bull can-shaped suits, the creativity of the fans is clear for all to see. And with their omnipresent smiles, the entire paddock is in agreement they are a delight to behold.

Vitantonio Liuzzi heading for the exit

Hispania Racing's Italian driver had a weekend to forget and he will be hoping his team forget it quickly as well. Narain Karthikeyan, the Indian reserve driver, piloted Liuzzi's car in the first free practice session of the weekend, but when Liuzzi returned for second practice he suffered a water pressure issue. In FP3 he endured engine problems and in qualifying too he managed very few laps.

Special dispensation was provided by the FIA for Liuzzi to race, despite not posting a lap-time within 107 per cent of pole-sitter Vettel. With such little practice laps and starting at the back of the grid, little could have been expected of the 30-year-old, but he did himself no favours by quickly sliding off the track. He never recovered and finished the race a lap behind his teammate, the rookie Daniel Ricciardo.

The Italian brings vast experience to a fledgling team, but his seat for next year is in danger. Particularly if Karthikeyan can enjoy a good race at his inaugural home grand prix next month.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae


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