20… Red Flags
Onwards to Suzuka and with just three races remaining it was still mathematically possible for Barrichello or Vettel to overhaul Jenson Button’s narrowing lead and become WDC; Sebastian would need the win, whilst Rubens could make do with a podium. However, the route to the start line was not to be a simple one with the qualifying session itself having more twists, turns and penalties than we’d normally see during a full race.
Of course the weather had something to do with it; on a slippery track there were outings galore as driver after driver displayed their artistic ability spinning off track. Heikki Kovalainen’s spectacular triple spin at the Degner Curve was excellent, if only because no-one was hurt. But others were not so lucky, in Q2 alone there were two red flags after the deployment of the medical car. The first red flag came after Jaime Alguersuari ploughed straight into the barriers. The second, came after a similar, but much more serious accident for Timo Glock, with the stewards placing white sheeting in front of his car whilst he was extricated we feared the worst. Thankfully his injuries were a badly gashed his leg and damage to some vertebrae, but this was enough to see him sit out the remainder of the season.
But we weren’t yet done with qualifying dramas. The third and final red flag came after the Kovalainen incident, although this wasn’t the end of the action either; several drivers went on to set their fastest lap under yellow flags incurring a penalty in the process. With five, 5-place grid drops to be handed out by the stewards, no-one not even the FIA could decide on the final starting grid until the morning of the race.
In the race itself, Vettel, who had started in pole position lead from the off remaining virtually unchallenged, apart from a failed attempt by Lewis Hamilton to pass on the outside at the start. Trulli, who had started on the front row, had maintained third place for most of the race until the second round of pit stops saw him leap-frog the McLaren.
The safety car was again to play a part in the proceedings after Alguersuari crashed heavily at the 130R corner. Rosberg, who had made his pit stop behind the safety car, ended the race in 5th place. He was later to be investigated and cleared by the stewards for exceeding the lap deta time whilst behind the safety car after it transpired that the low-fuel warning light over-rode the delta warning light in his Williams. In the final laps of the race, Button held off the challenge from Robert Kubica to secure the final points position whilst his team-mate Barrichello hung on to finish seventh. Vettel had won the Japanese GP in style but the championship battle would continue on to Brazil…