• Japanese Grand Prix

Button wins thrilling Japanese GP as Vettel takes title

ESPNF1 Staff
October 9, 2011

Jenson Button won an enthralling Japanese Grand Prix ahead of Fernando Alonso as Sebastian Vettel secured his second world championship with 15 points in third.

It was a tight finish as tyre degradation dominated the race and Alonso closed to within 1.1s of Button at the chequered flag. Alonso pulled in the McLaren in the final five laps, but with two laps remaining Button responded and upped the ante with personal bests to maintain the gap and win the race.

Vettel, who led up until the second pit stops, settled for third in the knowledge that he needed just a single point for the title, and both he and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in fourth were ordered not to take any risks. Nevertheless he was still within 0.8s of the lead battle as they crossed the line.

Lewis Hamilton had another difficult race and finished fifth after a puncture and another tit-for-tat battle with Felipe Massa. Michael Schumacher managed to split the pair of them in sixth using a different tyre strategy and one of his most competitive races of the season. There final points positions were occupied by Serio Perez, Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg after a drive up from 23rd.

The start of the race saw Button get a better start than Vettel, but the championship leader was aggressive as he blocked the inside line, forcing Button on to the grass. That allowed Hamilton through in to second, while Button appealed in vain for a penalty to be handed out. Vettel couldn't pull more than a three second gap in the first stint, but just as Hamilton appeared to be closing the gap a right rear puncture saw him lose out to Button and have to pit early.

Alonso passed his team-mate Felipe Massa in to turn one using DRS for fourth before Hamilton's problem, and then Vettel was the first of the front runners to make a scheduled stop, allowing Button to close the gap. Alonso also closed in, and the pair pitted together before rejoining ahead of Hamilton. After the first round of pit stops the top six were still separated by less than ten seconds and all harboured ambitions of victory.

Button then closed up on Vettel as the Red Bull struggled to look after its soft tyres. Both Vettel and Webber pitted on the same lap, with the timing perfect from the team; Vettel leaving the box as Webber arrived and losing no time. Button's pace before the stop was enough, however, as he pitted a lap later and rejoined just ahead.

Hamilton was forced to stay out longer to allow Button to pit, and he slipped in to the clutches of Massa. The inevitable contact came in to the chicane as Massa tried to pass on the outside and Hamilton didn't quite leave a car's width. It was very minimal but Massa lost part of his front wing as Hamilton immediately pitted.

The bit of debris remained in the middle of the track, and while Webber had managed to jump ahead of both Hamilton and Massa with a pit stop he suffered similar contact with Schumacher at turn seven, bringing out the safety car to allow the marshals to clear the circuit.

Button bunched the field heavily at the restart, but then pulled a solid gap as Vettel was forced to pit first for the medium tyre. Surprisingly it was Alonso who appeared to look after his tyres best, closing in on Button before the leader pitted, and then keeping pace for another two laps. Although Button kept the position, it allowed Alonso to jump Vettel for second.

Hamilton put a very clean move on Massa in to turn one using DRS, but was then held up behind Rosberg. Schumacher had inherited the lead before making his final stop, and Hamilton managed to crucially pass Rosberg as Schumacher rejoined ahead of Massa in a net sixth place.

Button appeared to have the race in control as he extended his lead to over five seconds, with the focus on the battle between Alonso and Vettel. Webber was closing in, but a team radio message told him not to challenge Vettel and informed him that Vettel would not be attacking Alonso. That left the Ferrari free to chase Button, and Alonso closed the gap to a second with a lap to go. Button had the response right at the end though, pumping in fastest laps before crossing the line and bringing the car to an immediate halt.

As Button celebrated in the pit lane, Vettel received the congratulations over the team radio and replied to his Red Bull team "Thank you so much every single one. Every single one. We took nothing for granted, and we did it." The third place made him the youngest double World Champion in Formula One history, and a fully deserving one after such a dominant season.

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