Title contenders stay safe at Suzuka

October, 13, 2010
Felipe MassaAP Photo/The Yomiuri ShimbunFelipe Massa tried to do too much too fast in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka after a poor qualifying effort.

For the title contenders, survival has become the name of the game.

After a chaotic race at Suzuka, especially at the start, the importance of a strong starting position on the grid is in focus again.

Without it, you risk getting caught up in the mayhem. Fernando Alonso's teammate will likely tell you as much. Felipe Massa started 12th after a poor qualifying effort, and after trying to do too much before the first bend, collected Vitantonio Liuzzi after veering off track.

While Massa is not in the title hunt, he's a very experienced driver who rarely makes mistakes. But the pressure of getting a superb start from mid-pack can get the best of even the most seasoned pilots, and the five drivers still in pursuit of the series championship should certainly be wary.

Aside from the start, Suzuka yielded few surprises in regards to finishing order. The five title hopefuls occupied the top five places, with Sebastian Vettel leading teammate Mark Webber to the line. Red Bull was the favorite entering, and track time prior to the race was limited due to the horrendous weather.

In the meantime, Alonso continued his run of podiums, as the Spaniard has found himself among the top three in five of the past six races.

But it was Vettel who occupied the top step, a sight many figured to see much more often than has played out this season.

After all, Suzuka was his first victory since Valencia in June, which was eight races ago. More importantly, Vettel made up seven valuable points on Webber, and along with Alonso, is 14 points behind the Australian for the championship lead.

While Vettel has been inconsistent this season, his short career has already been very impressive.

In only his third full season, he has already finished as high as second in the points (last season) and has eight race wins, more than every other driver except Lewis Hamilton since the start of 2008.

It is obvious to say that Vettel has made his fair share of mistakes, but he's an unbelievable talent who is just 23, and he'll likely be a multiple-time champion before his career is over.

And while many view Michael Schumacher 's 91 career wins as untouchable, Vettel is one of a few current drivers with the best chance to at least match Alain Prost in second with 51 victories, benefiting not only from remarkable skill sets, but also due to entering into Formula One at such a young age.

Prost got a relatively late start in Formula One and did not get his first win until his second season (1981), when he was already 26.

Because of the early starts by Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton, those three drivers could easily occupy spots two through four on the all-time wins list before their careers are over.

Also worth a mention from the weekend is Kamui Kobayashi's performance in front of his home crowd. The hometown favorite finished seventh after starting 14th and leads all rookies this season in points earned with 27.

If he can cut down on the retirements, he has the potential to be a star in this sport.

Korea, quite possibly the most intriguing event of the season, is up next.

Not much is known about how this event will play out, but the circuit itself is certainly unique. Two long straights are punctuated with some sharp, slow corners, and the entire second half of the circuit is a mix of twists and turns.

Likely the best, and possibly only, overtaking opportunities will be at the end of the main straights entering Turns 1 and 3. It could very well be a fairly processional race which sees little passing.



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