On the weekend where Renault engines took the pole position record it was a Frenchman who stole the show
Star of the Race
Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 3rd
What a difference a year makes. Last year Romain managed to muff up both downhill starts - at Spa and Suzuka. They were very much on his mind at Spa, but at Suzuka he just hooked everything up and blitzed into the lead. As he said afterwards: "When I let go of the clutch paddle I thought, wo-wo, let's go for it." At the end of Lap 1 he was leading and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had fallen back to P11, thus ably demonstrating that you're doing it the hard way by relying on Sunday racecraft.
For 29 glorious laps he shaped the pattern of the race and, given that the Lotus is quite kindly on its tyres, it would have been interesting to see if he could have stayed out longer than that and kept Vettel at bay rather than coming in on Lap 29.
This must be the high water mark of French involvement in F1 for many years - a Frenchman in a French-managed car with a French engine leading a race on merit. From a time when there was no French GP and no French drivers - apart from Sebastien Bourdais, although that's pretty much the same - we now have four French drivers. They may not all be in grand prix winning cars, but for a country that is part of the fabric of the sport it is important to rekindle ze national interest.
Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 52: Kimi Raikkonnen on Nico Hulkenberg for P5
Raikkonen was his usual electric self at Suzuka. His outstanding pass on Esteban Guiterrez around the outside of 130R looked as though it was going to be the highlight of the race (and was still hair-raising despite the TV director switching to the most remote of views) until the latter stages when it seemed Nico Hulkenberg was going to hang onto P5 in front of him. Kimi had other ideas and on the penultimate lap launched his Lotus down the outside of the Sauber going into the final chicane and still got the car turned in. Hulkenberg played his part by giving him room and they both made it through the corner with all aero elements intact. He could have maybe left it one more lap for dramatic effect, but that's just us being greedy.
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1st
That must be the untidiest winning race of the season for Vettel, he was running onto the grass, locking up his tyres, yet still he had enough to beat both Grosjean and his team-mate. His touch of Hamilton at the start was inadvertent, it was Webber's Red Bull moving to the right that caused Lewis to veer towards him and the momentary kiss was all it took.
At least he's having to work a bit harder, but another Vettel win, even if it's hard fought, is not a great recruitment poster for the casual viewer
Mark Webber, Red Bull, 2nd
Christian Horner said that Mark's strategy was compromised in the opening stint when he stopped too early. Certainly he did his best to give his first set of Mediums excess wear by following Grosjean at less than a second back for the first six laps which couldn't have helped. Perhaps he thought he could force a mistake from Grosjean and then put the Lotus driver between himself and the IndexFingerMeister, thus making the rest of his afternoon's work a whole lot easier.
Whatever the case, he needed to pit earlier for tyres, and that carried through into a three-stop race. What Mark really needed was a timely Safety car when he was in the lead, but the first lap accident of Bianchi and van der Garde had shown that Charlie Whiting needed a lot of persuading to release the Safety Car. Just in case the Fire Truck saw it as another opportunity.
So, another chance for a farewell victory passes by, and given how Mark viewed his Suzuka pole as a "hollow pole" it's going to be no good gifting him a win to make him happy.
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, P4
Yet again Alonso got the best result achievable. On a different afternoon he might have had Hamilton, Rosberg and Raikkonen in front of him - but that never seems to happen...well...apart from last year...erm...obviously.
Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber, P6
Banana-loving lardy boy, Hulkenberg, managed to cart his fat frame round 53 laps of Suzuka in front of the other lightweights, proving yet again that the weight limit for next year is far more of an issue than the V6 exhaust note.
Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, P7
The battle for Top Mexican is really hotting up now with Esteban scoring his first points and with the kind of qualifying form that will begin to worry Sergio. Last year Kamui Kobayashi scored a similar surprise result for Sauber who have scored points at the Japanese Grand Prix for the last twenty years.
Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 10th
It's a measure of how relaxed Fernando Alonso is about his World Championship position that he wasn't excited at all by Felipe's inability to respond to the "Multi Function Strategy A" request. Massa got the call around Lap 8 and Massa ignored the call from Lap 8 defending his position. Ultimately it didn't prevent Alonso from finishing in P4, but had it kept his team-mate from challenging Hulkenberg, and Rosberg hadn't jumped his pitbox lights, then the situation might have been more serious.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, DNF
If Lewis had got to the first Turn without the fatal kiss from Sebastian then that would have made for a much more interesting race. It's likely he would have slotted into P3 behind Grosjean and Webber and acted as a buffer to Vettel, maybe allowing the Lotus to escape. He got a brilliant start from P3, one of his best of the year, but the most innocuous of contacts did for him. He took it on the chin.
Pastor Maldonado, Williams, 16th
With Clare Williams flying to Venezuela to discuss contracts, presumably with PDVSA, there is speculation that Felipe Massa could be clear to bring in the Brazilian petrol giant Petrobras next year after a divorce with Pastor is finalised. Pastor is doing a good impression of Mr Angry right now, both in interviews and in the way that he drives. He described his last lap lunge at Bottas as "close but quite clean". It wasn't spotless.
Jules Bianchi, Marussia, DNFTwo accidents over the course of a grand prix isn't really the best gift to your team for re-signing you for 2014. Especially on such a weekend.
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, P8
There was a big time hole between P3 Grosjean and P4 Fernando Alonso, where Nico Rosberg should have slotted in. The fact that he didn't and could only manage P8 was down to the drive-through penalty and his inability to get past Esteban Gutierrez at the end.
He profited from Hamilton's exit to run P4 in the early stages but almost threw it away when he ran wide onto the Turn 1 tarmac run-off and just about kept in front of the two Ferraris. When it came to the early release from his first pit-stop, the traffic light on his pitbox was still red when he left and the team aren't sure if it flickered to green momentarily.
At the end he gave Perez a puncture and was pleased with his work even though replays clearly showed that he wasn't being crowded off the circuit and had more than a car's width of track to work with. It follows an unhealthy trend of other drivers ganging up on Perez. Whether or not this was a distraction technique to move on from the pitstop it's hard to say, but yet again he struggled and failed to pass slower cars, just as he did in Singapore and Korea. This time round Gutierrez had tyres that were nine laps older and even though the Merc W04 was light on fuel he couldn't find a way past.
Some strange quotes, some comedy quotes, pick the bones out of this lot, then:
Eddie Jordan: Talking about Jean-Eric Vergne's future... "Jean-Eric and Daniel have been very close this year. I have a big chance for his career."
David Coulthard: Discussing the flaming Toro Rosso on Saturday..."Brakes can get up to 1000 degrees. I'm not sure what the temperature of flame is, but visibly more."
Eddie Jordan: Suddenly becoming very posh..."Hulkenberg has given Lotus an ulti-mart-tum"
Eddie Jordan and DC:Talking about where Hulkenberg should go in 2014.
EJ: "You have to walk around the factory."
DC: "When I was at Mclaren I took a walk around Jordan. I walked in and I walked straight out again.
EJ: "We didn't like him. He had a funny accent."
Eddie Jordan: Commenting on how Romain Grosjean has come good recently... "He's brought himself up that ladder."