October 13th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Romain Grosjean had reason to be satisfied with his Sunday afternoon in Japan, after he took the fight to the Red Bulls and very nearly beat them. Ultimately he finished third, but was within 10 seconds of race winner Sebastian Vettel at the end.
Grosjean surged off the line into the lead before the first corner and from then until the second round of pit stops led almost every lap. At no point in the race (aside from while he was stationary on the grid) was Grosjean lower than third, and for a while it looked like he might have the pace to win.
Ultimately he was beaten by two drivers who simply had superior machinery. Red Bull had two cars fighting against Grosjean and so they put them on different strategies, so that he would have to choose one to cover in his own strategy. Ultimately that made no difference to Grosjean, who was always planning to two-stop and Red Bulls strategy did not gain either of their drivers track position over the Frenchman. Vettel and Webber both had to pass him on the track.
It was an impressive performance from Grosjean, worthy of a more experienced driver than himself. He drove like a team leader, which will not be lost on Lotus team principal Eric Boullier as he considers his driver line-up for 2014.
After the race, Grosjean expressed his satisfaction with his performance and that of the Lotus team:
“Today was just a very, very good race. What a start! It was superb to go past both the Red Bulls like that and it’ll be one of my best memories of the year. The car was fantastic on the first set of tyres and we managed to pull away, but then the Red Bulls were able to reel us in later on. Ultimately, we were the only car to almost catch the bull. It’s been a great home race for my engineer; it’s always good to come to Japan and it’s really good to be back on the podium again.”
Kimi Raikkonen also had an impressive afternoon, but was hampered by his qualifying position. From ninth on the grid, the Finn managed to bring his Lotus home fifth, just 1.7 seconds behind fourth-placed Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen has had a string of difficult qualifying sessions, but has consistently delivered on Sunday at recent races.
After the race, Raikkonen said:
“I had a very poor start. I left the line with wheelspin and lost a few places which wasn’t ideal, but I managed to gain places back later on in the race. After the final pit stop the car was working much better. It ran well in the last half of the race and I was very happy with it. It was a pretty normal race I would say. It’s difficult to overtake here so it’s good that we got some points. We did what we could.”
Raikkonen provided plenty of entertainment during the race, including a daring pass around the outside of the flat-out 130R corner, a move that has seldom been attempted before, the most notable example being Alonso on Michael Schumacher in 2005.