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Japanese Grand Prix Vettel

Remembering the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix: Vettel secures his second championship

The Japanese Grand Prix is this weekend, which brings back memories of more than a decade ago when Vettel and Button were the stars

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This weekend, F1 returns to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix, but let’s take a look at one of F1’s most fondly remembered weekends, the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix.

Vettel Japanese Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel during the previews for the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 6, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Vladimir Rys Photography via Getty Images)

The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix came at a time where Sebastian Vettel was dominating Formula 1 with Red Bull. However, this race’s spotlight was stolen by the 2009 World Champion, Jenson Button.

Heading into the weekend, Vettel only needed to score one point more than Button to take his second Formula 1 World Championship. The race around Suzuka was Round 15 of the season and there were four races left, but it was in Japan that the championship was won.

Saturday’s qualifying left Vettel and Button locked in the front row on the starting grid; the German racer took pole position whilst Button qualified just 0.009s behind in the McLaren.

Competitive from the start

The start of the race was a war as expected. Despite Button have a better start off the line than his rival, it was Vettel who kept the lead as he defended aggressively, squeezing Button onto the grass.

Button survived the first lap but lost his second-place to his at the time teammate, Lewis Hamilton. This quickly changed on lap five after Hamilton slowed down due to a puncture. As a result, Button reclaimed his P2. Though Hamilton was out of the fight at the top, he was still going to play an important role in this race.

Lap nine saw Vettel complaining about a loss of grip with the tyres, ultimately coming into the pits to get a fresh set. From there, others behind pitted but Button remained out on track – a decision that would benefit him in a few laps due to a chaotic F1 duo of Hamilton and Felipe Massa.

The Safety Car Deployment

Hamilton and Massa collided. It was a collision brought about by a failed overtake attempt from Massa. Thankfully, it wasn’t a serious crash but debris did litter the track, resulting in the Safety Car being deployed.

On the restart, the order of the top six on track was Button, Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Massa, and Hamilton.

Button stepped on the accelerator and gained a good advantage without breaking a sweat. Vettel had to make his third pit stop and made the mandatory switch to the medium-compound tyres. Unfortunately for Vettel, Alonso utilised the clean air, and after pitting, remained ahead of Vettel.

However, Vettel was not out of the Ferrari’s DRS range, making it a exciting one to watch. Vettel chasing Alonso while Alonso chased Button made for a perfect example of F1’s golden years.

Japanese Grand Prix Button and Vettel
Jenson Button celebrates on the podium after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2011 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Ultimately though, Button was able to hold off Alonso and secured victory at the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix. Alonso finished close behind with Vettel finishing the race in third. But as well as a P3 finish, Vettel did secure his second Drivers’ Championship.

Vettel’s Championship Win

Having won the Drivers’ Champion the previous year in 2010, Vettel was on track to win his second title and that is exactly what he did. The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix may have been dominated by Button in the McLaren, but the season was very much Vettel’s.

At the time, Vettel expressed his joy at being victorious in Japan, saying: “To win the championship here is fantastic. I am just so thankful to everyone in the team. We have got so many people here at the track but also at Milton Keynes working day in day out. We found ourselves in a very, very strong position and it is great to achieve the goal we set ourselves this year.”

The German driver, who is now retired from Formula 1 but is rumoured to potentially return to the sport, congratulated Button and Alonso, commenting on the competitiveness of the race. Vettel said: “Congratulations to Jenson, congratulations to Fernando. I think today we saw that it is extremely tight. Tighter than maybe sometimes it looked this year… and the good thing is, it’s not over yet.”

The 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix is truly one that the fans remember with fondness as it was special in many aspects. With Max Verstappen currently leading the 2024 championship, but Ferrari having improved their form with a race win already, let’s hope this weekend the Japanese Grand Prix can emulate 2011 to give us an exciting race.

Headline Image: GettyImages

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