The Japanese Grand Prix was far from the most exciting race of the season, although there were some moments worth watching. Romain Grosjean – the ‘first-lap nutcase’ according to Mark Webber – again made the headlines for the wrong reasons, and Sebastian Vettel capitalised on the early exit of Fernando Alonso to close the gap to a mere handful of points, but it was the second and third placed men who were perhaps under the most scrutiny.
Felipe Massa has been the subject of a great deal of speculation of late after a series of poor performances (poor, that is, in comparison to Alonso, who is without doubt the driver of the year) but the past few races have looked somewhat better. His drive to second place at Suzuka was faultless and may have come at just the right time; however, comments from Alonso that he was aided by the removal of others – himself included – raised eyebrows and have led some to believe that a deal is done with someone else for 2013. I still think not, but Nico Hulkenberg should not be signing any papers with Force India just yet.
Third place went to Kamui Kobayashi; this was the Sauber driver’s best result of the season, and equals the best by a Japanese driver. It was a fine performance by the likeable young man, who proved he had Jenson Button’s McLaren covered. Kobayashi has been somewhat overshadowed by the rising star of the moment, his team-mate Sergio Perez, and this is somewhat unfair. Kamui has shown time and time again that he is a fine racing driver with great pace and often impressive race-craft, yet – thanks to a relative lack of financial backing there are rumours that his drive at Sauber is under threat. Peter Sauber is a man known for favouring talent over funds, but the team cannot run on nothing. The news that it will keep backing from Telmex in the wake of Perez’s departure is a relief, but is it enough to save Kobayashi’s drive?
It would be a shame if he were to be allowed to fade from the scene, for he represents Japan’s best chance so far of getting a driver on the top step of the podium. Let’s hope he is still on the grid in 2013.