The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix in Crayola

Welcome to the Suzuka edition of our financial advice column. Today is a wonderful day for all of those who’ve taken our recent tips. But before you blow all that newly minted money, here’s some Formula One. Warning: spoilers.

You may have wondered, over the months, on the precise use of a column about Formula One rendered in crayon, colored pencil, watercolor pencil, soft pastel, gel pen, duct tape, chocolate wrapper, with the occasional strip of Dymo and scan of military map thrown in for good measure. Was it an offbeat art project? Not exactly. It was solid investment advice disguised as so many days in kindergarten.

Sebastian Vettel’s win at the Turkish Grand Prix on May 8, his third after four races, made it pretty clear that he was going to defend his 2010 world title. Historical data paired with the life cycle of a Formula One car and the effervescent talent of Vettel all pointed to almost certain back-to-back titles. Back in May, you could place bets on that happening at odds of 1 to 1.4. If you did so, you have just earned a 40% return on your investment in five months, because Sebastian Vettel has formally become world champion at Suzuka. Congratulations, and please tell us about the weather on Bora Bora. I won’t know about it, because, as a proper financial advisor, I did not take my own advice.

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Just how beautiful and magnificent is Suzuka Circuit? Like some of the greatest pieces of engineering, it’s from the 1960s, but it doesn’t feel old. It feels vital, alive, gorgeous, dangerous, fast, insanely technical, and glowing with history. If you’re a good geek and know its layout by heart, you can watch a lap here and see Senna on one of his alien qualifying laps, flicking his McLaren along the S curves, pushing his braking point into Casio Triangle up against the very laws of physics, you can see the last titanic battle of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso in 2006, see Häkkinen win his championships, Schumacher dragging Ferrari to the promised land in 2000, and see, of course, the madness that was Alain Prost versus Ayrton Senna.

As for alien qualifying laps, it was Sebastian Vettel’s turn to perform yet again, his 12th pole position in 2011, and what a pole it was. After being second or third behind one or both McLarens all weekend, he managed to find yet another level of harmony with Kinky Kylie and beat a regal Jenson Button to the line by 0.009 seconds after a lap that was far from perfect in places. That’s barely more than two feet over 3.6 miles.

The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix in Crayola

In a move set to perhaps recall a certain gentleman from Brazil twenty years ago, he launched into his race with aggression on par with his terrifying pass on Fernando Alonso in Monza, squeezing Jenson Button’s McLaren to the very edge of the circuit (and beyond) on the run down to the first corner, until Button had to back off and let both him and third-place Lewis Hamilton pass. Vettel ran away with the lead, but it was never a dominant lead, and Button’s overall pace and mastery of Suzuka soon began to show. Vettel managed to hold onto his lead after the first round of pitstops, but an inspired Button beat him to the lead after the second round. It was a lead he would never relinquish, and he managed his tires and drove a beautiful, precise, dominant race for his third victory of the season, his first for McLaren on a dry track.

The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix in Crayola

2011 is certainly Sebastian Vettel’s year, but it’s also Jenson Button’s year, who has shown once and for all that he is more than equal to his mercurial teammate at McLaren. In their almost two seasons together, he is now tied with Lewis Hamilton at five wins each, with a much better 2011 season than Hamilton’s.

Whose race at Suzuka was a microcosm of his entire capricious year. Hamilton was very fast in qualifying but he got stuck in traffic at the very end and didn’t have time to do another run to perhaps challenge Vettel. He passed Button at the start then suffered a puncture and dropped back. He came together with Felipe Massa yet again. He passed Felipe Massa in a dominant way yet again. And he finished fifth yet again. It was all so frustrating to watch yet again, because Lewis Hamilton is such an amazing, inspiring sight when he comes out on top of his innate instability.

The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix in Crayola

Then there was surprise man Fernando Alonso finishing second from fifth on the grid, passing Sebastian Vettel after another round of pitstops. Vettel spent many laps hunting him down, and it was shaping up to be a great fight, until he was told on the radio to perhaps chill out and come home for the world title. Still, Alonso is pretty amazing. He didn’t move to Ferrari at the very best point in time but he’s shown yet again that he can take his car and drag it up the grid like few others.

It was a strange, clinical race, almost like a formal dinner. Was there any doubt that Vettel would finish in the top ten? None whatsoever. At one point, Michael Schumacher led the race, for the first time since five years ago here, when an engine failure robbed him of the world title in his last year at Ferrari. After last year’s hairpin theatrics, local hero Kamui Kobayashi was rather subdued in his Sauber, although he did qualify at a season’s best seventh, and, in a very touching move, flew down a girls’ choir from Fukushima, who sang the Japanese anthem before the race. In the other Sauber, after yet another clever tortoise of a race, flu-stricken Sergio Pérez drove from 17th to 8th.

The 2011 Japanese Grand Prix in Crayola

So what now? We’ve now got four parade races for Sebastian Vettel, a need for some more points to make Red Bull’s constructors’ championship a formality, and what promises to be a vicious fight for second in the championship. Sixteen points, ⅔ of a race win, separate Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, with Lewis Hamilton a further 16 points behind.

I hope you can get bittorrent or the BBC in Bora Bora.


The 2011 Formula One Season in Crayola

Australia | Malaysia | China | Turkey | Spain | Monaco | Canada | Europe | Britain | Germany | Hungary | Belgium | Italy | Singapore | Japan | South Korea | India | Abu Dhabi | Brazil

Illustration by Peter Orosz. Gallery curated by Natalie Polgar. Photography by Clive Rose/Getty Images, Mark Thompson/Getty Images, Clive Mason/Getty Images and Ker Robertson/Getty Images. Quote in illustration from New York-based Bulgarian philosopher Rossen Ventzislavov’s 2005 demo tape.