The final part of our driver analysis looks at the back end of the grid, known in these parts as the Sleeping Dogs. This week the regular cast are joined by special guest stars Toro Rosso. 

Toro Rosso

  • Sebastien Buemi: Quali – 15th, Race – DNF
  • Jaime Alguersuari: Quali – 16th, Race – 15th

alguersuariHaving looked mighty impressive throughout practice Toro Rosso wilted under the heat of qualifying’s bright lights. A metaphor for their drivers’ careers perhaps? Oh Badger, you are deliciously vicious.

Seriously, they were so quick in FP1 and 2 that we had them down for possible Q3 gatecrashers. As it was they lined-up a lowly 15th and 16th (and this was only thanks to Rosberg not running in Q1 and Perez missing Q2). In the race Buemi’s wheel wobbled off – a metaphor for his career perhaps – whilst Alguersuari plodded around towards the back and finished 15th. A metaphor for his… well, you get the picture.

All in all a poor showing from the Italian team’s drivers, who now have the added threat of flying Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne running FP1 to contend with. Surely a change is on its way at STR?

Badger’s Best: Alguersuari

Lotus

  • Heikki Kovalainen: Quali – 18th, Race – 18th
  • Jarno Trulli: Quali – 19th, Race – 19th
kovalainen

Between Vettel’s world title, Button’s superb win and Eddie Jordan’s quickening dissent into gibberish it was almost impossible to notice the not-so-new-anymore teams in Japan. They were there, we’re reliably informed, and as usual Caterham – wait, we’re still calling them Lotus – came out on top.

After starting in P18 Heikki Kovalainen enjoyed a stellar getaway to climb to 14th at the start, passing a few mid-grid cars, notably that of eventual points finisher Sergio Perez. Naturally he dropped back, eventually settling in to 18th spot, which must feel wonderfully familiar and comfortable to the Finn these days. Jarno Trulli came in just behind him in 19th. That’s where he started too.

But wait, Caterham (let’s be done with it now) were very pleased with their Japanese showing. Why? Because, aided by the safety car, they weren’t lapped once during the race. In fact it was they who did some lapping, putting both Virgins and both HRTs a full circuit behind them during the grand prix. The progress continues. Now all they need is a snappy new name (Caterham sounds good, or QPR) to become genuine midfielders in 2012.

Badger’s Best: Kovalainen

Virgin

  • Timo Glock – Quali – 21st, Race – 20th
  • Jerome D’Ambrosio: Quali – 20th, Race – 21st
dambrosio

Two drivers, two cars, nothing to say. Sure, if you’re Timo’s engineer you’ve probably got plenty of observations about Sunday’s race, scores of ideas going forward. Pat Symmonds too is likely to be teeming with thoughts on how to turn the good ship Marussia Virgin Racing around in 2012. Richard Branson… okay, maybe not, but you get the idea.

The problem is that, from our point of view, there’s not much to say. D’Ambrosio out-qualified Glock (well done him), the cars lining up 20th and 21st respectively. In the race Timo got back in front, the German finishing 20th and his team-mate 21st. Goodnight Suzuka.

Badger’s Best: D’Ambrosio

HRT

  • Tonio Luizzi: Quali – 24th, Race – 23rd
  • Daniel Ricciardo: Quali – 22nd, Race – 22nd
Delicious cake

And, if you thought trying to pull thoughts from your head about Virgin was bad, try writing about HRT, a team whose cars only appear on our screens when they’re breaking down, falling off the road or slamming in to barriers. Or all three.

Liuzzi gave the team’s sponsors (ed: seriously?) their obligatory exposure during the race by getting it wrong through the esses. He looked like he was trying to heave a shopping trolley full of bricks through a set of revolving doors.

On a serious note, Ricciardo looks good. Will Red Bull subject him to another year in the HRT or will they boot one of the Toro Rosso drivers? Dan is undoubtedly praying that it will be the latter.

And we still don’t have a cartton picture of him! So how about this: Aussie world champ Alan Jones claims that when he won his first race in 1977 the Austrians were so surprised that they did not have the music for his national anthem and so played Happy Birthday instead. As such, well done birthday cake: you’re this week’s Badger’s Best.

Badger’s Best: Ricciardo