At times it seemed that Lotus’s Romain Grosjean or Red Bull’s Mark Webber might emerge victorious from a tactical race in Japan on Sunday, but in the end it was Webber’s team mate Sebastian Vettel who took his ninth success of the season – and fifth in a row – after a finely judged two-stop race.
Webber’s chances were hampered at the start when both he and Vettel were slow away and Grosjean’s Lotus burst through from fourth on the grid to snatch the lead going into the first corner, but for a while the Australian’s three-stop strategy looked good as he swapped to Pirelli’s medium tyres for his final stint with 11 laps to go. Unfortunately it took him until the 52nd lap to dislodge Grosjean from second place, by which time Vettel was far too far ahead.
The result was not enough to clinch the drivers’ championship for Vettel as Fernando Alonso’s plucky fourth place for Ferrari leaves him 90 points adrift with 100 still up for grabs in the final four races.
Alonso played second fiddle for a long time to Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa, but then moved ahead of the Brazilian and in the closing stages fought and won a tight battle with Sauber’s again-impressive Nico Hulkenberg. The latter was also displaced near the finish by Kimi Raikkonen, who brought his Lotus home fifth. But as Esteban Gutierrez drove the best race of his short F1 career to score his first points with seventh place, it was a good race for team owner Peter Sauber who was back home in Switzerland celebrating his 70th birthday.
Gutierrez earned his spurs by holding off the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg to the flag, as Jenson Button passed Massa on the penultimate lap to score two points for McLaren. The Brazilian had lost time with a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
It was a tough day for Mercedes, who lost Lewis Hamilton as a contender in the first corner. As Grosjean came down the inside Hamilton was pinched between the two Red Bulls as they struggled for momentum. As Vettel had to move left to avoid the Lotus he clipped the Mercedes’ right-rear tyre with his left front-wing endplate. Hamilton limped to the pits with a puncture, resumed, but soon retired as the resulting aerodynamic damage was costing him more than a second a lap.
Paul di Resta drove a feisty race for Force India but just lost out on points to Button and Massa in the closing stages and thus finished 11th, while Jean-Eric Vergne fought to 12th for Toro Rosso, just ahead of team mate Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian started on the hard tyres and did the longest first stint, but his chances of points were ruined when he got a drive-through penalty for completing a pass on Force India’s Adrian Sutil by going off track exiting 130R on the 28th lap and being deemed by the stewards to have gained an unfair advantage.
Sutil made a brilliant start from last on the grid and was always in the lower midfield fight, but had to settle for 14th, a long way behind Ricciardo and a mere tenth of a second ahead of Sergio Perez, who like McLaren team mate Button did a three-stop run.
Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas were 16th and 17th for Williams, the Finn dropping from 13th in the final laps after a mistake in the heat of the battle.
Caterham and Marussia lost Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi at the very first corner when the Dutchman and the Frenchman collided at the start, but after serving a drive-though penalty in the first five laps for driving through a red light during qualifying, Charles Pic fought through to lead Marussia’s Max Chilton home.
Vettel’s fourth win in Japan brings him to 297 points in the standings to Alonso’s 207, which means he can clinch the title at the next round in India by finishing fifth or higher, regardless of what the Spaniard does. Raikkonen pulled further away from Hamilton in third place with 177 to 161, while Webber is moving back into contention with them on 148.
The result gave Red Bull another 43 points, bringing their total to 445. Ferrari’s run pulled them further ahead of Mercedes, the gap going out to 10 points with 297 to 287, while Lotus are back in the fight for second place with 264. Much further back McLaren have 83 to Force India’s 62.
Source : Formula1.com