Sebastian Vettel secured his second Formula 1 drivers championship with four races to spare by taking third place at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka today.
Jenson Button did everything within his power to extend the title contest by taking a well-deserved victory, but could not stop Vettel from collecting the single point that he needed to secure the title.
Fernando Alonso took a hard-fought second place ahead of Vettel who, aged 24 years and 98 days, becomes the youngest double world champion in the history of the sport.
Mark Webber came fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton whilst Michael Schumacher, who temporarily lead the grand prix at one point, finished in an excellent sixth place ahead of Felipe Massa. Sergio Perez, Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg picked up the remaining points.
Jenson Button got off the line better than Sebastian Vettel, who had to go right across the track to cover off the McLaren driver. Button was pushed on to the grass and had to lift off the throttle, allowing Lewis Hamilton to take his second place.
Button suggested that Vettel deserved a penalty for the move. The stewards investigated, but decided to take no further action.
Kamui Kobayashi had a shocking getaway, dropping from seventh to twelfth in the opening corners. Paul di Resta, in contrast, got a much better start, and was quickly up from twelfth to eighth.
Fernando Alonso got past Felipe Massa on lap six. The Spaniard's move on his Ferrari team-mate looked a bit too easy for some observers.
There was drama on Lap 8 as Hamilton as a small right-rear puncture slowed his McLaren right down. Button overtook him to go back up to second and Hamilton dived into the pits.
Vettel pitted from the lead at the end of Lap 9 and Button, Alonso and Mark Webber all came into the pits on the following lap. Button remained ahead of Alonso as both drivers emerged from the pit lane just ahead of Hamilton.
Massa pitted on the following lap, handing the race lead back to Vettel. All of the front-runners took on a new set of soft tyres during their first stops.
Sebastien Buemi came out of his first pit stop with a loose right front wheel. It came off, pretty unspectacularly, as the Toro Rosso went through the esses, and Buemi found himself beached in the gravel trap, and become the only retirement of the race.
At the end of Lap 15, Vettel had a lead of 2.8 seconds over Button. Alonso was a further 2.1 seconds down the road in third, and Hamilton was fourth, still only 7.5 seconds behind Vettel despite that early puncture. Button was steadily catching Vettel.
In fact, Vettel was losing so much time to Button that he decided to get another set of the Pirelli soft tyres at the end of Lap 19. Webber, who was only ten seconds down the road from his team-mate, also pitted at the end of that lap, with Red Bull having to perform two stops in very quick succession.
Button was in for his third set of tyres at the end of the next lap, and emerged from the pits ahead of Vettel thanks to some fast in-laps from the Brit. Hamilton and Alonso came in to the pits at the end of Lap 21.
Replays showed that Hamilton and Massa had yet another contretemps just before Hamilton's pit stop. Massa attempted to overtake the McLaren just before the final chicane, but Lewis refused to concede the position. The two touched briefly, costing Massa his front-wing end plate.
Webber and Michael Schumacher also made contact with one another, giving Webber some front-wing damage.
The safety car came out on Lap 24 to allow the marshals to collect the debris from those two incidents. The Hamilton/Massa clash was referred to the stewards for investigation, but no further action was taken.
The safety car came in at the end of Lap 28 and Button began to set a series of fastest laps, clearly hoping to build a lead over Vettel.
At the end of Lap 33, Vettel came into the pits for his third stop of the afternoon. With no more soft Pirelli tyres remaining, the world champion was forced to take on a set of the slower medium tyres. Webber did exactly the same thing on the next lap. Vettel emerged out in traffic, down in eleventh place.
Button pitted at the end of Lap 36 and emerged from the pit lane comfortably ahead of Vettel. Alonso pitted on the next lap, and also emerged ahead of Vettel, in a net second place.
While this was going on, Hamilton managed to get back past Massa into the first corner. Schumacher, who had only done two pit stops at this point, was temporarily leading the race.
Schumacher pitted at the end of Lap 40, handing the race lead back to Button. He came out of the pits in P6, behind Hamilton but ahead of Massa. The seven-time world champion had a much newer set of tyres than the other cars around him, and was well placed for the remaining 12 laps.
Vettel was all over the back of Alonso but, even with the assistance of DRS, the German was finding it difficult to get past the Ferrari. Eventually, Red Bull suggested that Vettel should not risk his car, and settle for third place. This left Alonso to go after Button for the win.
In the closing laps, Alonso began to narrow the gap to leader Button, just has Button had done to Vettel in Singapore a fortnight ago. With three laps to go, the gap between Button and Alonso was just one second. However, Button extended that gap by 0.2 seconds on Lap 51 and it was up to 1.7 seconds after the penultimate lap.
Button crossed the line and stopped his car at the end of the pit lane whilst a tearful Sebastian Vettel, the 2011 champion, went on a slow warm-down lap to celebrate his back-to-back titles.