Sebastian Vettel won his fourth Japanese Grand Prix in a race that was dominating by differing strategies, but failed to wrap up the title.
The Red Bull man certainly didn’t have it as easy as the last few races, due to a poor start which saw him drop to third place. The tiniest of contact with the fast starting Lewis Hamilton also resulted in front wing damage, but things were far worse for Hamilton. The Mercedes driver suffered a puncture and dropped to last place, but retired at the end of lap eight with damage to the floor of the car.
It was Romain Grosjean who made the best start however, and coupled with poor starts from both Red Bull drivers, jumped into the lead. Mark Webber was therefore demoted to second place, with Vettel behind at the end of the first lap.
The race of strategy then began to play out, with Webber being told to keep a distance behind Grosjean if he couldn’t overtake, to save the tyres. But the Australian was still suffering worse tyre degradation than either Grosjean and team mate Vettel, and was the first to make a pit stop out of the trio at the end of lap eleven.
Grosjean was forced to react and pitted next time around, but Vettel stayed out. Grosjean was still able to remain ahead of Webber, while Vettel made his first pit stop at the end of lap fourteen. Due to staying out longer, he still re-joined behind Grosjean and Webber.
Webber would be in again not long later, making his second stop at the end of lap twenty five as it became obvious that he would be forced onto a three-stopper. There were no such problem for Grosjean and Vettel however, who continued to circulate.
Vettel began to close on the Frenchman, who then made his second stop at the end of lap twenty nine, and emerged back onto the track behind Webber. The race then entered a crucial stage for Vettel, who stayed out considerably longer and only pitted again at the end of lap thirty seven.
He re-joined behind both Webber and Grosjean, but on considerably fresher tyres than the two drivers ahead of him. He quickly closed on the Lotus, and managed to find a way through on lap forty one. Moments later, Webber made his final stop, crucially failing to jump Grosjean again and coming back out in third place.
Any hope Webber had of catching team mate Vettel on fresher tyres disappeared after he spent several laps behind the Lotus of Grosjean. He finally managed to pull a pass in the DRS zone at the start of lap fifty two, but by this time, Vettel had extended his lead to over seven seconds.
Sebastian Vettel was therefore left to take his ninth victory of the season, and his fifth race in a row, but thanks to a fourth place finish by Fernando Alonso means the title race goes on to the Indian Grand Prix.
It was only the second Red Bull one-two finish of the season after the Malaysian Grand Prix, while a strong third and fifth place finish by the Lotus drivers means the team closes up on both Ferrari and Mercedes in the championship.
It was a dismal day from Mercedes. After seeing Hamilton suffer his first retirement of this year, team mate Nico Rosberg also suffered a difficult race. The team was judged to have unsafely released his car during his first pit stop, which resulted in McLaren’s Sergio Perez having to take evasive action. Rosberg was therefore handed a drive through penalty and dropped down the order, but would then suffer an on track collision with Perez later in the race, which saw the Mexican suffer a puncture.
Rosberg was therefore classified a disappointing eighth place, while Perez failed to finish in the points and came home in fifteenth.
The Mercedes driver wasn’t the only man to attract the ire of the race stewards however. Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo ran as high as fourth place at one point in the race thanks to a differing strategy, which saw him lead a train of cars. Hulkenberg, Massa, Alonso, Raikkonen and Perez were all bottled up behind the future Red Bull driver until he made his stop.
But he was soon given a drive through penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage after running wide while trying to pass Adrian Sutil around the outside of 130R.
Felipe Massa would also be given a penalty for speeding in the pit lane, with the pair recovering to thirteenth and tenth place respectively. Massa lost out in a close battle with Jenson Button, which saw the two come close to colliding at the final chicane.
The Williams drivers were also battling at the final chicane, with Maldonado prevailing over a frustrated Bottas. However, they were well outside the points and the tussle was over sixteenth place.
It was a better day for the Sauber duo though. On the back of his stunning performance in Korea, Nico Hulkenberg starred once more as he continued his battle with the Ferrari drivers. Unlike a week ago however, he was unable to keep Alonso behind him, but claimed more good points with a sixth place finish.
It was a brilliant day for team mate Esteban Gutierrez also, with the young Mexican claiming his first ever points in Formula One courtesy of a seventh place finish. He held off the recovering Rosberg in the last few laps, with the German having to save fuel.
After his strong qualifying performance yesterday, Marussia’s Max Chilton was unable to keep Caterham’s Charles Pic behind him, despite the Frenchman serving a drive through penalty after the first lap of the race. The “new team” battle was reduced in number at the first corner however, with Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi colliding.
They were therefore the only other retirements from the race, along with Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel now holds a ninety point championship lead over Fernando Alonso, and will go into the Indian Grand Prix with a great chance of sealing the title. Sebastian has a fantastic record in India, and is the only man to have led a lap there since the race was introduced to the calendar in 2011.