Vettel makes it five-straight in Japan
It was Grosjean's Lotus that captured the lead at the start, jumping from fourth into the lead as both Red Bulls got away slow.
The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton also got the jump on the Red Bulls, but as he squeezed in between the two he and Vettel brushed, puncturing Hamilton's tire and causing floor damage which would lead to his retirement nine laps later.
Grosjean led much of the way but Vettel made his move on lap 41 when he attacked at Casio and then dove down Grosjean's inside at Turn 1 for second.
Webber was in the lead but he was on a three stop strategy to two for Grosjean and Vettel.
With Webber pitting one lap later, Vettel went to the front and was able to cruise home to extend his winning streak to five.
Polesitter Webber passed Grosjean later to secure a Red Bull one-two, but fell seven seconds short of denying Vettel.
Fernando Alonso meanwhile finished fourth, meaning that Vettel must wait until India at least to be crowned a four-time champion.
Winning at Suzuka on Sunday extended the German's winning streak to five races.
He joins truly great company -- only legends Michael Schumacher, Alberto Ascari, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark and Nigel Mansell have also won five grands prix on the trot.
But winning on Sunday was not quite enough to seal Vettel's fourth world title.
Because Fernando Alonso finished fourth, not ninth, the Spaniard's mathematical chances remain alive for at least another race, in India in two weeks.
But all Vettel has to do in India is revert to the magic number 5, even if Ferrari's Alonso wins that race, and also the following races in Abu Dhabi, Austin and Brazil.
Fifth place for the dominant Red Bull will mean Alonso can no longer chase down Vettel, 26, in the points standings.
"It looks very good at this stage," Vettel admitted on the Suzuka podium, "but it's not over until it's over."
Alonso, however, has conceded defeat.
"We have different goals now," said the Spaniard.
"Today they told me I have the record for the most amount of points in F1 history, so it's a happy day," added Alonso, referring to the record formerly held by Michael Schumacher.
If it was possible to rub some sheen off Vettel's winning streak, it was suggestions Red Bull deliberately disadvantaged pole sitter Mark Webber by putting him on a different three-stop strategy in Japan.
Team boss Christian Horner denied that. "Mark's tires didn't last as long as Seb's," he explained simply.
Sebastian Vettel (1st): “A very rewarding win today; it’s a great feeling. I love this track and it’s just fantastic to win here. It was a horrible start to be honest; we found ourselves sitting in third place and then tried to go longer in the first stint. I had great traction after I got past Romain and after that the only threat was Mark who got stuck behind Romain. We could then manage the gap until the end of the race. The Championship is the big target of course, but the season is very long still and the best way to wrap it up is not to think about it. I’m happy to go home for a bit now and to relax before we go out to India. That’s an impressive country and I’m looking forward to racing there in a couple of weeks.”
Mark Webber (2nd): “We were on the back foot a bit after Romain’s great start. I wanted to put pressure on him for the win. Sebastian was on a different strategy to me and in the end it worked out pretty similar. It’s hard to know which was right (a two or three stop strategy), as we were trying to cover off Romain. I did my best and in the end it was a good result.”
Christian Horner, Sporting Director: “A massive result for the team to achieve a one two in Japan. It was an exciting race that was dictated by the tire strategy. We split the strategies between a three-stop for Mark and a two-stop for Seb, based on the expected tire lives on the two cars. Both drivers managed to make it work to navigate their way past Romain Grosjean, in particularly brave moves down into Turn one. A great result for the Team and both Championships and congratulations to Renault for another one-two-three finish on the podium.”
Thierry Salvi, Renault: “A perfect result for Renault today, and great to see us up there represented on the podium. We split strategies today for Mark and Seb and got a 1-2, which is of course good news for the Championship. However there are still four races to go so we’ll remain focused on the job in hand.”
Fernando Alonso (4th):
Felipe Massa (10th):
Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal:
Luca di Montezemolo:
Jenson Button (9th): "The first two stints of the race were pretty difficult as I had massive understeer. That was my fault: on the lap-to-grid, it felt like I had too much front-end, so I took some wing out of the car. It was the wrong thing to do – it left me with too much understeer, and I kept locking up the fronts, which destroyed the front tires. For the third set, we added some front-wing, and the balance came back to me. In the end, the car was really good to drive – especially my final stint on the Option tire, which was a lot of fun, especially as I was able to chase down and pass a couple of other cars. In the closing laps, I made a great move on Paul [di Resta] around the outside of the chicane. I made the same move on Felipe [Massa] too, but he forced me over the curb, so I ended up getting him on the straight. So it was an enjoyable end to the race, but a disappointing beginning."
Sergio Perez (15th): "It was a very unfortunate afternoon for us. I had such bad luck – things just didn't go our way today. In fact, I think you could say that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. We had an incident with Nico [Rosberg] in the pitlane, some of slow pitstops, and then another incident with Nico, which caused me to suffer a puncture – luckily, however, right at the entrance of the pitlane. After a difficult race like this, all we can do is look ahead. In two weeks' time we'll start all over again – I'll be hoping for more luck in New Delhi."
Martin Whitmarsh, Team Principal: "Today's race was a tough one for both our drivers, but they both showed stout character in dealing with various adverse occurrences with great determination throughout all 53 laps. Jenson made a good start off the line, but through no fault of his own was then embroiled in a first-corner incident, consequently dropping a few places. As a result, he also flat-spotted his tires, which caused a significant vibration that we elected to curtail by bringing him in for his first tire stop earlier than we otherwise would have done. We were consequently forced to convert his planned two-stop strategy to a three-stopper, which was a pity, but he drove a truly excellent race thereafter, taking advantage of rubber fresher than that of his rivals in his fourth and final stint to pull off some excellent overtaking maneuvers and bag a hard-won ninth place by the flag. Checo made an excellent start, moving from P11 on the grid to P8 at the end of lap one, and was able to keep pace with all but the three front-runners throughout his first stint. Unfortunately, his first tire stop was compromised by the unsafe release of Nico's Mercedes, causing him [ie, Checo] to emerge behind Esteban's [Gutierrez] Sauber, behind which he lost a lot of time throughout his second stint, unable to overtake despite making plenty of brave attempts to do so. Then, in his third stint, Checo suffered a left-rear puncture, also ironically in an incident with Nico, which necessitated an extra unscheduled pitstop that put him out of contention for a points-scoring finish. Had that not occurred, he, like Jenson, would have earned some valuable points. From here we go to New Delhi, where we hope to consolidate our fifth place in the Constructors' World Championship by enjoying what we hope will be a less eventful and more productive afternoon than we did here at Suzuka today."
Romain Grosjean (3rd): "Today was just a very, very good race. What a start! It was superb to go past both the Red Bulls like that and it'll be one of my best memories of the year. The car was fantastic on the first set of tires and we managed to pull away, but then the Red Bulls were able to reel us in later on. Ultimately, we were the only car to almost catch the bull. It's been a great home race for my engineer; it's always good to come to Japan and it's really good to be back on the podium again."
Kimi Raikkonen (5th): "I had a very poor start. I left the line with wheelspin and lost a few places which wasn't ideal, but I managed to gain places back later on in the race. After the final pit stop the car was working much better. It ran well in the last half of the race and I was very happy with it. It was a pretty normal race I would say. It's difficult to overtake here so it's good that we got some points. We did what we could."
Eric Boullier, Team Principal: "It's great to see such a good fight in the race and both our cars show so strongly. Once again, both drivers, our strategists and the pit crew performed brilliantly and we did the very best we could on track. We don't have the pace to beat Red Bull, but today we showed them that we are nevertheless quite formidable whilst also underlining to Mercedes and Ferrari that we are a strong contender for the final four races of the season. We must say a big thanks to everyone at Enstone for the fantastic car we have in the E21. To see Romain leading the race was very satisfying and we hope to see that again very soon."
Alan Permane, Chief Race Engineer: "It was a great race for us and superb to see Romain leading for so much of it. We were the only team to take the fight to Red Bull; ultimately they were too quick for us but we took a strong and well deserved third place with Romain and a fighting fifth with Kimi. Romain made a fantastic start and we had enough in hand in the first stint to be able to pit a lap later than Mark, but they started to catch us on the medium tires and Sebastian was able to catch and pass reasonably easily with their superior pace. It's a great feeling to show so strongly at Suzuka."
Riccardo Penteado, Engine Support Leader: "Suzuka plays to the strengths of our chassis-engine package, with the straights taking advantage of the good top end power whilst our drivability and good tire wear favor the slower, more flowing sections. A great race for Romain today; he had a fantastic start and was in contention for the win throughout the entire race. Kimi also had a strong race and was very close to giving Renault a perfect 1-2-3-4 result!"
Nico Rosberg (8th): "I made a good start today and was in a strong position until my first pit stop. Unfortunately we then had the incident as I left the pit box which ultimately cost me a top position. We will analyze internally with the team what went wrong but it was immediately clear that we would get a penalty. After that, we switched to a three-stop strategy and that worked out as well as it could for us. I was able to do some good overtaking maneuvers, although I wasn't happy with Perez as the rules are clear; you can defend once and close the door but you can't switch sides again. Trying to overtake the Sauber at the end was very tough and while it's difficult to be satisfied with eighth place given our potential, at least we were able to salvage some points."
Lewis Hamilton (DNF, Damage): "I got a fantastic start this afternoon, better than both Red Bulls for probably the first time this year. Mark moved right, so I had to move as well, which sandwiched Sebastian between me and Romain. Seb's front wing clipped my right rear, cut the tire and that was that. It wasn't his fault at all, just one of those things that wasn't meant to be this afternoon. I feel most gutted for the team - the guys here at the track and in the factory - because they are doing an amazing job right now and we're just not getting the reward for it. Looking to the last four races, I will just be going out there to enjoy them and score as many points as I can for the team. I still believe that second in the Constructors' Championship is in our reach if our luck takes a turn for the better and that's what we will all be aiming for."
Ross Brawn, Team Principal: "A tough afternoon for us which was made more frustrating by the fact that we had a good car today and unfortunately did not get the opportunity to demonstrate that. Our lap times were pretty competitive and the tire durability was good but for various reasons, we weren't able to race well. We suffered a puncture with Lewis off the line and, whilst he managed to recover to the pits, the damage subsequently proved too great to continue. With Nico, we had the issue with the pit stop which led to the drive through penalty. We're normally a pretty reliable team in the pits and I don't fully understand what happened yet but we will investigate and take any necessary actions. The team has worked extremely hard over the past two weeks and I still believe we have the potential to finish the season in second place in the Constructors' Championship but we have to use the potential of the car to the full in the four remaining races to achieve that aim."
Toto Wolff, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "That was a character-building afternoon for our team. Lewis suffered an unfortunate racing incident on the run down to turn one and had to complete an entire lap with a punctured right-rear tire. That seriously damaged the underfloor of the car and it became clear soon after he went back out that the rear brake temperatures were climbing and the car pulling to the right. So the only sensible precaution was to retire the car after seven laps. As for Nico, he drove a strong race but his finishing position was dictated by the drive-through penalty that he received for an unsafe release at his first pit stop. After that, he recovered well to finish in eighth position and salvage four points."
Nico Hulkenberg (6th): "I think, we did everything we could today. I was already surprised by the pace of the car going to the grid as it felt really good. Again I managed to keep both Ferraris behind me for a long time, even if it wasn't enough as my tires just gave up a little bit at the end of the race. We were fighting throughout the race today. Just after my second pit stop I was surprised I was able to pull away a bit from Fernando (Alonso), but he was probably saving his tires. It was a great team result with P6 and P7, and hopefully a nice present for Peter Sauber. I'm fairly confident we can fight for points again in India."
Esteban Gutierrez (7th): "Finally I can feel great satisfaction after the race. It has been a lot of work to get up to this point and, while it has not been an easy path, I think it has been a very solid one. Over the past few races we have been improving a lot and, as I said yesterday, we have to keep optimistic and this is the result of that. Knowing we can achieve something like this, you really go forward and do your best and push. Even though the last few laps were very difficult with Nico Rosberg behind me, it was overall a great race. I want to thank the team as is has done a great job today. Also many happy returns to Peter Sauber on his 70th birthday."
Monisha Kaltenborn, Team Principal: "This is a fantastic result for us, especially on Peter's birthday. We hope he is happy with this. Both drivers, once again, put up a fantastic fight. It is further proof we are going in the right direction and gives us a lot of confidence for the remaining races, as there is a lot we can still fight for. Hats off to both drivers and to the team that did a great job both at home and here. On behalf of the whole team I would like to wish Peter Sauber a happy 70th birthday. Over the past 43 years motorsport has shaped his life. He established the Sauber F1 Team in Formula One as well as the Sauber brand in motorsport. Sauber is now the fourth oldest name in Formula One. Peter was able to achieve all of that from Switzerland, which four decades ago no one believed was possible. He founded a motorsport team, brought it to the highest level of motorsport and was able to compete continuously in Formula One for over 20 years. Sauber Motorsport today is a technology centre of the highest standard. Peter Sauber always focused on the interests of the team. For that he deserves the utmost gratitude and respect."
Tom McCullough, Head of Track Engineering: "This is our first double points score of the year and a fantastic result for the team. Some good strategy work saw us punching a little bit above our weight for most of the race. Esteban made a great start and had a fantastic first lap and it is really good for him to score his first points today. This has been coming for a while, we never doubted he would make it, and this is a well deserved seventh place. For Nico it was also a good race and he worked hard for his sixth. I hope the boss enjoyed this on his 70th birthday today."
Paul di Resta (11th): "At the start of the race I didn't get a good launch and a few cars came by me, and then we lost out at the first pit stop because the Williams of Bottas jumped us. That compromised the second stint, which is why we went very aggressive with an early second stop to get track position and move ahead of the Williams. The car felt better for the final stint and it looked like we were on course for a point. In the end we were about five laps too short with the tire life because I couldn't defend from Jenson [Button]. With four races to go we need to take the positives from this weekend and will travel to India determined to get back in the points."
Adrian Sutil (14th): "It's been a very tough weekend and starting from the back of the grid made it difficult to get close to the points. In the end I finished P14 and had some good battles, but there was a lot of oversteer in the car and it was not easy to be consistent. The best part of the race was the start because I moved up to P16, but we just didn't have the race pace we needed today and couldn't get the performance from the tires."
Robert Fernley, Deputy Team Principal: "We made no secret of the fact that Suzuka was going to be the most difficult track for us in the second part of the season. So it was no surprise that points were hard to come by today. Paul came close in P11, but his race strategy was hampered in the second stint when he was running behind Bottas. He finally cleared the Williams by pitting early for his second stop, but we were missing the pace to fend off the recovering Button and that cost us the final point. With Adrian it was a similar story as he ran behind Maldonado for much of the race and struggled with tire performance. So it's been an uphill struggle for us, but we remain upbeat as we head to India for the team's home race. The upcoming tracks should play more to our strengths and give us the opportunity to get back to scoring regular points."
Pastor Maldonado (16th): "It was pleasing to be able to make a move on the last lap to gain a position over my teammate. I felt we got the strategy slightly wrong today and we were struggling with the pace a bit, but we did manage to get 100% out of the car."
Valtteri Bottas (17th): "At the beginning of the race we didn't look too bad and managed to keep some cars behind us. At the end of the second stint and into the third stint our pace seemed to drop off and we weren't able to keep our positions. As the tires wore out at the end we did struggle a bit, so unfortunately we couldn't fight anymore."
Xevi Pujolar, Chief Race Engineer: "It was a good clean start and first lap from both drivers. We were racing the Toro Rosso's and the Force India's and aiming for a two-stop strategy. We stuck to strategy but needed to be more aggressive in the second stint to keep them behind so in the end we weren't able to hold them off. Ultimately our pace wasn't good enough. This circuit is hard on tires and our tire life was on the limit so we couldn't pit any earlier than we did otherwise we risked not making it to the end of the race. Valtteri and Pastor therefore ended up racing each other, and after Valtteri had been ahead for the majority of the race, Pastor found a way through in the final chicane of the last lap."
Laurent Debout, Renault: "We made some progress this weekend and had a good result in qualifying so P16 and P17 is disappointing for all our efforts. Suzuka is always a hard race and unfortunately it was a very tough one for us today. We hope for more in India and for the remainder of the season."
Jean-Eric Vergne (12th): "There are some positive elements from today, because the car worked very well in this afternoon, However, our pit stops were not the best and cost us some time. After the start I found myself in traffic, so the team decided to call me in a bit early for the switch from the Option to the Prime, but the pit stop was slow and just put me back in the traffic. It was hard to overtake, so we tried lengthening the next two stints and the remaining pit stops were not the best. Apart from that, my pace seemed reasonable, so it's a shame, as I think I could have done better, especially as I had a lot of new tires for the race. I really hope I have a bit more luck and another good car in India."
Daniel Ricciardo (13th): "I am disappointed not to have scored some points today, because I am convinced I was heading for the top ten, which would have been an encouraging result, after struggling with the balance of the car on Saturday. We started on the Hard tire and after I made a good start to move up two places, it was looking good as I passed Bottas on the track and moved up the order as those on the Medium pitted ahead of me. I was moving up the order again after my first stop and then I made a move on the outside of Sutil at the 130R and got past him. But after that, I ran wide onto the grass, which lost me a bit of time. Sadly, the Stewards decided I had gained an advantage by going off the track and had to take a drive-through penalty, which of course ruined my race. I was ninth when I came in for the penalty and it dropped me down outside the points."
Franz Tost, Team Principal: "First of all, the mechanics need to be commended for doing a good job in rebuilding Jev's car after the fire yesterday. We were reasonably flexible regarding our strategy for today, looking at a three stop for Jean-Eric, as he had plenty of new tires, so it seemed like a sensible choice, while with Daniel we were looking at a two stopper. As often happens at Suzuka, Jev got stuck in traffic after the start, so we brought him in early, but a long stop put him back in the same place. After that he drove very well in the middle of the race, overtaking other cars. Daniel had a clearer start, moving up two places right away and kept out of traffic. Then, well after he passed Sutil, he ran wide onto the gravel, losing time. However, the Stewards decided he had gained an advantage. He therefore had to come in for the drive-through penalty, that cost him a top ten finish."
Charles Pic (18th): "I had a good start but we'd already decided to serve the drive-through penalty at the end of lap one to get it out of the way and I was playing catch up from there. My target from there was to pass Chilton and I finished almost 20 seconds clear of him so that's about as much as we could have hoped for today. I was on a set of hards for the first stint and they held up ok, they felt pretty good and I was given the all-clear to push quite early on so aimed to cut the gap as much as I could. We stopped for the first time on lap 17 and did the second stint on new options and my pace was good on them, right up until the second stop on lap 35. The final stint was on another set of hards and I came out around 11 seconds behind the Marussia so pushed as hard as I could and had the gap down to eight seconds with 11 laps left. I was gaining on him at about a second a lap and with five laps left I got him and pulled away, finally finishing 18th. I have to say I'm pretty happy about that, bearing in mind the time I lost on the first lap but I just kept pushing. I think it's a fair result today for the work the whole team put in, and one that shows we never stop fighting."
Giedo van der Garde (DNF, Accident): "My start was ok but going into turn one I was squeezed between both the Marussia cars and had nowhere to go. I lost my front wing in contact with Bianchi and then the car went straight off and into the wall. It was quite a heavy impact but I'm ok. Obviously that's disappointing, but it was a racing incident and sometimes these things happen so now we'll move on to India and push for a better weekend there and for the rest of the season."
Max Chilton (19th): "Generally this has been a really positive weekend for me and one where we've made all the right moves. It was great to qualify ahead of my three nearest competitors for the first time yesterday and today I held position for most of the race, so it was pretty disappointing to lose out just a few laps from the end. I was happy with the way our race was panning out but on the prime tire in the final stint I struggled a lot more and made a small mistake going onto the marbles, which caused me to go off. From then on, with those tires, there was little I could do to recover. Although we lost out in the end, I think we have to focus on the positives. The car is a lot stronger and we are in a good place for the fight with the Caterhams."
Jules Bianchi (DNF, Accident): "All in all I think this is a weekend that was destined not to come my way, which is a shame as I love the Suzuka Circuit. We did our best to fight back and I was very confident in the way we would approach the race. Unfortunately, as I turned into the first corner on the opening lap, van der Garde hit my rear wing which pushed me off track and into the gravel. Nothing more to say really, except my thanks to the Team for a lot of hard work this weekend. We'll be back to do better in India I hope because there are good signs for the car performance."
John Booth, Team Principal: "A disappointing end to a weekend where we've seen some very positive signs with car performance. Jules' start was again fantastic this week and this enabled him to jump Giedo van der Garde. Had his race continued, then with the turn of pace that we saw on his long runs on Saturday morning, we feel sure he would have had a strong showing. Max was enjoying a good race and we were managing his pace well in order to ensure we made the two stop strategy work. Unfortunately he struggled a little more on his last set of prime tires and he ended up running wide, which let Charles Pic through. Overall we have good reason to feel encouraged by many aspects of this weekend and we are looking forward to introducing some smaller developments for India, which we hope will continue to improve the pace of the car."
Fastest lap: Mark Webber, 1m34.587s
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