• Japanese Grand Prix

Vettel takes vital win as Alonso retires

Chris Medland October 7, 2012
Sebastian Vettel took a dominant victory and is now just four points behind Fernando Alonso © Press Association

Sebastian Vettel took a dominant victory in the Japanese Grand Prix to all but wipe out Fernando Alonso's championship lead.

Vettel won comfortably from pole as Alonso retired at turn one, leaving him with just a four point lead over the reigning champion. Felipe Massa showed the pace of the Ferrari to take his first podium since Korea in 2010 to finish second, while Kamui Kobayashi held off Jenson Button on the final lap to take a hugely popular third place in front of his home fans.

Lewis Hamilton recovered to finish in fifth place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen as they both just about kept their championship hopes alive. Nico Hulkenberg was seventh ahead of Pastor Maldonado - incredibly taking his first points since his Spanish Grand Prix victory - Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo.

While the final laps were nailbiting for the home fans watching Button pressurise Kobayashi, the most significant action happened at turn one on the opening lap. A chaotic start saw Alonso move across on Raikkonen, clipping the front wing of the Lotus and picking up a puncture that saw him spin off at turn one. In turn two Romain Grosjean was again involved in an opening-lap incident as he punted the rear of Mark Webber, relegating both to the back of the field. The Lotus driver received a ten second stop/go penalty for the incident, while as the field tried to avoid the two colliding Bruno Senna ran in to the back of Nico Rosberg, leaving the Mercedes out of the race.

The safety car was deployed after the opening lap incidents and on the restart Vettel pulled a big gap over Kobayashi, with Button close behind the Sauber. From that point on Vettel was never to be headed, eventually streaking away to win by over twenty seconds and having to be told to slow down by his race engineer as he set the fastest lap to complete the perfect weekend of pole, fastest lap and win.

As Button proved unable to stay within striking distance of Kobayashi ahead of the first pit stops, Massa kept pace and stayed out two laps longer than the cars ahead of him. With Kobayashi and Button rejoining behind Ricciardo, Massa was able to jump the pair of them and pull away in to a comfortable second place.

Sergio Perez had dropped a few places at the start but showed exactly what McLaren can expect next season with a microcosm of his potential in the opening 20 laps. As the race restarted he attempted to pass Raikkonen around the outside in to turn one but was always going to be forced wide, allowing Hamilton through in to sixth. To regain the place, Perez dived down the inside of Hamilton with a brilliantly aggressive move in to the hairpin on lap 6. However, a slow stop dropped him behind the McLaren again and when he attempted a repeat manoeuvre, Hamilton closed the door, with Perez switching to the outside but losing control and spinning in to the gravel and out of the race.

Hamilton struggled in his middle stint but Raikkonen was also unable to match pace at the front and the two became engaged in a battle for fifth. Hamilton pitted one lap later than the Lotus for his second and final stop, rejoining alongside Raikkonen in to turn one. Though Raikkonen had the momentum around the outside, Hamilton dived back up the inside of turn two as the pair went wheel-to-wheel and managed to force his way ahead.

From then on the race was largely settled as drivers tried to look after their tyres before Button's late assault on Kobayashi. Vettel becomes the first back-to-back winner of 2012 and the result sees Alonso on the verge of losing his championship lead heading to Korea next weekend, while Raikkonen is 37 points and Hamilton 42 behind the Ferrari.

The defining moment of the race happened at turn one © Press Association