Sebastian Vettel continued his relentless march to an inevitable fourth-straight world title, using clever strategy to clinch his fifth win in succession ahead of teammate Mark Webber and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean in yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel’s win at the historic Suzuka circuit is his ninth of the year and extends the German’s lead at the top of the standings to 90 points over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso heading into the next round in India.
With just three races remaining following the Indian Grand Prix and a total of 100 points up for grabs, Vettel needs to have a cushion of just 75 points over Alonso leaving India in order to become the first man to win his first four titles in succession.
As a result, the only way the title race will carry on into Abu Dhabi is if Spaniard Alonso manages to outscore Vettel by more than 15 points at the Buddh International Circuit in two weeks’ time.
What this means is that even if Alonso were to win in India, all Vettel would need to win the title would be a fifth-place finish whereas if Alonso were to finish third or lower, the German would be World Champion even if he fails to score.
However, despite the reigning World Champion extending his winning streak yesterday, it was a far from straightforward win for Vettel.
Both Red Bulls made poor getaways from second on the grid allowing Grosjean to leapfrog them from fourth on the grid, the Frenchman leading pole man Webber into the first corner with Vettel slotting into third.
Grosjean stayed ahead through the first round of stops but started losing time on the harder tyre, eventually conceding the lead to Webber who made a very early second stop, Red Bull opting to switch him to a three stop strategy as the Australian had taken too much out of his tyres in the first stint.
Vettel, meanwhile, had been biding his time in third for much of the race and overtook Grosjean for second following the second round of stops, moving into the lead when Webber came in for his final stop.
“As I said, I really tried to manage the gaps in the beginning of the stint and then close the gap, which worked brilliantly, especially with Romain,” Vettel said after the race.
“The end of the second stint I was just on his tail when he pitted, able to stay out another couple of laps and then I had more or less fresh tyres when I was able to pass him, so, yeah, great strategy. It obviously worked.”