Vettel Goes Back-to-Back in Japan as Webber Extends F-1 Lead
Vettel, who started from pole position, finished nine- tenths of a second ahead of Webber at Suzuka yesterday as the five leading contenders filled the top five places. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was third ahead of McLaren duo Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Webber, who had an 11-point lead in the drivers’ standings heading into the race, now has a 14-point advantage over Alonso and Vettel with three events remaining. Vettel had been 21 points adrift before sealing his third victory of the season and second straight at Suzuka.
“It’s about time,” Vettel said in a news conference after winning his first race since June 27. “I’m really happy to be back and to have won, it’s my second time here which I’m very proud of. It was a very good day for us.”
Australia’s Webber, seeking his first drivers’ title, has 220 points with Alonso and Vettel on 206, though the Spaniard is in second place because he has four race wins to Vettel’s three. Hamilton now has 192 points, 28 down on Webber, while Button has seen the gap to the leader grow to 31 points.
Twenty five points, the value of a victory, had separated the top five drivers going into yesterday’s race.
“The most important thing is that the gap is going the right way,” Webber said in a news conference. “I need to keep it like that. Seb deserved the victory, did a good job, but as we’ve seen this year, five of us are capable of winning races. I need to win again in the future.”
The 19-event series next shifts to South Korea for the inaugural Korean Grand Prix on Oct. 24.
The first six laps yesterday took place with the safety car at the front after two crashes marred the start of the 53-lap race, forcing Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Vitaly Petrov out.
Renault’s Robert Kubica, who had overtaken Webber at the start to go second, also quit when he lost his right rear wheel, leaving the five championship contenders in the top five places when racing resumed and Vettel leading by about a second from Webber, Alonso, Button and Hamilton.
Within three laps, the two Red Bulls were more than a second clear of two-time world champion Alonso.
Pole, Pit Stops
Germany’s Vettel, who took pole less than four hours before the race after heavy rain postponed qualifying by a day, made his pit stop on lap 24 with Alonso. Webber came in on the next lap, leaving Button at the front.
The pattern stayed the same until Button pitted with 15 laps remaining, allowing Vettel to regain the lead ahead of Webber, Alonso and Hamilton. Button, last year’s champion, rejoined the race in fifth place and six laps later passed Hamilton as his fellow Briton struggled with a gearbox problem that resulted in him losing third gear.
Hamilton, the 2008 series winner, said his title chances may have slipped away.
“The championship doesn’t look great at the moment,” Hamilton said in a team statement. “But there are still three races to go and 75 points available, so we’ll remain optimistic and keep doing the best job we can. I’ll keep fighting.”
With four laps remaining, Nico Rosberg suffered a failure on his Mercedes and crashed out as Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi made a series of overtaking moves in his home race to take his Sauber into seventh place behind Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher.
At the front, Vettel stayed in control to seal his eighth career victory and join Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen as the only drivers to win consecutive races at Suzuka.
Red Bull’s third 1-2 finish of the season pulled it further ahead in the constructors’ standings, with 426 points to McLaren’s 381 and Ferrari’s 334.
Following Korea’s F-1 debut, the circuit moves to Brazil before finishing Nov. 14 in Abu Dhabi.
“A one-two finish, 43 points, it’s the jackpot,” Fabrice Lom, Red Bull’s principal engineer, said in a team statement. “We really need to focus on these last races, championship- winning chances like this do not come along very often.”
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