Vettel wins as Alonso loses out
Japanese GP victor within four points of World Championship leader; Alonso shunted out at first corner; Massa and Kobayashi finish on the podium; Button fourth and Hamilton fifth
Last Updated: 07/10/12 11:13am
The World Championship has been blown wide open after Sebastian Vettel took full advantage of Fernando Alonso's first-corner retirement by romping to a dominant victory in the Japanese GP.
A victim to Kimi Raikkonen for the second time in two days, the forlorn Spaniard was reduced to the rank of trackside spectator as Vettel, delivering the type of front-running masterclass that has become his default calling-card, led from start to finish to trim his advantage at the summit of the Drivers' Championship to a mere four points.
With five races to go, it is Alonso's title to lose and Vettel's to win in a car that, according to paddock rumour that swept through the Suzuka paddock like wildfire on Sunday morning, now boasts a Double DRS device that has given the Red Bull serious straight-line pace.
From the first corner onwards, the World Champion was in a lonely race of his own, leaving the rest of the field trailing in crash-strewn chaos that included Alonso as its highest-profile victim as a boxed-in Raikkonen sent the Ferrari careering into a race-ending spin.
"I don't understand why Kimi did not lift off, I don't know what his idea was the first corner," lamented a frustrated Alonso, just twenty-four hours after paying a steep price for the Finn's spin at the culmination of qualifying.
Just to add insult to Alonso's misery, Felipe Massa's second place, his best result in two years, provided clear proof that, although the F2012 may not have had the speed of the upgraded RB8, the damage-limitation which Fernando has specialized in throughout the season was eminently achievable but for his luckless demise.
For his part, a disappointing Lewis Hamilton salvaged a modest fifth place in his unbalanced MP4-27 to trim his deficit to Alonso but lose further ground to Vettel. The growing gap to the latter - surely now the default title favourite - was certainly not lost on Hamilton.
"I'm quite a realistic person so I know my situation, but I'll never give up - I'll keep pushing," Lewis told Sky Sports F1.
"We've had some strong results, Jenson did a good job today. I think with a bit of a better qualifying we would have had a better result.
"But the Red Bulls are going to be hard to beat."
That "good job" by Jenson Button saw last year's Suzuka winner shadow the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi to the chequered flag but it was the Japanese driver who delighted the home support by claiming his first podium finish in F1. With Kobayashi's future in the sport in doubt, his career-high result couldn't have been better timed either.
The same could be said of Massa too, with the Brazilian skillfully avoiding the carnage induced by Romain Grosjean's latest first-corner indiscretion - the Lotus, seemingly distracted by Sergio Perez, careering into the side of the luckless Mark Webber - and then jumping both Kobayashi and Button through the first of two rounds of pit-stops.
Catching the Red Bull, however, was a different matter altogether - and a different league. As the chequered flag fell, Vettel was twenty seconds up the road from Massa, the sort of advantage that will have the alarm bells ringing at Maranello.
"Red Bull have a whole new set of bodywork parts as well for Korea, so Ferrari need to come up with something pretty special now else it is going to be three in a row for Sebastian," summarised Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle.
Whether Hamilton could have given Vettel a fight, or even a fright, but for his disastrous set-up choice prior to qualifying is a moot point. The Mercedes-bound driver cut a subdued figure all weekend and even suffered the delicious irony of Perez, the man who will replace him at McLaren next season, giving him a taste of his own medicine as the Sauber late-braked the 2008 World Champion into the hairpin during the early stages.
Perhaps excitement then got the better of the young Mexican because, ten laps later after losing out to Hamilton in the pits, he tried an even more ambitious move into the hairpin, attempting to pass the McLaren around the outside. A slide into the gravel and race-ending retirement was the inevitable price to be paid. With an understandably-irate Mark Webber calling for Grosjean to suffer a second suspicion, this was not a day to advance the virtues of youthful ambition.
Vettel, though, was once saddled with the sort of reputation that is now dogging Grosjean. But the crash kid is a very different beast nowadays, transformed into a mature and efficient race-winning metronome.