Vettel still in the mix after assured display in Japan

Vettel still in the mix after assured display in Japan

Sebastian Vettel kept alive his Formula One World Championship hopes with a superb victory from pole position at today's incident-packed Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka today.

The German led home a Red Bull one-two from championship leader Mark Webber while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso took a strong third.

The McLarens of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were fourth and fifth respectively, leaving both as rank outsiders for the title heading into the final three races of the season.

The result sees Webber increase his championship lead to 14 points over Alonso and Vettel, who are locked together on 206 points.

Hamilton is now on 192 points, 28 down on Webber, while Button has seen the gap to the leader open up to 31.

Vettel was mighty all weekend, finishing fastest in both practice sessions on Friday and going quickest in every segment of qualifying earlier today, and victory was rarely in doubt as he led home the third Red Bull one-two of the season.

Mercedes' Michael Schumacher was the first home of the non-championship challengers in sixth, while Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi produced a drive to thrill the home crowd as he finished seventh.

Kobayashi's team-mate Nick Heidfeld was eighth, while the Williams of Rubens Barrichello and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi rounded out the points scorers.

Vettel's third win of the season came just hours after he sealed pole for the race in a qualifying session held over from yesterday due to torrential rain.

"It's an incredible day, this morning with pole position in qualifying and then this afternoon it's continued," said Vettel.

"It was down to the team. They have been working very hard. They deserve it today.

"Both of us were able to pull away from the field and just controlled the race to the end."

An incident-packed race began even before the lights went out to signal the start as Virgin Racing's Lucas Di Grassi got out of shape on the exit of the 130R corner on his installation lap and crashed heavily into the barriers.

When the lights went out, Vettel led away from the fast-starting Renault of Robert Kubica as Webber dropped to third.

But the real start-line action was happening in the midfield, where Renault's Vitaly Petrov made a flying start from 13th only to clip the Williams of Nico Hulkenberg and spear into the barriers.

Both men were out on the spot, and following them in retirement was Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who misjudged his braking into the first corner and smashed into Force India's Vitantonio Liuzzi.

The breathless start continued on lap three when Kubica, his right-rear having come away, retired from the race, restoring the Red Bull one-two at the front.

The Pole's exit elevated Alonso to third with Button, the only one of the front runners to start on hard tyres, in fourth.

Hamilton, who qualified third but lined up eighth due to a penalty imposed for a gearbox change, was up to fifth early on as all five of the title challengers found themselves running nose to tail.

After the safety car pulled in at the end of lap six, Schumacher pulled a nice move on Barrichello at the final chicane, just as the sister Mercedes of Nico Rosberg was having a wild moment at 130R as he tried to pass Buemi for 12th.

Kobayashi gave the grandstands something to cheer as he bullied his Sauber past the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari to take 10th before taking Force India's Adrian Sutil at the chicane.

Hamilton was the first of the championship hopefuls to pit on lap 23, the Briton emerging from his stop in seventh.

Schumacher's stop one lap later brought Hamilton back up to sixth while an aggressive move on Kobayashi into turn one restored him to the top five.

With his chief rivals all having stopped, Button found himself in the lead at half-distance, but he was unable to establish a substantial gap and dropped a place to fifth, behind Hamilton, when he finally stopped at the end of lap 38.

The world champion earned a reprieve though when Hamilton came on the radio on lap 40 to tell his team he had lost third gear, and within four laps he had dropped back into the clutches of Button.

The McLarens swapped places on the run down the hairpin, after which it was just a case of the two nursing their cars home.

Kobayashi remained at the centre of the action and on lap 44 took Alguersuari, the two swapping paint on the exit of the hairpin before the Japanese pulled away.

The Sauber man was rising up the order again seconds later when Sutil's Mercedes engine in his Force India let go on the run up to 130R, sending the German spinning on his own oil on the exit of the corner.

Kobayashi also got past Barrichello and team-mate Nick Heidfeld in a sterling final few laps, much to the delight of the Suzuka crowd.

On lap 50 Rosberg retired in spectacular fashion when he appeared to suffer a failure at the rear of his car, pitching him into the barrier.

At the front, however, Vettel remained in complete control of proceedings, and after 53 precision laps came home for a victory which leaves the title race still wide open heading to Korea in a fortnight.

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