Sebastian Vettel took his 5th victory in a row during an enthralling Japanese Grand Prix, which boiled all the way down to a strategic struggle with Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber as well as the Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
All three motorists led the competition at one point or another, but as the Red Bulls split their techniques between a two-stop for Vettel and a three-stop for Webber, the solitary Lotus got outfoxed and outpaced over the 53 laps. Webber pushed his way through to 2nd spot on the penultimate lap, with a strategy that put the focus on on-track action as opposed to playing out the passing in the pit stops.
Fernando Alonso came in at fourth to guarantee the championship will be extended for one more competition, if not more, with Kimi Raikkonen recovering from a bad start to finishing fifth ahead of another strong overall performer – Nico Hulkenberg. Esteban Gutierrez took the very first points of his career, when he came in seventh ahead of Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa to take the last points scoring place.
The beginning of the competition set up the struggle for the lead as Grosjean made a brilliant start going from fourth on the grid to the lead at the very fist corner. Lewis Hamilton had been in the mix but got squeezed out by Webber from the left and as he reacted his right-rear tyre made contact with Vettel’s front wing. He suffered a puncture that dropped him to the back of the pack and eventually led to his demise due to harm on the flooring of his Mercedes.
Grosjean led the two Red Bulls into the very first turn, in reverse order to exactly how they completed the Grand Prix. But also though Webber and Vettel seemed quicker than the Lotus in the very early phases they bided their time in the understanding the competition could be played away through the pit stops. The techniques showed up to be fairly fluid, but for the two Red Bulls the foundations had been laid during Friday training. Webber was running less downforce than Vettel, which meant that his vehicle was primed for overtaking but not as easy on its tyres as his team-mate’s. Vettel soon saw the benefits of that choice and shuffled himself onto a two-stop strategy by utilizing that additional downforce to protect his tyres, while Webber had to take the battle to Grosjean to make his much more aggressive four stints work.
Grosjean was caught in between, but eventually did well to remain in touch with just what was undoubtedly a slower vehicle. He covered Webber at the very first pit stop to guarantee he didn’t lose his position on the track, but in doing so allowed Vettel to keep going for a bit longer. Vettel’s first pit was two laps later than Grosjean’s, but his second was a whole eight laps later than the Lotus, therefore, though he emerged behind the Frenchman in his last stint, passing for the lead was simple.
Webber, at the same time, had been pushing for a place in the laps of the competition and rejoined in 3rd place on medium tyres after his 3rd pit stop. He had been a full second quicker than his team-mate and Grosjean, which seemed as though it would be sufficient to worry Vettel. Nevertheless, he had to get ahead of Grosjean first, and with little traction due to his set-up he failed at his first three or four efforts to get past into Turn 1. That offered Vettel the pillow he required and it was only when the struggle between Grosjean and Webber came up to a gaggle of backmarkers on the penultimate lap that he lastly discovered a means to get past on the inside of Turn 1.
By that stage Vettel was well in front and well on to his 5th victory and another place towards his fourth Grand Prix’ title. Alonso prevented the celebrations kicking down in Japan by pulling his Ferrari from eighth spot to fourth. He completed 35.6s off Grosjean in 3rd after being held up by team-mate Massa early in the competition and losing a place to Hulkenberg in the very first pit as an result. It took him until lap 46 to find a way past the Sauber after a robust defence from Hulkenberg, whom lost 5th spot to a beautifully performed overtake from Raikkonen on lap 52 of 53.
Although the struggle for victory in the two championships is all but finished, the battle for 2nd in the constructors’ is heating up with Ferrari ten points clear of Mercedes and Lotus closing, a mere 23 points down from 3rd place. The last story of the struggle and Vettel’s sensational success will come at the Indian Grand Prix in two days’ time.