Vettel edges teammate Webber for victory at Japanese GP

by Jim Armstrong

The Associated Press

SUZUKA, Mie Pref. — Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel edged out teammate Mark Webber on Sunday to win the Japanese Grand Prix and move closer to the Formula One championship lead.

Vettel started from pole position at the Suzuka Circuit and led for most of the race to defend his Japanese GP title and pressure driver’s championship leader Webber.

“It was an incredible day with qualifying in the morning and the win in the afternoon,” Vettel said. “It seems like this track was drawn for us. I had a good start which is obviously the key.”

Ferrari’s Felipe Alonso finished third to remain in contention for the driver’s title.

With three races remaining, Webber leads the championship standings with 220 points, ahead of Vettel and Alonso with 206. Alonso is in second place because he has won more races this season.

McLaren’s title hopes took another blow as Jenson Button was fourth followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton, who experienced gearbox problems, despite making a change before the race.

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher finished sixth for Mercedes.

Vettel crossed the finish line 0.9 seconds ahead of Webber and 2.7 seconds ahead of Alonso. The win is the German’s third of the season after Valencia and Malaysia.

The Japanese victory is also Red Bull’s sixth win of the season and first since Webber claimed the Hungarian GP in August. For Webber, it marked the 19th podium finish of his F1 career.

The race got off to a chaotic start with four drivers — Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg of Williams and Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi — all going out before the first turn had been completed.

Petrov swerved across the track and smashed into the retaining wall before the pack even arrived at the first turn.

Massa tried to move up the inside of the pack and gain position at Turn 1, but he lost control on the grass and went out at the opening corner, taking Liuzzi with him.

Robert Kubica, who started from third on the grid and split Vettel and Webber off the start, went out on the second lap when he lost a wheel while in second position. That put the Red Bulls back into first and second.

“It was a bit lucky for us when Robert had the wheel come off,” Webber said.

“It was virtually impossible for me to overtake Sebastian after that.”

The only time Vettel and Webber were not in the lead was when Button’s pit strategy allowed him to lead from laps 25 to 38 as the world champion ran long on his hard tires before changing to soft tires.

Alonso, who won the previous two races in Singapore and Italy, said he knew it would be hard to challenge the Red Bulls.

“It was a tough race and I didn’t make a good start,” Alonso said. “It was impossible to catch the Red Bulls in the first part of the race. I was able to close the gap a little bit later on but we knew coming here they would be tough to beat.”

Virgin driver Lucas Di Grassi severely damaged his car when he lost control of during the warmup lap and didn’t start the race.