F1: Supreme Sebastian Vettel is forced to wait for fated coronation despite victory in Japanese Grand Prix

German claims fifth consecutive victory despite plucky drive from Romain Grosjean as Red Bulls dominate once again

Sebastian Vettel is closing in on his fourth consecutive world title after recovering from a faltering start to claim his fifth grand prix victory in a row here yesterday – becoming the sixth driver in Formula One history to achieve that feat.

The German now only needs a fifth-placed finish in India in 13 days’ time  to finish the job, although for a while here it seemed like what has become a procession to another crown might be held up by the unlikely challenge of Romain Grosjean. No longer the “first-lap nutcase” of 2012, the Frenchman was dreaming of his first grand prix victory before the Red Bulls of Vettel and Mark Webber provided an unwelcome wake-up call.

Fernando Alonso’s plucky fourth place for Ferrari leaves him 90 points adrift of Vettel with 100 still up for grabs. But another 1-2 was more than enough to cement the constructors’ title for Red Bull for the fourth year in succession.

“I’m blown away with the race,” Vettel said. “I made a very poor start, and got caught between Romain and Lewis [Hamilton] and clipped a little bit the front wing. I couldn’t go anywhere. The decision on my strategy was made in the first stint and I stayed out longer but saved the tyres in order to push harder. I looked after my tyres and managed to get past Romain and Mark, who was on another strategy. I’m overwhelmed with the result.”

Grosjean made a storming start for Lotus from fourth on the grid to seize the lead and stay in front for half the race before Red Bull’s strategy put Vettel in the driving seat. Even then a second place might have been Grosjean’s consolation, had he not been held up by backmarkers and then overtaken on the penultimate lap by Webber on fresher tyres.

“I thought it was the day that the first victory was coming,” Grosjean, a former GP2 champion, said after appearing on the Suzuka podium. “I said, ‘Our car is beautiful today, it’s going to be good...’”

Hamilton’s race was all but over just seconds after it began as Grosjean came down the inside and the Briton found himself pinched between the two Red Bulls as they struggled to regain momentum. As Vettel had to move left to avoid Grosjean he clipped Hamilton’s right rear tyre with his left front wing endplate. The McLaren driver’s tyre instantly deflated and he limped to the pits. He restarted on fresh tyres, but soon retired when it was clear aerodynamic damage was costing him a second a lap.”

“I got a fantastic start, better than both Red Bulls for probably the first time this year,” Hamilton said. “Seb’s front wing clipped my right rear, cut the tyre and that was that. It wasn’t his fault, just one of those things that wasn’t meant to be this afternoon. I feel most gutted for the team.”

Grosjean’s 2012 season was littered with first-corner crashes, including one that brought him a race ban for the Italian Grand Prix, but yesterday’s start showed how much progress he has made. “When I dropped the clutch I said, ‘Woah, that’s a good one, come on, come on, go for it’. Amazing,” he said. “I think [the battle] would have been nice with [Webber] until the end of the race but we caught some slower cars, lapped cars, and they blocked me a lot. I lost the position against Mark. I don’t know if I could have held him until the end.”

The race was a marked contrast to last year’s at Suzuka, when a furious Webber branded Grosjean a “first-lap nutcase” and berated him after they collided in the opening seconds.

The Australian, who is leaving Formula One at the end of the season for a new career in sportscars with Porsche, was far more complimentary yesterday about his old sparring partner. “I think it’s very clear that Romain has a very different mental approach to the job at the moment this year,” he said. “He’s driven some quite strong races, putting together the whole weekend which is a sign of a driver starting to get a bit more relaxed and confident. A lot fewer mistakes, not just in races but in practice. You know, we’re not here to blow smoke up his arse but in the end he’s doing a very good job this year and it’s a big step for him... I hope he doesn’t improve too much more before the end of the year.”

Webber chased Grosjean until making his first pit stop on the 11th lap. Grosjean followed him in a lap later, but Vettel went until the 14th lap before stopping. Grosjean continued to lead, but after Webber again stopped early, on the 25th lap, as Grosjean went until the 29th. That put Vettel into the lead and, crucially, he didn’t stop until the 37th lap.

By then it was clear Red Bull had switched Webber to a three-stop strategy. He had overtaken Grosjean during the second stops, and now he led, but then he came in for his final pit call on the 42nd lap, and dropped to third. He was on fresher medium-compound tyres and quickly hauled in Grosjean, but by the time he succeeded in displacing the Frenchman on the 52nd lap, he had run out of time to challenge Vettel and followed him home 7.1sec adrift.

In the press conferences Webber was the dutiful team player. However, he told reporters later that he was surprised to be called in early for both of his stops because his tyres were still performing well, and again when he did his third stop. “When they called me in for that I still felt that there was life in that set of tyres, and that I might just have been able to hold on to the end,” he said, indicating without quite saying it that he felt he had been short-changed.

Alonso played second fiddle for a long time to Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, then moved ahead of the Brazilian and in the closing stages fought and won a tight battle with Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who lost fifth to Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen with three laps left. Jenson Button was ninth for McLaren but Vettel now stands on the verge of joining Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the third driver to win four conseuctive world titles.

“I don’t want to think about , just to enjoy today,” he said. “We have a very, very good gap but we’ll still keep pushing. We never give up because it’s not over until it’s over.”

Suggested Topics
Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Fresh hope: Ruth Womak and her dog Jess. A free training course in basic computing skills changed Ruth’s life
educationHow a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable