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
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried