Vettel wins Japanese Grand Prix

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The Independent Online

Sebastian Vettel kept alive his outside chance of winning the Formula One world championship after the Red Bull driver led from pole to win the Japanese Grand Prix.

The German crossed the line 4.8 seconds ahead of Jarno Trulli's Toyota with Lewis Hamilton grabbing third for McLaren.

Vettel's third win of the season now leaves him 16 points behind leader Jenson Button after the Englishman finished eighth, while Rubens Barrichello is 14 adrift of his Brawn GP team-mate having crossed the line seventh.

Following the dramas of yesterday's qualifying session that saw four crashes, three red flags and two drivers taken to hospital, the 53-lap race proved relatively uneventful although Jaime Alguersuari smashed his Toro Rosso into the barrier on the inside of 130R with seven laps to go to bring out the safety car.

However, the unflappable Vettel took it in his stride and pulled away from Trulli once the race restarted to take the chequered flag. The win also kept alive Red Bull's slim hopes of stealing the constructors' title from Brawn.

Outgoing Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth, Nico Rosberg was fifth for Williams and Nick Heidfeld sixth in his BMW Sauber.

Hamilton had yesterday underlined the importance of beating Vettel into the first corner if he was to have any chance of winning and although the Briton's KERS-enhanced McLaren allowed him to jump Trulli off the line, Vettel resisted his attentions as he attempted to go around the outside of the Red Bull.

Trulli slotted in third, Heidfeld fourth, Raikkonen fifth and Barrichello, the main beneficiary of a morning grid revision after his five-place demotion yesterday, maintained sixth.

Button, meanwhile, was slow away and by the end of the first lap was down in 11th having surrendered a place to Robert Kubica's BMW Sauber, which he then managed to regain in the final chicane three laps later.

Vettel had to make the most of Button's qualifying misfortunes and quickly looked to ram home his advantage, establishing a 4.1-second lead over Hamilton during the first 10 laps and, more importantly, he was almost 28 seconds ahead of the Brawn, who was still languishing down in 10th and stuck behind Heikki Kovalainen and Adrian Sutil.

But yet again the gods seemed to smile on the 29-year-old as Sutil attempted to drive his Force India up the inside of Kovalainen's McLaren entering the final chicane, forcing the Finn onto the grass as he refused to yield the position without a fight.

The pair came together and Button happily sped off up the road having gained two places to move into the points.

Sebastien Buemi, whose recklessness in qualifying yesterday led to the slew of penalties, retired his Toro Rosso after 11 laps but Vettel continued untroubled at the front while Hamilton came in for his first stop after 15 laps - an 8.9 second effort - and a number of front-runners followed.

Button had upped his pace to within a couple of tenths of Vettel's by the time he stopped on lap 18 and rejoined down the field, while Vettel was stationary for 12.4 seconds but still regained the lead ahead of Rosberg.

Rosberg came in on lap 23 to allow Hamilton back into second with Trulli battling manfully in third. Heidfeld was running fourth, while Raikkonen reclaimed fifth once Kubica came in on lap 26, which promoted Barrichello back to sixth.

Vettel continued to cruise towards a crucial victory, though, leading Trulli by over eight seconds following his second stop.

Button pitted from sixth and retained his eighth place after most of the field stopped again. Barrichello was up to fourth, Rosberg fifth and Raikkonen had passed Heidfeld during the second round of stops to move into sixth.

Alguersuari's crash on lap 46 could potentially have derailed Vettel's march to the chequered flag but with the cushion of an out-of-position Romain Grosjean in between him and Trulli, he pulled away when the race restarted with four laps to go.

Hamilton could not catch the Italian as he had lost his KERS system following his second stop and had to settle for third, while Button's afternoon got even better when Barrichello lost out in the second round of refuelling to drop to seventh and must have been disheartened to see the Englishman looming large in his mirrors.

Button claimed what could prove to be a crucial point as he managed to resist heavy pressure from Kubica over the closing stages to secure eighth.

Vettel was naturally delighted to still be in the championship hunt.

He said: "We made it and it's good to be back at the front. It can still be done, although it'd be nice to have a few more races left.

"I feel great, what a race. We were the favourites but we had to do the start and it was closer than I thought it would be going into turn one."

Trulli was also pleased to come home second.

"It was a fantastic result, I really wanted to win but Sebastian was untouchable," he said.

"I thought it was going to be a difficult restart with Lewis behind me. It's a double result following Singapore and the car was competitive here."

Hamilton, meanwhile, admitted his victory hopes were over once Vettel beat him into the first corner.

"I tried to get them both at the start, I had quite a good battle with Jarno but couldn't catch Sebastian," he said.

"Just after the last stop, I lost KERS and once Jarno was in front of me, it was impossible to catch him."