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Vettel victorious in Japan
The Formula One world title champagne is on ice for Sebastian Vettel, despite the Red Bull driver claiming a personal best fifth consecutive victory this season.
Vettel made a two-stop strategy work to perfection around Suzuka to claim his fourth Japanese Grand Prix win in five years, spearheading a Red Bull one-two as Mark Webber claimed second just ahead of Romain Grosjean in his Lotus.
But with Fernando Alonso fourth in his Ferrari, it means the battle for the championship moves on to India in a fortnight's time as the 26-year-old German now has a 90-point cushion over the Spaniard.
For Vettel and Red Bull, their fourth consecutive titles now beckon in Delhi, with the latter 149 points ahead of Ferrari in a one-sided fight for the constructors' crown.
It was a tense scrap as the strategies came into play, and it could have included Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton had he not sustained a puncture in the opening seconds.
Lining up on the grid, Hamilton pointed his car at such an angle it was apparent the 28-year-old was aiming to arrow between the front-row Red Bull lock-out.
When the five red lights disappeared Hamilton did exactly that, and managed to pull alongside Vettel on the run down to the first corner.
But with the merest of touches, Hamilton punctured his right-rear tyre in making contact with the front left on Vettel's Red Bull.
It caused an instant deflation, dropping Hamilton to the back of the pack and an immediate pit stop at the end of the first lap for fresh rubber.
But in limping back to the pits, it was eventually apparent Hamilton also sustained damage to the floor of his car, resulting in him retiring for the first time this season after eight laps.
It also brought about an official end to Hamilton's title challenge, although he went into the race 111 points adrift anyway and only in the hunt mathematically, rather than realistically.
Hamilton said: "I had a great start, one of my best all year, if not the best.
"I went for the gap, I felt I had a clear gap, but then going into turn one the rear tyre was down. I cannot believe my luck, but that's life."
Asked whether he could have continued, Hamilton replied: "Nah! The floor was destroyed. I was a second and a half, two seconds down per lap. I couldn't have made it to the end."
At that stage Hamilton was the third retiree as Caterham's Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic in his Marussia sent each other spinning into the gravel on the approach to turn one as they collided.
What then followed was the strategy battle between the two Red Bulls, with Webber running a three-stop plan compared to the two of Vettel and Grosjean.
The Frenchman, who had made a blistering start to take the lead from fourth on the grid heading into turn one, led for the opening 12 laps before his first stop.
Through the first round of stops Grosjean managed to recapture the lead, yet all the while Vettel was calmly working to his strategy.
The German played a patient game, and despite a number of rare lock-ups, it proved enough to again see him take the chequered flag.
Behind him, the key moment came a few laps from home, with Webber failing to get by Grosjean on fresh medium-compound tyres.
It was not until lap 52 of the 53 that Webber finally made his move to clinch the runner-up spot.
Behind the leading trio, Alonso finished 45 seconds adrift of Vettel, with Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen fifth ahead of Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg.
McLaren's Jenson Button was ninth, Paul Di Resta 11th in his Force India, while Marussia's Max Chilton was 19th and is now the only driver to finish every race this season.
"I'm blown away by today's race," said Vettel
"I had a very poor start, I clipped my front wing and Lewis had a puncture, but after that I looked after the tyres and had incredible pace, so overall fantastic. I'm so overwhelmed.
"I've won here four times now, which is incredible.
"As for the championship we have a good gap, so we'll still keep pushing. It looks good at this stage, but it's not over until it's over."
Webber, in his final year in F1, knows he had a chance of claiming a victory.
"The race was pretty good, although I'd like one more step on the podium," said Webber.
"Seb went longer in his first stint, and that made the difference, but I'm pretty happy with second. I got the best out of what I could."