Vettel narrows F1 deficit to 4 points
Current Formula One leader Alonso sees his points advantage shrink after first-lap shunt in crash-marred Japanese Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel slashed the race for the world drivers championship to just a four-point margin yesterday as he stormed to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix after championship leader Fernando Alonso spun out on the first turn.
Red Bull's double defending world champion escaped a chaotic start and sped away to win by more than 20 seconds ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa and home favourite Kamui Kobayashi, whose first podium received huge roars from the capacity crowd.
Vettel, 25, who also won in Singapore two weeks ago, threw the championship wide open as he became the only man this year with back-to-back victories. With five races left, he trails Alonso 194 points to 190.
Alonso, of Ferrari, was eliminated when he was hit by Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus at the first corner and suffered a puncture, kicking up plumes of dust as he skidded into the dirt.
As carnage ensued behind him, Vettel was left out in front, and he raced to the 24th triumph of his career, a feat that drew him level with legendary Argentinian Juan-Manuel Fangio in the record books.
"I saw the safety car at the beginning, but I had a very good start, and that was very important. I knew behind me there was a crash and I saw a Ferrari was out, but wasn't sure which one," Vettel said. "Halfway through I was looking to see the others and I saw their [Ferrari] car still racing. It was Felipe; I didn't know what happened to Fernando."
Only once in the previous 17 years has the winner of the Japanese race not won the Formula One title - Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello in 2003, the season when Michael Schumacher won a fourth successive drivers' title.
But Vettel warned there was much racing left in an unpredictable championship that now has every chance of going down to the wire.
"It was an important step today, but there is still a long way to go," Vettel said. "Look at the last couple of races, and since Spa [Belgium], it's been very much up and down.
"We don't know what will happen in the next race, but let's try and take the points. It's been a long season with crazy racing."
Alonso criticised Raikkonen for his first-lap mistake and admitted he had now been plunged into a tight race for the title. "We have five races and they will be like five finals, five championships - a big fight every time now," he said.
In a thunderous burst of collisions, both Alonso and Nico Rosberg of Mercedes were knocked out while Mark Webber was also forced off the circuit, but recovered.
Webber was shunted by Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Rosberg was the victim of a mistake by Williams' Bruno Senna. Both offending drivers were given drive-through penalties.
Webber later called Grosjean "a first-lap nutcase" and said "maybe he needs another holiday [ban]".
When the safety car withdrew, Vettel streaked away in front followed by Massa and Sauber's Sergio Perez, who raced with great vigour before making a mistake and spinning out.
Vettel, revelling in the performance of his Red Bull, simply romped away. Jenson Button was breathing down Kobayashi's neck at the finish but the Japanese driver held on to ignite the home crowd.