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So Near And Yet…

ROUND 15 – Japan, October 13, 2013

1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1hr 26m 49.301s (212.484 km/h)
2nd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) gap: 7.129s
3rd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) gap: 9.910s

Fastest Lap: Webber 1:34.587 = 221.015 km/h on lap 44

Pole Position: Webber 1:30.915 = 229.942 km/h

World Championship: Vettel 297 points • Alonso 207 • Raïkkönen 177

SO NEAR AND YET…

Mark Webber almost said ‘Sayonara’ to Suzuka with the perfect result: on pole for the first time this year and the 12th time in his career, he set fastest race lap for the fourth time in 2013 and the 18th overall as he pursued teammate Sebastian Vettel home. Webber’s three-stop strategy in the end was a bridge too far for the Australian as Vettel two-stopped his way to his fourth Suzuka win in five years, his fifth Grand Prix victory in a row and his ninth of 2013.

Webber immediately acknowledged the flying start that helped Romain Grosjean to the early lead and later interposed the Frenchman’s Lotus between Webber and Vettel: “We were on the back foot a bit after Romain’s great start,” Webber said. “I wanted to put pressure on him for the win. Sebastian was on a different strategy to me and in the end it worked out pretty similar. It’s hard to know which was right as we were trying to cover off Romain. I did my best and in the end it was a good result.”

Vettel now enjoys a 90-point advantage over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who came through from the third row to finish fourth, with just 100 points available from the remaining four races in India, Abu Dhabi, Texas and Brazil. “A very rewarding win today; it’s a great feeling,” said the German, now an unbackable favourite for a fourth consecutive Drivers’ Championship. “I love this track and it’s just fantastic to win here. The Championship is the big target of course, but the season is very long still and the best way to wrap it up is not to think about it.”

Kimi Raïkkönen forced the second Lotus past Nico Hülkenberg’s Sauber Ferrari in the closing stages for fifth as the young German consolidated his sterling performance in Korea last weekend. “A pretty normal race,” said the Finn, but Grosjean was more forthcoming about his fighting effort: “Today was just a very, very good race. What a start! It was superb to go past both the Red Bulls like that and it’ll be one of my best memories of the year. The car was fantastic on the first set of tyres and we managed to pull away, but then the Red Bulls were able to reel us in later on. Ultimately, we were the only car to almost catch the bull.”

On team founder Peter Sauber’s 70th birthday there was more good news for Sauber as Esteban Gutiérrez claimed his maiden World Championship points in seventh behind his teammate. “Finally I can feel great satisfaction after the race,” said the 22-year-old Mexican, who worked hard to keep Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes at bay in the final laps. “It has been a lot of work to get up to this point and, while it has not been an easy path, I think it has been a very solid one. Over the past few races we have been improving a lot and, as I said yesterday, we have to keep optimistic and this is the result of that. Knowing we can achieve something like this, you really go forward and do your best and push.”

For Mercedes it was not the happiest of days. An incident at the start when he hit Vettel’s Red Bull left Lewis Hamilton with a punctured right rear tyre and the pit visit put the Englishman on the back foot straight away. Because of damage sustained on his way back round to pit lane, by the seventh of the 53 laps he was out. “I got a fantastic start this afternoon, better than both Red Bulls for probably the first time this year,” said Hamilton, whose slim title hopes have gone. “Mark moved right, so I had to move as well, which sandwiched Sebastian between me and Romain. Seb’s front wing clipped my right rear, cut the tyre and that was that. It wasn’t his fault at all, just one of those things that wasn’t meant to be this afternoon.” Meanwhile Rosberg’s race was compromised by a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release at his first pit stop.

Ninth was Jenson Button for McLaren – despite a pre-race move that cost him when he took wing out of the car and induced severe understeer. “For the third set, we added some front-wing, and the balance came back to me,” he said. “In the end, the car was really good to drive – especially my final stint on the Option tyre, which was a lot of fun, especially as I was able to chase down and pass a couple of other cars.” Teammate Sergio Pérez couldn’t rid himself of Rosberg: it was the German’s Mercedes that baulked him in pit lane and later contact between the two forced the Mexican in for an unscheduled stop, dropping him to 16th at the finish.

With Felipe Massa the final point-scorer for Ferrari, Australia’s Dan Ricciardo endured his third straight pointless Grand Prix. Starting on the Hard Pirelli tyres, Ricciardo pulled a passing manoeuvre on Adrian Sutil’s Force India after his first pit stop that saw the Toro Rosso go off-track; the subsequent drive-through penalty put paid to Ricciardo’s chances. The only other non-finishers were rookies Giedo van der Garde of Caterham and Marussia’s Jules Bianchi after contact off the start-line. It was a disappointing end to a sad weekend for Marussia, stunned by Saturday’s news that their former test driver Maria de Villota had died of natural causes in Spain at the age of 33.

Coming up: round 16 in India

Only Vettel has ever won at the New Delhi track; he needs to be 75 points ahead of Alonso at the finish to clinch the title. With Vettel currently 90 points to the good, that means Fernando has to finish 16 points ahead…

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