Vettel masters strategy for Suzuka win
13 October 2013 – Sebastian Vettel came out on top in a strategy-driven Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday. The German pulled off a two-stop plan to lead home Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber by seven seconds, with Lotus' Romain Grosjean completing the podium. Fernando Alonso finished fourth to keep his slim title chances alive.
As the lights went out at Suzuka, the second row of Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton bolted into the lead, but the latter picked up a right-rear puncture after being tagged by Vettel and ultimately retired on Lap 9. This allowed the Red Bulls to slot in behind the leading Lotus, with the trio trading fastest lap times throughout the opening stint.
While the top three were able to pull away from the rest of the field on pure speed, their cause was aided by Daniel Ricciardo, who began to hold up a train of cars after starting the race on the Prime tyre. When the Toro Rosso driver finally pitted, those behind – led by Sauber’s Nico Hülkenberg – were almost half a minute in arrears.
While Vettel and Grosjean conducted two-stop plans, Webber opted to tackle a three-stop strategy, giving him track position ahead of the final 10 laps. Crucially, Vettel was able to go seven laps longer than Grosjean in the middle phase of the race, slashing the gap to the Frenchman after his final pit-stop before finding a way through at the first corner on Lap 41.
With Webber stopping on the next lap, Vettel assumed the lead and went on to take a fifth straight victory by a comfortable margin. But Grosjean played his part in this, as he held off Webber for a significant number of laps before being usurped.
A long way down the road, Alonso muscled his way past Hülkenberg to secure fourth, while Räikkönen also jumped ahead of the Sauber driver for a top five finish. Esteban Gutiérrez drove well to claim his maiden Formula 1 points in seventh, the Mexican fending off Nico Rosberg who was hit with a drive-through for an unsafe release.
The final points of the day went to Felipe Massa, who was also given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, and Jenson Button; both men benefited late on when Sergio Pérez was forced to pit with a puncture following contact with Rosberg at the chicane. Another drive-through, this time dished out to Daniel Ricciardo for an illegal overtake, saw the Australian tumble down the order to a 13th place finish.
Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi were the day's other retirements. The pair collided at the first corner, an incident which will be investigated after the race.
In the championship standings, Vettel now holds a 90-point advantage over Alonso, with 100 more up for grabs over the course of the remaining four Grands Prix. Lotus driver Räikkönen and Mercedes' Hamilton have mathematically fallen out of the race.
The 16th round of the 2013 season takes place in India from October 25-27, with practice, qualifying and the race covered via the GPUpdate.net Live Report