World champion Sebastian Vettel led from pole position to win the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday and move to within four points of overall leader Fernando Alonso.
The Red Bull driver benefited from an incident on the first corner when Alonso’s Ferrari span out with a puncture after contact with the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen behind him.
Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa came from 10th on the grid to finish second, while Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi thrilled home fans by finishing third in a Sauber for his first podium place.
Vettel, who becomes the first driver to win back-to-back races this season after his victory in Singapore two weeks ago, was in control from the start, avoiding the trouble affecting some of his rivals at the first corner.
Alonso’s race was over after he was touched by Raikkonen, while Red Bull’s Mark Webber, starting on the front row, was overtaken by Kobayashi and then hit from behind by Romain Grosjean in a Lotus.
The collision then led to Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) going out after he braked and was struck from behind by Bruno Senna (Williams).
Grosjean was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty while Senna served a drive-through penalty after stewards investigated the incidents.
Alonso, who had started sixth on the grid, said there was nothing he could have done about the collision with Raikkonen.
“Kimi touched me a little on the rear tyre; I got a puncture and was not able to continue. It’s a shame. When you cannot even get past the first corner it’s sad,” he said.
“But we need to think and concentrate for next week. We need to keep working well, not doing mistakes. You get a puncture and have to retire — there’s nothing you can do. Thanks to our consistency we leader the championship. Others are making mistakes and we need to avoid this.”
Vettel was untroubled by all behind him and dominated the race, taking the chequered flag 20.639 seconds ahead of Massa, who earned his first podium place since the South Korean GP in 2010.
The rest of the top 10 was filled by McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, Raikkonen,, Nico Huelkenberg (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Webber and Daniel Ricciardo (Torro Rosso).
Kobayashi’s podium finish was only the third for a Japanese driver in Formula One. With Sauber showing pace throughout, teammate Sergio Perez might also have been competing for a podium place, but went out on lap 20 when he locked his wheels and span off.
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was just out of the points in 11th place after starting from the back with a 10-place grid penalty.