Sebastian Vettel credits 2011 Suzuka defeat for winning strategy call in 2013 Japanese GP
World Champion on verge of title after two stop ploy wins out
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 14/10/13 3:09pm
In cohorts with race engineer Guillaume 'Rocky' Rocquelin, who was a constant reassuring presence on Vettel's pits-to-car radio throughout the grand prix, a crafty Vettel claimed his fifth successive victory after bettering the three-stopping Mark Webber by running the 53-lap race on a two-stop strategy that ultimately resulted in the World Champion crossing the line seven seconds clear of his Red Bull team-mate.
The German is now 90 points clear of Fernando Alonso in the standing and is guaranteed to win his fourth successive title in two weeks' time in India if he finishes fifth or higher.
"The whole race was dictated by the first stint. Mark went through the tyre faster than Sebastian and therefore didn't have the range and had to pit earlier," Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports F1. "That put an awful lot of doubt on the two-stop and the only option we could see for him to get past Romain [Grosjean] was a three-stop."
Speaking on the podium, where he received a respectful silence from the Suzuka faithful, Vettel - who admitted he was "blown away" by the way the race panned out - revealed that the decision to deploy a two-stop strategy was a result of his undoing at the same circuit two years ago when he was relegated to third at the chequered flag after starting from pole - although, ironically, on that occasion the result was still enough for him to clinch the World Championship.
"To be honest the decision was already made in the first stint because we stayed out longer and obviously took into account that we lapped slower than the others who were on fresh tyres in order to push them later in the race," Vettel explained.
"We had a similar race in 2011 where I came in always as the first and I was under enormous pressure at the end of the race and got passed by two cars [Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso]. So this time we did it the other way round, had enough pace in the car to look after the tyres, control the race.
"It was not easy to make the two-stop work - especially in the middle stint - but I think the first stint was crucial to make the decision to stay out in the second stint and decide for the two-stop."
Vettel went on to claim his fifth straight 2013 win after surviving a scare at the start when he briefly came together with Lewis Hamilton at the start, the German's front wing puncturing the Mercedes' rear tyre.
The World Champion radioed in to ask if his wing had sustained any damage - which turned out not to be the case - and admitted afterwards: "I had a very, very poor start.
"I was right between Romain and Lewis and I clipped a little bit the front wing - I think Lewis had a puncture after that. I couldn't go anywhere."
Although Fernando Alonso's fourth-place finish means Vettel will have to wait for his fourth straight title, the destination of the 2013 Drivers' Championship is now firmly not in doubt.
But ahead of the Indian GP, the 26-year-old insisted neither he nor Red Bull would be taking anything for granted.
"Obviously we have a very, very good lead but obviously we keep pushing," he insisted. "We've proven in the last couple of years that we never give up - I think we've won one or two championships because of that.
"It looks very good at this stage but it's not over before it's over."