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Vettel storms to Japanese GP victory

Sebastian Vettel kept his and Red Bull's title hopes alive by dominating the Japanese Grand Prix - but with Jenson Button salvaging eighth and only losing one point to Rubens Barrichello, the points leader could still leave Suzuka satisfied

Jarno Trulli gave home team Toyota its second runner-up finish in a week by beating Lewis Hamilton's McLaren to second, with the world champion just resisting Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen for third after a late safety car.

Vettel managed to fend off Hamilton at the start, keeping the McLaren to the outside as its KERS boost thrust it straight past front row starter Trulli.

This trio stretched away from the field and each other, with Nick Heidfeld's BMW in a lonely fourth at first, and Barrichello trapped behind Raikkonen in sixth.

Button fell to 12th at the start, but managed to re-pass Giancarlo Fisichella's Ferrari further around the first lap and then outbraked Robert Kubica's BMW at the chicane on lap three.

The championship leader was then stuck behind the battling Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) and started to lose touch with the top eight. Fortunately for Button, the pair ahead tangled at the chicane on lap 13 as Kovalainen tried to fight back on the exit after losing the place under braking.

While Sutil spun and Kovalainen lost momentum, Button cruised through to eighth - and the race continued to unfold in his favour through the middle stint. Rather than managing to jump Raikkonen and challenge for a podium, Barrichello stayed behind the Ferrari in the first stops and then lost ground on his second set of tyres, falling 15s behind Raikkonen.

The threat from the fast-closing Kubica behind was then neutralised when Heidfeld emerged from his final stop right in front of his team-mate, and by the time Kubica had got ahead after several laps of frantic efforts, he was too far adrift to steal the point from the Brawn.

Up front, Vettel controlled the race with ease, while Hamilton looked to be secure in second, 2-3s clear of Trulli, until the Toyota ran two laps further at the second stops and jumped ahead to claim the runner-up spot.

Raikkonen charged up behind Heidfeld in the middle of the race and then vaulted the BMW for fourth in the pits, with Nico Rosberg then pushing his countryman back to sixth by running very long in his second stint.

Rosberg was able to make his final stop behind the safety car, which was called when Jaime Alguersuari had a heavy crash at the 130R. The Toro Rosso driver signalled that he was unhurt, but was taken for medical checks. His team-mate Sebastien Buemi retired early with a clutch problem.

Vettel stormed away with ease in the final four-lap sprint, with Trulli safe in second as Hamilton held off Raikkonen despite KERS malfunctions.

The focus in the final laps was the huge battle for the final points and the championship. Button mounted a final attack on Barrichello, then found himself under huge pressure from Kubica instead. The Pole's last-gasp efforts did not pay off, and Button was able to hang on to his point.

Fernando Alonso used a one-stop strategy to come through from the back to 10th for Renault, ahead of Kovalainen and Fisichella, who had a dramatic moment at their final stops when the Ferrari jumped ahead in the pits but the McLaren retaliated with a bold wheel-banging move into the first corner.

While Vettel dominated, Mark Webber's miserable weekend continued with three early pitstops - two to secure a loose cockpit surround, and the third to attend to a puncture. Fastest lap showed what might have been.


The Japanese Grand Prix
Suzuka, Japan;
53 laps; 307.573km;
Weather: Sunny.


Pos  Driver        Team                      Time
 1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault      (B)  1h28:20.443
 2.  Trulli        Toyota                (B)  +     4.877
 3.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes      (B)  +     6.472
 4.  Raikkonen     Ferrari               (B)  +     7.940
 5.  Rosberg       Williams-Toyota       (B)  +     8.793
 6.  Heidfeld      BMW Sauber            (B)  +     9.509
 7.  Barrichello   Brawn-Mercedes        (B)  +    10.641
 8.  Button        Brawn-Mercedes        (B)  +    11.474
 9.  Kubica        BMW Sauber            (B)  +    11.777
10.  Alonso        Renault               (B)  +    13.065
11.  Kovalainen    McLaren-Mercedes      (B)  +    13.735
12.  Fisichella    Ferrari               (B)  +    14.596
13.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  (B)  +    14.959
14.  Liuzzi        Force India-Mercedes  (B)  +    15.734
15.  Nakajima      Williams-Toyota       (B)  +    17.973
16.  Grosjean      Renault               (B)  +     1 lap
17.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault      (B)  +    2 laps

Fastest lap: Webber, 1:32.569

Not classified/retirements:

Driver        Team                      On lap
Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B)    58
Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B)    26
Glock         Toyota                (B)    DNS

World Championship standings, round 15:                

Drivers:                    Constructors:             
 1.  Button        85        1.  Brawn-Mercedes        156
 2.  Barrichello   71        2.  Red Bull-Renault      120.5
 3.  Vettel        69        3.  Ferrari                67
 4.  Webber        51.5      4.  McLaren-Mercedes       65
 5.  Raikkonen     45        5.  Toyota                 54.5
 6.  Hamilton      43        6.  Williams-Toyota        34.5
 7.  Rosberg       34.5      7.  Renault                26
 8.  Trulli        30.5      8.  BMW Sauber             24
 9.  Alonso        26        9.  Force India-Mercedes   13
10.  Glock         24       10.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari      5
11.  Kovalainen    22       
12.  Massa         22       
13.  Heidfeld      15       
14.  Kubica         9       
15.  Fisichella     8       
16.  Sutil          5       
17.  Buemi          3       
18.  Bourdais       2       
All timing unofficial

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