Suzuka, Japan (SportsNetwork.com) - Sebastian Vettel won his fifth straight grand prix on Sunday in Japan but will have to wait at least one more race before he can clinch his fourth consecutive Formula One world championship.
Vettel prevailed in a hard-fought battle with his Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, and Lotus' Romain Grosjean. Vettel also capitalized on a two pit-stop strategy, whereas Webber, who started on the pole, made three stops during the 53-lap Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit.
Grosjean passed Webber for the lead, while Vettel dropped to third on the opening lap, which featured a crash involving Caterham's Giedo van der Garde and Marussia's Jules Bianchi. It looked as though Vettel sustained damage to his front wing during the incident, but it did not affect his performance.
Grosjean dominated for the first 30 laps before he made his second and final stop, but he lost track position to both Vettel and Webber following his stop.
When Vettel pitted for the second time on lap 38, Webber moved into the lead for the first time. Vettel returned to the track in third place but overtook Grosjean for second three laps later.
Webber made his final stop on lap 42, allowing Vettel to grab the lead for good. Vettel crossed the finish line 7.1 seconds ahead of Webber for his ninth victory of the season and the 35th of his F1 career. The 26-year-old German has won four of the last five Japanese GPs.
"I'm blown away with today's race," Vettel said. "I had a very poor start, and I clipped the front wing a little bit. But we were patient enough and looked after the tires. We had incredible pace towards the end. So we managed to get past Romain and beat Mark on tire strategy."
Vettel's win coupled with a fourth-place finish for Ferrari's Fernando Alonso allowed Vettel to increase his points lead to 90 over Alonso. The Red Bull driver would have secured the title in Japan if he had a lead of 100 points or more.
If Vettel finishes fifth or better in the next grand prix on Oct. 27 in India, he will claim the championship, regardless of what Alonso does for the remainder of the season. After India, F1 heads to Abu Dhabi (Nov. 3) and then Austin, Texas (Nov. 17) before the season concludes in Brazil (Nov. 24).
"We have a very good gap, but we will keep pushing," Vettel said. "It looks very good at this stage, but it's not over until it's over."
Webber overtook Grosjean for second with less than two laps to go after the two had a fierce battle for the position for several laps.
"The race today was pretty good, but I would've liked one more step on the podium," Webber said. "There were different strategies going on. I'm pretty happy with second, but you always want a bit more."
Grosjean finished third, while his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, completed the top-five.
"We had a very good race today, and the car was fantastic," Grosjean said.
Nico Hulkenberg from Sauber was sixth. His teammate, Esteban Gutierrez, scored his first points in his rookie season with a seventh-place run. Nico Rosberg from Mercedes took the eighth spot, followed by McLaren's Jenson Button and Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
Lewis Hamilton started third but suffered a puncture in his right-rear tire on the first lap. It caused significant damage to his Mercedes, forcing him out of the race after just seven laps.
"I had a great start, one of the best starts I've had all year, but I went into turn 1 and all of the sudden the rear tire was down," Hamilton said. "I feel bad for the team. They've been working so hard."