Tag Archives: ferrari

Lewis Hamilton has played down former team-mate Jenson Button"s title chances

Forget Button, Alonso is the one I really have to beat: Hamilton sets his sights on driving back to the top with Mercedes

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The edge: Damon Hill believes Fernando Alonso will win the title ahead of Sebastian Vettel

WHAT'S NEW THE TYRES

Pirelli have been instructed to supply tyres that will degrade faster. The subtle changes are designed to make them harder to manage by drivers, leading to more pit-stops and greater excitement. During winter testing the paddock was bewildered by the rate of tyre wear and this threatens to be significant in the early races. Speed may have to be sacrificed so tyres last longer.

To witness his victory in atrocious conditions in the final race of last season in Brazil — his 15th victory — was to see the baton being passed from Hamilton to Button inside the team.

‘It’s the right place for me to be for the long term,’ said Button, 33. ‘Some people have left because they feel there is another challenge or something missing from their position.

‘There is still so much to achieve here. When we had the launch of our 2013 car, it was amazing to see cars representing 50 years of McLaren brought out; to look at the team’s history and the championships won. We really are a spectacular team.

‘I want to add to that history; not just this year, but for the coming years.’ Button is at his most dangerous in Melbourne, having won three of the past four Australian Grands Prix, although where McLaren’s performance is in relation to Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus, or, for that matter, Mercedes is a mystery — 12 days of inconclusive winter testing offered fluctuating evidence of the pecking order we can expect Down Under.

‘It’s been an extremely hard-to-read winter,’ said Button. ‘Varying fuel loads and levels of tyre degradation mean it’s hard to predict accurately who will arrive in Australia with the best-sorted car. But I love the place.’

Danger: Vettel is chasing his fourth World Championship

Danger: Vettel is chasing his fourth World Championship

WHAT'S NEW THE CIRCUITS

Bernie Ecclestone had hoped for a new race in New Jersey this year to replace Valencia in June but that hit money problems. There is a vacant date, which the underwhelming circuit in Turkey had hoped to fill. And if Portugal and Austria don’t get it, Europe’s weakening status in Formula One will be confirmed with just seven races this season — the fewest since 1963.

Hamilton has not taken a backward glance since he took the gamble last autumn of tying his future to Mercedes in exchange for a three-year contract worth 60million, with the freedom for his management company, XIX Entertainment, to broaden his commercial portfolio.

‘It needs to be made clear that it was more lucrative [in salary] to stay with McLaren,’ insisted Hamilton.

His motivation in moving from McLaren, where he could expect to challenge for the championship this season, is governed by an ambition to replicate what Michael Schumacher achieved, year after year, with Ferrari and what Vettel is accomplishing with his dominance at Red Bull. At McLaren, the hall of fame is inhabited by the ghost of Ayrton Senna.

At 28, Hamilton is arriving at his peak years with 21 victories already in a career that has never lacked controversy on the track, or off it. Perhaps he has never driven better than last year. ‘You want to be the one,’ he told a small gathering at the BRDC Clubhouse at Silverstone.

No 4: Max Chilton becomes the fourth British driver in F1

No 4: Max Chilton becomes the fourth British driver in F1

WHAT'S NEW THE DRIVERS

Max Chilton joins Lewis Hamilton (now with Mercedes on a 60million deal), Jenson Button and Paul di Resta as the fourth British driver in the championship after being fast-tracked by Marussia.

Chilton, 21, benefits from having AON insurance vice-chairman Grahame Chilton as his father. He is worth 93m and owns the Carlin Motorsport team, where Chilton raced in GP2.

An F1 seat for this season reportedly costs 1.8m but Chilton denies he is a spoilt rich kid. ‘No team are going to let you behind the wheel if you’re not up to it,’ he says. Even so, Pastor Maldonado contributes 29m to the williams team budget through sponsorship from Venezuela’s state oil company, and Williams’ newest driver, 21-year-old Valtteri Bottas, from Finland, found the budget to secure the seat from Bruno Senna.

Chilton will be joined at Marussia by Frenchman Jules Bianchi after the team’s first choice, Luiz Riaza, failed to deliver promised funding.

Giedo van der Garde (Caterham) and Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) have also paid for their seats, Which means five of the 22 drivers next week will be making their Formula One debut.
Susie Wolff, wife of McLaren shareholder and Mercedes director Toto Wolff, is McLaren’s development driver, the second woman recently in F1 after Marussia’s Maria de Villota, who lost an eye in a test drive last year.

‘I was the one for a short period of time, as the youngest world champion, then I was toppled by Vettel. Fernando had his success. I expect myself to win.

'I expect myself to excel. Ultimately, I want to achieve greatness. I want to prove my abilities year after year. Michael is seen as an all-time great, Seb is, too. I want to be seen as great as well.’

In winter testing, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have shown that Mercedes have made a startling improvement in performance after winning just one grand prix in the past three years.

‘I’m 100 per cent confident and happy with the decision that I made — and keeping myself out of trouble!’ said Hamilton.

‘The more time I spend at the factory the more excited I become. It’s just a beautiful place to be and I’m happier with the environment I’m in. I don’t have anything negative to say about McLaren — I was lucky to be given the opportunity by the team to get into Formula One.

‘Had I stayed I was guaranteed to be competitive.

'Yet I’m not looking to get one over McLaren. I know that I have gone to a team who have been unable to compete with the car I had last year — at some races, there was a deficit in qualifying of 1.9sec from Mercedes to McLaren — but we all have a hunger to change. I think Mercedes will impress this year.’

Hamilton will be driven to prove that he was correct to free himself from McLaren, where the management structure made him feel claustrophobic, to fulfil a search for ultimate greatness.

But with a nudge to his growing maturity, Hamilton said: ‘When I look at it sensibly, I realise I have quite a lot of time left.’

Sebastian Vettel overtake: Ferrari accept FIA decision

Ferrari won't take further action over Vettel decision as Italian team accept FIA ruling

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UPDATED:

11:42 GMT, 30 November 2012

Ferrari have accepted the FIA's clarification over the driving of Sebastian Vettel at the Brazilian Grand Prix leaving the Red Bull driver clear to retain his world championship crown.

Ferrari seeked an explanation from Formula One's governing body following an overtake made by Vettel on the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne in last Sunday's epic season-ending grand prix.

The FIA revealed on Thursday that Vettel
had 'no case' to answer and the Italian marque, who were thought to be
considering an appeal, have accepted their decision.

Footage: It was claimed that Vettel passed Vergne under yellow flags

Footage: It was claimed that Vettel passed Vergne under yellow flags

A carefully worded statement released by Ferrari on Friday read: 'The request for a clarification from the FIA, regarding Vettel's passing move on Vergne, came about through the need to shed light on the circumstances of the move, which came out on the internet only a few days after the race.

'The letter to the FIA was in no way intended to undermine the legality of the race result.'

Vettel was seen passing Vergne on lap
four while his dahsboard continued to show two yellow lights and the
word 'flag' – meaning overtaking is forbidden – as a track marshal waved
a green flag.

Ferrari's
letter to the FIA saw F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone describe the team as
'a joke'. 'What Ferrari are saying in that letter is wrong,' said
Ecclestone. 'I don’t think there needs to be any action taken.’

Three and easy: Vettel celebrates a hat-trick of Formula One titles on Sunday

Three and easy: Vettel celebrates a hat-trick of Formula One titles on Sunday

But Ferrari claimed they made the inquiry on behalf of the sport's fans.

'We received tens of thousands of queries relating to this matter from all over the world and it was incumbent on us to take the matter further, asking the federation to look into an incident that could have cast a shadow over the championship in the eyes of all Formula 1 enthusiasts, not just Ferrari fans,' the statement continued.

'Ferrari duly takes note of the reply sent by the FIA this morning and therefore considers the matter now closed.'

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F1 title won"t be tainted – Fernando Alonso

Title won't be tainted, insists Alonso despite underhand tactics in Texas

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UPDATED:

23:18 GMT, 22 November 2012

Fernando Alonso is adamant his title will not be tainted if he pulls off a miracle at the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend and beats Sebastian Vettel to the prize.

That Alonso stands any chance of overhauling his Red Bull rival is thanks in no small part to Ferrari’s dubious tactics at the United States Grand Prix.

In order to move Alonso up to seventh place on the grid, and the clean side of the track, Ferrari deliberately sabotaged Felipe Massa’s gearbox to demote the Brazilian five places at the start.

In with a chance: Fernando Alonso (left) could still win the title

In with a chance: Fernando Alonso (left) could still win the title

The plan worked like a dream with Alonso making up three places on the opening lap before eventually finishing third, meaning a podium finish at Interlagos and misfortune for Vettel would see the Spaniard crowned world champion for a third time.

But deflecting any criticism of the tactic, Alonso claimed that by being upfront about their skulduggery any suggestion of impropriety had been dispelled.

In control: Sebastian Vettel

In control: Sebastian Vettel

‘I’m proud of my team,’ said Alonso. ‘It was a strategic decision, to start on the clean side with both cars.

‘Because it worked quite well, maybe the people were not very happy but I’m proud of my team, more than anything it’s because they said the truth when we changed the gearbox. Not many teams are able to say the truth when they make a strategic decision.

‘We don’t need to go too far this year with some of the races where we have had some doubts about teams and which position they will start from, depending on limits they were finding in the regulations.’ However, Vettel, while not criticising his title rival, claimed that Red Bull would never use such a strategy to boost his chances.

‘What they do is not in our hands,’ said Vettel. ‘I didn’t follow up if Felipe had a real trouble with the gearbox or not but as I said it’s not our job to focus on these things.

'Obviously it is a different approach compared to my team but that’s how life is. I think everyone handles certain situations in a different way.’

Lewis Hamilton wins United States Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel

Yee-Ham! Lewis wins in Texas as Alonso fightback ensures title battle goes down to last race in Brazil

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UPDATED:

21:20 GMT, 18 November 2012

Lewis Hamilton has won the inaugural United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.

The outgoing McLaren star overtook Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages to secure his fourth victory of the season.

Vettel finished second with his championship rival Fernando Alonso completing the podium to ensure the battle for the drivers' world title will be decided at the final race of the season in Brazil next Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton

Champagne moment: Hamilton celebrates after his brilliant victory in Texas

Lewis Hamilton

Yanks for the memories: Hamilton points to the United States flag on his helmet after winning in Austin

Yanks for the memories: Hamilton points to the United States flag on his helmet after winning in Austin

Unites States Grand Prix: Classification

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
3. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
4. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
5. Jenson Button (McLaren)
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
7. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
8. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
9. Pastor Maldonao (Williams)
10. Bruno Senna (Williams)

It was not the race Red Bull
expected, however, because although the 15 points from Vettel's
runner-up spot mean they are constructors' champions for a third
consecutive grands prix, there was little celebration on the pit wall.

It was also not the 100th grands prix
Vettel was expecting either as the 25-year-old German had been flawless
in practice and qualifying around the 250million purpose-built Circuit
of The Americas on the outskirts of Austin.

But it was a thoroughly deserved
victory for Hamilton, who was robbed of wins in Singapore and Abu Dhabi
as he suffered mechanical issues when leading.

Over the line: Hamilton overtook Vettel to win the inaugural United States Grand Prix

Over the line: Hamilton overtook Vettel to win the inaugural United States Grand Prix

All the talk immediately before the
race, however, had centred on a seemingly controversial move from
Ferrari in deciding to break a seal on the gearbox of Felipe Massa's
car.

In doing so, it immediately incurred a five-place grid penalty for the Brazilian, dropping him from sixth to 11th.

More importantly it promoted Alonso
on to the clean side of the grid from eighth to seventh, giving him
better traction at the start as the dirty side had been the described as
potentially like starting 'in the wet' by Massa.

Yee-haw: Hamilton poses with his winners' trophy and flanked by Vettel and Alonso on the podium (below)

Yee-haw: Hamilton poses with his winners' trophy and flanked by Vettel and Alonso on the podium (below)

Yee-haw: Hamilton poses with his winners' trophy and flanked by Vettel and Alonso on the podium (below)

It was a clever tactical move from
Ferrari which they blatantly said was done because 'the interests of the
team come before anything else'.

It sparked a fierce debate in the
paddock as Ferrari had effectively found a loophole in the regulations
to aid their own cause and keep Alonso in the championship hunt.

It proved crucial because emerging
out of the signature uphill turn one Alonso had gained three places to
climb to fourth behind a Red Bull one-two.

Lew beauty: Hamilton wins in Austin to claim his fourth grand prix victory of the season

Lew beauty: Hamilton wins in Austin to claim his fourth grand prix victory of the season

Unsurprisingly Hamilton, on the dirty
side, lost second place to Mark Webber as Sebastian Vettel was away and
clear from the 36th pole position of his career.

Ordinarily, with Vettel out in front
into the first corner that would signal a comfortable cruise to the
flag, but not on this occasion.

Hamilton eased his way past Webber on
lap six that signalled a stunning battle between the Briton and Vettel
as they went head-to-head and wheel-to-wheel at one stage.

In the first half of the race
Hamilton managed to close to within a second, but as his set of
medium-compound Pirelli tyres started to lose their grip, he never got
close enough to attempt a pass.

End of the road: Webber was forced to retire on lap 18 with an alternator failure

End of the road: Webber was forced to retire on lap 18 with an alternator failure

End of the road: Webber was forced to retire on lap 18 with an alternator failure

Ahead of the first round of pit stops
Alonso's cause was further assisted when Webber was forced to retire on
lap 17 as yet another alternator failure to afflict a Red Bull saw him
grind to a halt.

Following the flurry of activity in
the pitlane, Hamilton then began to chip away at Vettel, eking out
tenths of a second here and there until crucially closing the gap to
within a second.

That allowed him to use his DRS on
the long straight between turns and 11 and 12, but for a number of laps
the 27-year-old continued to fall just short.

Then on lap 42 of the 56 Hamilton
finally managed to get close enough to Vettel to execute a manoeuvre
into turn 12, the duo inches apart at one stage before Hamilton made the
move stick.

For Alonso, it was crucial as in one
fell swoop Hamilton had taken seven points off Vettel, limiting the
damage as the Ferrari was a long way adrift in third such was its pace
compared to the leaders.

Hamilton, however, failed to pull
away from Vettel and the last few laps were tense, but the Briton did
enough to hold on for the win, with Alonso a staggering 40 seconds down
the road.

The trio were followed by Massa and
Jenson Button, fifth in his McLaren after starting from 12th, followed
by the Lotus' of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.

Chase: Hamilton hunts down Vettel before overtaking the Red Bull driver

Chase: Hamilton hunts down Vettel before overtaking the Red Bull driver

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix final practice: Sebastian Vettel has problems

Problems for Vettel as championship leader's car falters in final practice

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UPDATED:

12:19 GMT, 3 November 2012

Sebastian Vettel endured a nerve-wracking final practice session in the build-up to qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The reliability issue title rival Fernando Alonso had perhaps been praying for materialised in the closing 60-minute outing at the Yas Marina circuit where McLaren's Lewis Hamilton again led the way for the sixth time in 12 attempts over the four years at this track.

Vettel completed nothing more than two installation laps before then spending all bar the final four minutes in the Red Bull garage as the team worked on a brake problem.

Hope floats: Sebastian Vettel experienced problems in the final practice before qualifying in Abu Dhabi

Hope floats: Sebastian Vettel experienced problems in the final practice before qualifying in Abu Dhabi

Hope floats: Sebastian Vettel experienced problems in the final practice before qualifying in Abu Dhabi

On the medium-compound Pirelli tyres, the slightly slower but more durable rubber, Hamilton posted a top time of one minute 42.148secs, before all teams switched to a blast on the softs in the late stages.

Hamilton appeared on course to better Vettel's best of Friday's when he set a 1:41.751 when he was quickest in the first two sectors.

However, he was forced to ease up in the final sector and finish with a timesheet-topping 1:42.130, 0.290secs ahead of team-mate Jenson Button.

As for Vettel, it was touch and go as to whether he would make it out on track, but his team performed wonders to ensure he had a shot on the soft tyres.

Even with his limited running as he managed just two quick laps, the 25-year-old reigning double world champion still posted the quickest middle sector to finish third overall, half a second behind Hamilton.

As for Alonso, there is likely to be concern in the Ferrari garage, particularly as the team broke the FIA curfew – a period of time when mechanics are not allowed to work on the car – for a second straight day.

Playing catch-up: Fernando Alonso will hope to make the most of his rivals' poor run

Playing catch-up: Fernando Alonso will hope to make the most of his rivals' poor run

The Spaniard, who trails Vettel by 13 points following the German's run of four successive victories, could only manage eighth quickest and was a second down on Hamilton, something he cannot repeat in qualifying if he is to have any chance in Sunday's race.

Sandwiched in between himself and Vettel were Mark Webber in his Red Bull, the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, Lotus' Romain Grosjean and Williams of Pastor Maldonado.

Behind Alonso were Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus and Paul di Resta in his Force India, the Scot appearing happier after his team opted for a change of chassis given his recent issues and without a point in his last three races, finishing 1.2secs down.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa was 11th, 1.350secs adrift, underlining the problems faced by his team, with Sergio Perez 12th in his Sauber.

Mercedes are also struggling as Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were down in 13th and 14th, around 1.5secs down, with Kamui Kobayashi 15th in his Sauber.

At the rear of the field was Narain Karthikeyan in his HRT, nearly five seconds adrift and half a second behind team-mate Pedro de la Rosa.

Kimi Raikkonen to stay at Lotus in 2013

Kimi gimme one more year! Raikkonen will stay at Lotus in 2013

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UPDATED:

12:04 GMT, 29 October 2012

Speculation surrounding Kimi Raikkonen's future has ended after Lotus announced he will stay at the team next year.

Lotus made the announcement in a video posted on youtube that the 2007 title with Ferrari will remain after making his return to F1 from rallying this season.

'We're delighted Kimi is staying with us for 2013,' the British-based team said on their official Twitter feed (@Lotus-F1Team) after posting a link to the film clip.

Staying put: Raikkonen (right) will remain at Lotus through the 2013 season

Staying put: Raikkonen (right) will remain at Lotus through the 2013 season

The Finn has been the most consistent driver on the grid, with 14 successive scoring finishes and every racing lap completed. He has been on the podium six times in 2012.

The 33-year-old is third in the championship, 67 points off the lead, with three races to go despite not having won yet this season.

Team principal Eric Boullier told reporters after Sunday's Indian Grand Prix that neither Raikkonen nor French team mate Romain Grosjean were likely to win any of the season's final three races.

'Realistically I would be kidding people if I said we would win a race this year,' he said.

Consistency: Raikkonen has enjoyed successful year

Consistency: Raikkonen has enjoyed successful year

'Yes I can be frustrated at not getting this missing, or elusive, win but we had a good start to the season with a new package and two new drivers. If you put us in the same position next year then it will be a different story.'

Raikkonen was seventh in India, Grosjean ninth. Boullier said an announcement on the full driver line-up could be expected soon.

Grosjean, despite several first corner crashes of the kind that got him suspended for the Italian Grand Prix in September, is almost certain to be kept on as well.

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso wary of Lewis Hamilton title challenge

Don't rule Lew out! Vettel and Alonso still wary of Hamilton challenge

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UPDATED:

10:29 GMT, 11 October 2012

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso are refusing to write off Lewis Hamilton's chances of snatching the world title from their respective grasps.

The Red Bull driver and his Ferrari rival arrive at this weekend's Korean Grand Prix separated by just four points following Vettel's win in Japan and Alonso's failure to finish.

Hamilton lies fourth in the standings, 42 points adrift of Alonso, but could have been so much closer had his gearbox not failed while he was leading in Singapore.

Still in the hunt Hamiton's opponents are still wary of the threat he poses

Still in the hunt Hamiton's opponents are still wary of the threat he poses

The McLaren driver has played down his chances of landing his second title before he departs for Mercedes at the end of the year, and needs to turn around a difficult Suzuka weekend, where he finished fifth, if he is to keep himself in the frame over the final five races of the season.

But Alonso and Vettel are not of the opinion that they are locked in a private battle for the championship.

Vettel said: 'I think they (McLaren) are still fighting for the championship. I think that is their target, or has to be their target.

'I think if you look at the races we had after the summer break, so far, if you summed them up, on average I think McLaren was the most competitive car.

Respect: Vettel and Alonso have sung Hamilton's praises

Respect: Vettel and Alonso have sung Hamilton's praises

Respect: Vettel and Alonso have sung Hamilton's praises

'They are the ones which will be very competitive, no matter where we go, at least that's what the last couple of races showed. I think they still have a good chance.'

Alonso added: 'I think it is more difficult for him as it is not only one driver ahead that you need to take some points off.

'We are now two drivers with more or less the same points ahead and he is behind, so for sure the chances for him are a little bit lower.

'But if we see the form of McLaren and Lewis before Suzuka there is still plenty of time and points to do it, he still has the possibility.'

Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso will win F1 title, says Christian Horner

Forget Lewis and Co, it's a straight fight between Vettel and Alonso for title, claims Horner

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UPDATED:

11:54 GMT, 8 October 2012

Christian Horner believes this year's World Championship is now a two-horse race between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

The Red Bull team boss saw his man Vettel cruise to victory in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix to move within four points of Alonso at the top of the standings, after the Ferrari driver was eliminated in a first-corner crash.

While it is close between the pair in the championship, there are four other drivers still in the title hunt in the shape of Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Jenson Button.

Closing in: Vettel is just four points behind Alonso after winning in Japan

Closing in: Vettel is just four points behind Alonso after winning in Japan

But with time running out for the other contenders to catch up, Horner believes it is a straight shootout between Alonso and Vettel for the crown, and insists he remains wary of the threat posed by Ferrari, despite Red Bull's dominance at Suzuka.

'We've seen how performance moves around so there's absolutely no predictions that we can take out of this event other than that we need to keep pushing,' he said.

'We need to keep trying to get performance out of the car, and the championship now is effectively a battle of five races between Fernando and Sebastian.

'You can't rule out the others but whoever does the best job over the next five races will ultimately prevail.

Off track: Alonso failed to finish in Suzuka for only the second time this term

Off track: Alonso failed to finish in Suzuka for only the second time this term

Off track: Alonso failed to finish in Suzuka for only the second time this term

He added: 'I think that Fernando is a very shrewd and formidable opponent and over a season luck tends to balance itself out.

'Sebastian has had two DNFs because of reliability, Fernando has been unlucky with (Romain) Grosjean at Spa and with his puncture here.

'Luck tends to balance itself out over a 20-race season and it will be down to what the two of them do on track now and the relative performances of the cars over the remaining five races.'

Horner was also keen to play down the significance of the 'Double DRS' device the team have used in recent races in an effort to improve straight-line speed, as their Renault power plant lacks the grunt of the Ferrari and Mercedes units used by their rivals.

He said: 'As with all these things, there's never a silver bullet and I think it would be very difficult to say the car's performance here was purely down to a rear wing.

'I think we've made progress in all areas and it's about chipping away at the detail, it's the attention to detail and the guys are pushing in all areas. I think we had the fastest pitstop with Sebastian.

'Again, that is just pushing in all the areas so i think it would be wrong to say that our upturn in performance is purely down to finding a few kilometres an hour on the straight.'

Sebastian Vettel wins Japanese Grand Prix after Fernando Alonso retires

Vettel romps to Japanese Grand Prix victory as rival Alonso crashes out on opening lap

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UPDATED:

08:50 GMT, 7 October 2012

Sebastian Vettel gave his hopes of claiming a third-consecutive world title a huge boost as he took advantage of Fernando Alonso's first-lap retirement with a consummate Japanese Grand Prix victory at Suzuka.

Vettel cruised to his third victory of the season, and second in a row, to move him to within four points of Alonso at the top of the drivers' championship, after the Spaniard dramatically crashed out at the first corner after contact with Kimi Raikkonen.

Job done: Vettel became the first back-to-back winner of 2012 after romping to victory in Japan

Job done: Vettel became the first back-to-back winner of 2012 after romping to victory in Japan

Job done: Vettel

Felipe Massa did his chances of staying with Ferrari the power of good with second place, and raised the spirits of the Italian team after Alonso's exit.

Kamui Kobayashi delighted the home crowd as he took a career-best finish third, becoming the first Japanese driver to finish on the podium here since Aguri Suzuki in 1990.

No 1: Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel

Jumping for joy: The Red Bull star is now just four points behind championship leader Alonso

Japanese Grand Prix

1. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
3. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber)
4. Jenson Button (McLaren)
5. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
7. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
8. Pastor Maldonado (Williams)
9. Mark Webber (Red Bull)
10. Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)

But it was another poor day for McLaren as Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton finished fourth and fifth, although the latter moved to within 42 points of Alonso.

Raikkonen was sixth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado – scoring his first points since winning in Spain – Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo.

Webber had started second but his race was ruined as Romain Grosjean again played a part in a chaotic start. While Vettel got the jump from pole, mayhem erupted behind him.

Alonso was edged to the outside on the run down to turn one, but clipped Raikkonen's front wing, running wide before spinning and coming to a halt in the middle of the track.

Vettel is now just four points behind Alonso after the Spaniard lost control of his Ferrari at Turn 1 on the first lap

On the dirt: Alonso lost control of his Ferrari at Turn 1 on the first lap

Out of the race: Alonso retired on the first lap after crashing out out at Turn One

Out of the race: Alonso retired on the first lap after crashing out out at Turn One

Early bath: The Ferrari driver makes his way back to the pits after retiring from the grand prix

Early bath: The Ferrari driver makes his way back to the pits after retiring from the grand prix

The drama was not over and Grosjean, who received a one-race ban after causing a pile-up at the start in Belgium, turned Webber around as the field negotiated turn two.

The Frenchman received a 10-second drive-through penalty for his trouble but that will be little consolation to Webber, whose chances of victory were well and truly wrecked.

All smiles: Vettel celebrates his lights-to-flag victory in Suzuka

All smiles: Vettel celebrates his lights-to-flag victory in Suzuka

Nico Rosberg also retired after a collision with Bruno Senna as the safety car made an appearance for the fourth straight race here, coming in after just one lap on track.

Vettel escaped into a lead he held for the rest of the afternoon, with Button the main beneficiary of an eventful first lap, moving up from eighth to third behind Vettel and Kobayashi's Sauber while Massa was fourth.

Over the line: Vettel's win in Suzuka was emphatic

Over the line: Vettel's win in Suzuka was emphatic

Hamilton briefly moved up to fifth after Sergio Perez's over-ambitious move on Massa at turn one, but the Mexican put one over on the man he will be replacing at McLaren next year with a strong move at the hairpin. Hamilton had the last laugh though when Perez's effort to go around the outside left him in the gravel at the hairpin.

With Vettel streaking away the status quo at the front remained until the first stops.

But while Kobayashi and Button were
among those to stop first, Massa was able to stay out for a vital few
laps more and was able to get ahead of the pair at his first stop.

The only other move among the front-runners was made by Hamilton after the second round of stops.

Home favourite: Kobayashi's name was chanted by the Japan fans as he collected his trophy

Home favourite: Kobayashi's name was chanted by the Japan fans as he collected his trophy

Cheers to that: Massa recorded his first podium since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix

Cheers to that: Massa recorded his first podium since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix

The Mercedes-bound Briton had been behind Raikkonen since the start, but braved it out with the Finn as he rejoined from his stop to take what became an eventual fifth place.

The two battles during the closing stages saw Button try to close in on Kobayashi and the gap was down to 1.8 seconds with seven laps to go.

Delight: Massa strengthened his case for a contract at Ferrari next season following a strong drive

Delight: Massa strengthened his case for a contract at Ferrari next season following a strong drive

But the Briton could not get close enough, missing out by half a second, while Michael Schumacher, having started 23rd, could not overhaul 10th-placed Ricciardo.

But no one could match Vettel as he claimed the full set of pole position, fastest lap and race win, the 24th of his career.

The German has to be favourite to take the crown given Red Bull's exceptional pace this weekend, with the reported introduction of a Double DRS device giving them a further edge.

Out of sorts: Hamilton could manage only fifth

Out of sorts: Hamilton could manage only fifth

Phil Duncan F1 blog

Massa's second place gave him his first podium since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix, while Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver on the podium since Takuma Sato at Indianapolis in 2004.

Vettel admitted it had taken him half the race to realise his principal title rival was out, but admitted his car was 'a dream' to drive.

He said: 'I saw there was a safety car at the very beginning, we had a very good start which was very important as behind me there was a crash.

'I saw a Ferrari had crashed, but I was not sure who it was but halfway through the race I looked at the (timing) tower to see where the others are and I saw the car that was still racing was Felipe, so I assumed Fernando was not racing any more.

'The guys have pushed so hard over the last couple of months and when you dream at night you dream about being able to drive a car like that, the balance was fantastic and I was enjoying every lap, which I think was why we had such a big gap to the others and I am very happy.'

Lewis Hamilton focus switches from Mercedes to Japanese Grand Prix

The gloves are off! Hamilton ready for first race since turning back on McLaren

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UPDATED:

08:49 GMT, 3 October 2012

In his first race since choosing to quit McLaren to join Mercedes next season, Lewis Hamilton must get his focus back on the Formula One championship fight at this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes announced last Friday that Hamilton will replace seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher in a major shake-up that also sees Sergio Perez going to McLaren.

Hamilton has two wins and three non-finishes from his past five races, with that inconsistency leaving him in fourth place in the standings, 52 points behind Ferrari's Fernando Alonso with six races to go. He led the previous race in Singapore until he suffered a gearbox failure on lap 23 of 59 and had to retire.

End of an era: Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren for Mercedes next year

End of an era: Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren for Mercedes next year

'In terms of the championship, there's nothing to be really gained by analysing the points tables,' Hamilton said. 'From now on it's simply gloves-off. As in Singapore, I'll come out fighting, I'll just be hoping for a better result.'

Hamilton has spent his entire F1 career with McLaren – the team he first began an association with at the age of 13 – and won the 2008 title, but the team was unwilling to match a lucrative offer from Mercedes.

For Schumacher, Hamilton's move could mark the end of the most decorated career the sport has seen – and a three-year comeback that has seen him fail to replicate the success of his prime – although there is speculation the 43-year-old German could replace Perez at Sauber next season.

Despite the distractions, Schumacher said he was looking forward to the Japanese GP, a race he has won six times.

'My motivation is still very high after the news from last week, especially as Suzuka very clearly is one of the highlights in the calendar for me,' Schumacher said.

But Schumacher will be faced with a 10-place grid penalty at Suzuka for causing a spectacular crash with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne during the Singapore GP.

Off track: Former world champion Michael Schumacher's time in F1 could be up

Off track: Former world champion Michael Schumacher's time in F1 could be up

Like Hamilton and Schumacher, Perez will be eager to get the focus back on the track after a disappointing result at Marina Bay where he finished 10th.

'After underperforming in Singapore, in Japan I am expecting our car to again be as good as it used to be and we should be strong in the high-speed corners,' the Mexican driver said.

Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Jenson Button won here last year and kept a pulse in his faint title hopes by taking second place in Singapore but will drop five places on the grid due to changing a gearbox.

It's the same gearbox problem that forced Hamilton to retire in Singapore. Hamilton will also get a new selector but escapes any penalty because he did not finish in Singapore.

Defending champion Sebastian Vettel won in Singapore, a result that allowed the German to replace Hamilton in second place in the standings, where he trails Alonso by 29 points.

The Red Bull driver has done well at Suzuka over the years, taking the checkered flag in 2009 and 2010 and finishing third last year to claim his second straight drivers' championship.