SUZUKA, Japan, (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix to roar back into the Formula One title reckoning yesterday while Jenson Button had his overall advantage trimmed to 14 points with two races to go.
The Red Bull driver’s third victory of the season left the 22-year-old German 16 points adrift of Brawn’s Button, who crawled agonisingly closer to the crown with a hard-fought eighth place.
“Finally we made it, I was screaming on the radio … it’s good to be back on first position also on Sunday,” said Vettel, the first German from outside the Schumacher family to win three races in a single season.
“It’s a shame that there’s only two races to go, but that’s life,” he added, pointing out that Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen made up a 17-point deficit on Lewis Hamilton two years ago to take the title.
“We’re here to fight. Two more races like this and its looking better,” he added. “Our task now is pretty straightforward, we have to push ourself to the maximum and try to win.”
Button’s closest rival, Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello, crossed the line in seventh on a sunny afternoon at Suzuka. He said his had been a boring race.
“I was struggling big time so it was a difficult afternoon driving the car and the only way I made one more point on Jenson here was the fact I qualified in front of him and that’s what I have to be happy with,” said Barrichello.
“I’ve got to win (the next race in Brazil), win big time.”
Italian Jarno Trulli was second for Toyota, who had just one driver in their home race after Timo Glock crashed in qualifying, to equal that team’s best result.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton hung on for third, with his car’s KERS energy recovery system failing in the closing laps, ahead of Ferrari’s Raikkonen.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg was fifth for Williams, with stewards declining to take action against him for an alleged speeding infringement while behind the safety car, while BMW-Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld was sixth.
Button respected the decision, even if he did not agree with it.
“Always when you think people have done something wrong and they don’t get penalised, you are disappointed,” he said.
“But it’s not going to change anything massively, I don’t think. The fight goes on.”
Had Rosberg been punished, the sanction would have handed Brawn the constructors’ championship at the home of their former owners Honda.
As it turned out, Brawn were left a tantalising half-point away from becoming the first team to secure the constructors’ title in their debut season.
They now have 155 points to Red Bull’s 120.5, with a maximum 36 still to be won.
Button would have clinched the drivers’ title had he scored five points more than Barrichello but that had looked highly unlikely when both were handed five-place grid penalties after Saturday qualifying.
His chances receded even further when he ended the first lap in 11th place, but he passed BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica and was then gifted two more places when McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen and Force India’s Adrian Sutil collided just ahead of him.
Vettel had led comfortably from pole position but his advantage evaporated when the safety car was deployed late in the race, after Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari crashed, and stayed out until four laps from the finish.
The Spaniard was unhurt in the accident.