Race - Vettel crowned champion as Button wins in Japan 09 Oct 2011
McLarens Jenson Button always wanted to win the Japanese race at Suzuka, and on Sunday afternoon he finally did so in dominant style after early leader Sebastian Vettel ran into tyre wear. But third place for the 24 year-old German, separated from Button by Ferraris Fernando Alonso, was sufficient to clinch him a second consecutive world championship.
Vettel had taken the lead from the start, leaving Button fuming as he was squeezed on to the grass by the Red Bull driver and lost second as McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton went round the outside. Hamiltons race was soon compromised by a right-rear puncture, however, and he was obliged to pit on Lap Eight.
Vettel, however, pitted only a lap later, followed next time round by Button, Alonso and Red Bulls Mark Webber. Tyre wear would prove a highly significant factor.
Vettel continued to lead until his second stop on the 19th lap. Once again Button stopped a lap later, but this time he was able to regain the track ahead of Vettel and thus was the races final pattern set.
A safety car intervention on Lap 24 appeared to throw Vettel a lifeline as debris was cleared from the chicane following an earlier collision between Hamilton and Ferraris Felipe Massa. The stewards investigated that and decided, as they had after looking at Vettels opening move, that there was nothing irregular in either incident.
When the track went green on Lap 28 Button backed up the field going to the chicane then sprinted ahead, and steadily built an advantage again, as Vettel fell prey to a hungry Alonso as the Spaniard ran four laps longer before making his third and final stop to switch to the medium Pirelli tyres.
The closing stages were a straight fight between these three, and between Laps 48 and 50 Alonso slashed Buttons 4.8s advantage to a mere second before Button opened the gap up again. The delighted Englishman was 1.1s ahead by the flag despite a last-lap near-miss as he lapped Tonio Liuzzis HRT, and Vettel ended up 0.8s further back.
In a race notable for just one retirement - Sebastien Buemis Toro Rosso stopped on Lap 12 after the right-front wheel had been improperly secured - and for the laps that Michael Schumacher led for Mercedes by staying out longer as others pitted on Laps 39 to 41, it was Webber who took fourth comfortably ahead of the recovering Hamilton, who led home Schumacher and Massa. Toro Rosso were subsequently fined 5,000 for their Bumei pit-stop mishap.
Sergio Perez drove a brilliant race for Sauber to take eighth place after a race-long fight with team mate Kamui Kobayashi and the Force Indias. The Mexican was closing on Massa by the finish and was well clear as Renaults Vitaly Petrov duelled his way to ninth ahead of Nico Rosberg, who had a great run from the back of the grid in his Mercedes.
Adrian Sutil was chasing Perez near the end before a brief off dropped him back, and he took 11th ahead of Force India team mate Paul di Resta, who finished with Kobayashi, Williams Pastor Maldonado and Toro Rossos Jaime Alguersuari right on his tail after a fierce multi-car battle.
Bruno Senna got squeezed wide in Turn Two at the start and never featured, finishing 16th in the second Renault ahead of the duelling Lotuses of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli.
Behind them, Jerome DAmbrosio and Timo Glock had a race-long scrap in their Virgins two laps down, with the German finally getting the verdict by just 1.2s and HRTs Daniel Ricciardo only 2.4s further back after a never-say-die run. Liuzzis HRT never ran as well as his team mates, after all his practice and qualifying dramas, and he finished three laps down in 23rd.
So Sebastian Vettel is world champion again, and the youngest-ever back-to-back winner. To win the world championship here is fantastic, and there are so many things I want to say in this moment but its hard to remember all of them, he said.
I am so thankful to everyone in the team, both here at the track and at Milton Keynes, to be able to fight for the championship and find ourselves in a very strong position. It was great to achieve the goal we set ourselves already, with four races left.
He has 324 points to Buttons 210, with Alonso on 202 from Webber on 194 and Hamilton on 178. Red Bull Racing have 518 to McLarens 388 in the constructors standings, with both teams still in the running for that title.
For tickets and travel to 2011 Formula One races, click here.
For Formula One and F1 team merchandise, click here.