Vettel on top yet again as title draws close
By Phill Catterick
Sunday 25 Sep 2011 15:45:00
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Sebastian Vettel is within touching distance of claiming his second World Championship after claiming victory at the Singapore Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver qualified on Pole and drove faultlessly throughout to clinch his ninth victory of the year ahead of Jenson Button and team-mate Mark Webber.

The Championship could have been won if results had gone his way, but with Button finishing in second it sends the title chase to Suzuka in two weeks time where Vettel will need just a solitary point to be the youngest double World Champion in the sport's history.

Singapore is the only night race on the calendar and presents one of the toughest challenges for the drivers over a distance of 61 laps, which requires an immense amount of concentration and ability to guide the cars through such a narrow circuit and bright lights.

Vettel finished 2nd last year after a tussle with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, but this year he went one better as he climbed to the top step of the podium, and the reigning Champion had a look of someone who knew he had his next title in the bag. He said:

"I'm very pleased for the result. The safety car didn't fit our plan as we had such a big gap but had a good re-start and was able to get back in the rhythm. There wasn't a big margin when I crossed the line but I had it under control. Everything was great, the pace was good and looks like we have a chance for the championship at the next race."

Second placed Jenson Button added:

"There were frustrating moments for me in the race, but forgetting that it's the best we could have done and I got everything out of the car. We weren't quick enough to win but we can build on it."

Red Bull managed to get both cars on the podium, and Webber briefly concluded the press conference by saying:

"This is a challenging venue and the boys did a great job. In the end I want to thank all of my guys, they did a great job."

As the red lights disappeared Vettel made a faultless get away to get into the first corner first, but team-mate Webber yet again struggled for grip and fell behind Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.

Lewis Hamilton initially got away well, but he was crowded at the start and got jumped by the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher who yet again found himself ahead of the Englishman after their duel at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza a couple of weeks ago.

By the end of lap three the champion in waiting already had a four second advantage over Button, and had already lapped the HRT of Daniel Ricciardo who damaged the front end of his car on the opening lap. Meanwhile Hamilton was starting to hassle the back of Schumacher, and thanks to the use of the Drag Reduction System he was able to breeze past on lap four to avoid the frustration he suffered in Italy.

A lap later he cleared the sister Mercedes of Nico Rosberg to claim sixth position at exactly the same spot by pulling up alongside the German on the approach to turn seven. This gave him some clear air to aid his pursuit of Felipe Massa who was doing well to match the pace of Webber and team-mate Alonso.

On Lap 10 the order changed though as Webber put an outstanding move around the outside of the Spaniard who was beginning to struggle for rear grip, and sensibly he chose to pit to avoid losing further time and positions to Massa and Hamilton. Schumacher also chose to pit as he came under pressure from Adrian Sutil.

Massa and Hamilton entered the pits together at the end of the the next lap, and rather frustratingly for the Mclaren driver he failed to jump the Ferrari as he left his box having maintained track position. However as they approached turn seven Hamilton went around the outside trying to make the use of DRS, and as he turned in he collided with Massa which resulted in a puncture for the Brazilian and a slightly damaged front wing for the Mclaren.

Massa inevitably had to pit for a new tyre as Webber made his first scheduled stop, and at the end of lap 13 Hamilton was back in the pits for a new wing which affectively wrecked his chances of a podium position. He was subsequently awarded a drive through penalty for causing an avoidable incident which left him in a lowly 20th place.

The Mclaren mechanics stayed out as Button pitted from 2nd position at the end of lap 14 for his first scheduled stop, and he left the pits in clear air while also maintaining track position ahead of a solid looking Paul di Resta who soon had his mirrors full of an advancing Alonso.

With the majority of stops completed by lap 18 the race order started to take shape once again, with only di Resta left to stop amongst the front runners due to the fact he chose a different strategy to those ahead of him at the start.

His apparent lack of pace with fading tyres was starting to hamper the progress of the Ferrari, but the Spaniard eased by before turn seven on lap 19 to get back third place and create some breathing space to Webber. The Force India finally pitted at the end of the same lap which left him in 8th place behind team-mate Sutil and the Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Schumacher.

Further down the field Massa and Hamilton were fighting their way back through the field, with the pairing in 12th and 15th respectively half way through lap 20.

The 2008 champion has faced many questions this season relating to his driving style, and his on track attitude will come under scrutiny once more after colliding with yet another competitor this season. He crashed into Maldonado and Massa in Monaco, and after this incident his antics will be well publicised in the coming days.

However his comeback through the field was going reasonably well, and on lap 25 he breezed past Massa after the Ferrari ran wide on the exit of turn five, and after passing Barrichello's Williams on the same lap he was already up to 11th position.

Alonso decided to pit on the same lap to get a new set of tyres, and this promoted Webber to 3rd place behind Button and Vettel who was yet again driving into the distance unnoticed. However the result at this stage meant that he would have to wait a couple of weeks before mathematically claiming his second title.

On lap 29 the gap between the top two was nearly half a minute, meaning the Red Bull had an entire pit stop in his pocket if he required it. A lap later the safety car was diploid as Schumacher smashed into the back of Sergio Perez as he approached turn eight, resulting in the German going nose first into the barriers.

This ultimately brought the pack together, cancelling any advantage that Vettel had on his forever closing challengers, including Lewis Hamilton who now had a serious points finish back in his sights after a nightmare opening half to the race.

The safety car pulled into the pits at the end of lap 33 releasing Sebastian Vettel who roared off yet again thanks to the backmarkers holding up the chasing pack, and Webber opportunistically passed Alonso on the approach to the very tight and twisty series of corners beginning at turn ten to take 3rd.

This development began a series of moves further down the field involving Hamilton as he cleared Sutil, Rosberg and Di Resta within a four lap time frame which saw him jump to 5th place and in pursuit of Fernando Alonso.

From here on in it was a question of which drivers could preserve their set of tyres until the end of the race as another stop would unquestionably mean fewer points at the chequered flag. Vettel in particular needed to be careful as Button would inherit the win if he had to stop.

Webber decided to pit at the end of lap 47 for a fresh set of super soft tyres, and he would appear behind Lewis Hamilton who himself was contemplating another visit to his mechanics. Team-mate Button surprisingly stopped at the end of the next lap to cover the threat of Webber who cleared Lewis shortly after.

Hamilton fell to ninth position after his stop, and once more would have to contend with slower traffic as the laps began to run out. This left only Vettel and Alonso having not stopped for new tyres following the safety car, and predictably they were given fresh rubber at the end of lap 49 to eliminate the possibility of being passed in the closing stages.

By lap 54 Hamilton had yet again climbed to 5th position after overtaking Di Resta, Sutil, Rosberg and Perez following his final stop, but any chances of catching Alonso for 4th were long gone.

The final few laps proved slightly uncomfortable for Vettel as Button began to close quickly, but despite his best efforts he was unable to do anything significant. This left the German to cross the line to win his ninth race of the year ahead of Jenson and team-mate Webber, who drove well to deny Alonso a place on the podium.

Hamilton, Di Resta, Rosberg, Sutil, Massa and Perez rounded out the points positions after a frantic final lap.

 The chequered flag signalled the start of a fireworks display above the circuit, but unfortunately for the organisers they were not quite welcoming home a World Champion. Sebastian Vettel will indeed take the title in two weeks time if Jenson Button fails to win in Japan, or the German claims a solitary point himself.



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