SUZUKA, Japan – Germany`s Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday for the second consecutive year, leading a Red Bull one-two at the Suzuka circuit.
The 23-year-old, who started from pole, recorded his third victory of the season, with championship leader Mark Webber finishing second, 0.9 seconds adrift.
It was Red Bull`s third one-two finish of the season after Malaysia and Monaco.
Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso was third, 1.8secs behind Webber, while McLaren team-mates Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were fourth and fifth, Hamilton nursing an ailing car to the finish with gear selection issues.
Vettel praised his "magnificent" car after his first victory since the European Grand Prix at Valencia in June, which sees him jump to third in the championship standings.
"It`s about time," said the 23-year-old after his third victory of the season, which puts him on a total of 206 points, level with Alonso and 14 behind Webber.
"This track is like it has been drawn for us with all the high-speed corners. It`s always a pleasure (to drive). When the car was getting lighter and lighter (with fuel) at the end, it was more and more fun.
"You want to push every single lap, because the car is magnificent around here."
Vettel was quickest to react when the lights went out to start the race, leading a slow-starting Webber off the line.
The Australian was passed into the first corner by Renault`s Robert Kubica, but a safety car period slowed the race as quickly as it had started.
Kubica`s team-mate, Russian Vitaly Petrov, smashed into the wall on the outside of the circuit after clipping the slow-starting Williams of Nico Hulkenberg, while Ferrari`s Felipe Massa clashed with Force India`s Tonio Liuzzi at the first turn. All four drivers were forced to retire.
Kubica then retired under the safety car when the right rear wheel of his Renault worked loose on lap three, leaving Webber to chase Vettel when the race re-started four laps later.
Petrov will take a five-place grid penalty into the next Formula One race in South Korea for causing a collision.
Despite finishing behind Vettel for the second race in a row, Webber said it had been a "very good day".
"The most important thing is the gap is going in the right way," Webber said. "I have to keep it like that. We have three races to go and it is a good result for me.
"Seb deserved the victory, (but) I need to win again in the future. I`m confident I can do that."
Alonso was upbeat after managing his eighth podium finish of the season on a circuit where Ferrari feared they would be no match for Red Bull.
"This place was maybe our maximum position here," the Spaniard said. "We were convinced that this track was the worst track for us of the circuits remaining in the championship, so it was a good weekend overall."
Button, the only driver in the top 10 to start on the more durable harder tyre, led the race for 13 laps in the middle stages before his pit stop for softer rubber dropped him to fifth.
He regained a place when Hamilton was forced to slow with gear selection problems with nine laps remaining but admitted the defence of his world championship title would be "very tough".
Hamilton qualified third but had to take a five-place grid penalty after the gearbox on his car had to be replaced.
"I can`t imagine a weekend with more problems, to be honest," Hamilton said. "It`s probably been one of my worst weekends that I can remember."
There was drama before the race when Brazilian Lucas di Grassi, who qualified 21st for Virgin Racing, had a big accident at the 130R corner on his reconnaissance lap to the grid.
The 26-year-old tore a wheel and the rear wing from his car in the bizarre smash, but was able to escape unhurt.
The victory was the eighth of Vettel`s career, and he joins Mika Hakkinen (1998, 1999) and Michael Schumacher (2000-02) as the only drivers to win consecutive races at the high-speed 5.8-kilometre track.
With three races remaining, Webber leads with 220 points. Alonso is second, edging Vettel on race wins for the season. Hamilton drops a place to fourth on 192 points, while Button remains fifth on 189.