Sebastian Vettel recorded his fifth consecutive win as his two stop strategy prevented a Mark Webber victory in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
It was no cakewalk for the German as he had to fight from behind early on to make his two stop strategy work.
Polesitter Webber looked to be in a strong position to challenge for his maiden win of 2013 but ultimately his three stop strategy left him seven seconds adrift of Vettel at the chequered flag.
The Lotus of Romain Grosjean, enjoyed spells in the lead but he came home in third ahead of Fernando Alonso, who denied Vettel from wrapping up his fourth world title.
But the reigning world champion can secure a fourth consecutive title if he finishes fifth or better at the next round in India in two weeks time.
Both Red Bulls made a slow start and it was the Lotus of Grosjean that shot into the lead at the first turn.
Webber slotted into second with Vettel third, Nico Rosberg fourth, Felipe Massa fifth and Fernando Alonso in sixth.
However, contact for Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with Vettel at the first corner saw the 2008 champion eventually retire on lap nine with floor damage and a puncture.
While Webber and Vettel were pursuing leader Grosjean, Alonso wasted little time in leapfrogging his teammate, passing him on lap seven for fifth.
Shortly after he moved into fourth as Rosberg ran wide a lap later.
Further behind Daniel Ricciardo made the most of a long stint to move into the top 10 after starting from a lowly 16th on the grid.
Webber, who had kept leader Grosjean within a couple of car lengths, made the first of his three pit stops on lap 12, rejoining the race in third.
Grosjean pitted a lap later and came out ahead of the Australian, while Vettel inherited the lead.
Meanwhile, Mecedes’ hopes of a strong result with Rosberg ended as he was given a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release from his first pit stop.
Vettel made his first stop on lap 15 and slotted into third behind Grosjean and Webber, with just two seconds separating the top two.
Behind, Alonso retook Massa again for fifth which soon became fourth as Ricciardo made his first pit stop on lap 22, just two laps ahead of Webber’s second stop.
Webber had cut the lead to Grosjean down to a second when he made his second stop which saw him rejoin the race in third.
Vettel made good progress after Grosjean pitted from the lead and the crucial point of the race came when he pitted and Webber chose to stick to his three stop strategy.
The third stop for Webber gave him fresh tyres for the last 10 laps but he needed to pass both Grosjean and Vettel to clinch victory.
He soon closed on the Lotus in second but it took him a handful of laps to pass, leaving him with only two tours to catch Vettel.
See below for full results
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull/Renault||53||1:26:49.301|
|2||Mark Webber||Red Bull/Renault||53||23:33:10|
|11||Paul Di Resta||Force India/Mercedes||53||23:33:10|
|12||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso/Ferrari||52||1 Lap|
|13||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso/Ferrari||52||1 Lap|
|14||Adrian Sutil||Force India/Mercedes||52||1 Lap|
|15||Sergio Pérez||McLaren/Mercedes||52||1 Lap|
|16||Pastor Maldonado||Williams/Renault||52||1 Lap|
|17||Valtteri Bottas||Williams/Renault||52||1 Lap|
|18||Charles Pic||Caterham/Renault||52||1 Lap|
|19||Max Chilton||Marussia/Cosworth||52||1 Lap|
|–||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham/Renault||0||Collision|
|11||Paul Di Resta||36|
|21||Giedo van der Garde||0|