Sunday 25 February 2018

F1: Samurai Vettel masters field to slash Alonso's lead at top

Top of the world: Sebastian Vettel made is three wins out of four at the Suzuka circuit
Top of the world: Sebastian Vettel made is three wins out of four at the Suzuka circuit

Tom Cary

It was appropriate that a Japanese Grand Prix which featured so much fighting talk, which saw Mark Webber label Romain Grosjean a "nutcase" and included a dig from Lewis Hamilton at Sergio Perez, the man replacing him at McLaren next year, should end with Fernando Alonso quoting a Samurai master.

If the Spaniard is to have any chance of landing his third world title this season he is going to need to adopt all the famed stealth and cunning of Japan's legendary warrior class because, for the moment at least, it is Sebastian Vettel (pictured) who wields the mightier sword.

Alonso's first-lap retirement allowed the German, who won yesterday's race at a canter, to close to within four points of him at the summit of the championship.

That prompted Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to state that it was now "effectively a battle of five races" between the pair of them for the title. With Red Bull looking so strong, it is going to take a mighty effort to bring down his man.

The way the double world champion won yesterday, by over 20 seconds and clearly with plenty to spare, was ominous. But somehow, the way this season has evolved, an uncomplicated stroll to the finish line seems unlikely.

The race was typical of this season, and not just because Grosjean was involved in a first-lap accident. It involved major players in the title race failing to reach the finish line, or even the second corner. When that happens leads can quickly change hands.

Alonso fell victim to a puncture when he was clipped by the front wing of Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus as they duelled off the start line, the Spaniard at least partly responsible for his own demise.

Just seconds later Webber was sent spinning by Raikkonen's team mate Grosjean, who was given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for what was his eighth first-lap incident this year.

Webber recovered well to finish ninth but his championship hopes are effectively over and his fierce criticism of Grosjean was understandable.

Hamilton had a few choice words to say about Perez, too, after a fascinating duel between the pair underscored by recent announcements concerning their respetive futures.

"He didn't drive very well," Hamilton said of Sauber's 22-year-old Mexican, who he claimed passed him with a "crazy" move on lap six before spinning off 13 laps later trying the same thing.

"I saw him coming (on lap six) and I have a championship to fight for and he doesn't so..." said Hamilton, who finished fifth to cut his deficit to Alonso to 42 points. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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