Unstoppable Sebastian Vettel on verge of F1 title
Like a Red Bullet train speeding towards its final destination, Sebastian Vettel hurtled his way through Suzuka, picking up yet another victory, his fifth on the trot, to move to within a whisker of his fourth successive world title.
Fernando Alonso's fourth place for Ferrari ensured that the drivers' championship staggers on to India in two weeks' time, but there is next to no chance of Vettel being derailed at the Buddh International Circuit.
Provided he finishes – and even if he does not – he is likely to be crowned the youngest quadruple world champion in history. As ever, Vettel preferred not to tempt fate by contemplating what it would mean to join Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in winning four consecutive titles.
Instead, the 26-year-old spoke eloquently of how he could never have dreamed of being in this position when he was a boy growing up in Heppenheim, and of how he just wanted to enjoy the moment.
"Honestly I never thought one day I would even be able to test one of these cars," Vettel said. "The first time I did, I s**t myself the first couple of laps and I thought, 'All right, that's for real men, not for me'. But then I got used to it and obviously wanted to do more.
"Nothing has changed in the way I still love racing, I love the challenge, I'm still nervous when I wake up on Sunday. I enjoy not the numbers but the fact I'm racing. And I love trophies so I don't mind collecting a few either."
That is some understatement. Vettel hoards his trophies and is, by all accounts, obsessed with numbers, frequently driving his team principal Christian Horner to distraction with his propensity to slam in a fastest lap at the end of a race, even when it is already won, purely to rack up another little record.
Those records are racking up frighteningly quickly. This was Vettel's fourth win at Suzuka, his fifth in succession since the summer break, and one that showed off his versatility as a driver.
Criticised by some for being a frontrunner rather than an all-round racer, he was forced to play a "thinking game", in the words of Horner, after a rare poor start saw him lose ground to, and then collide with, the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.
Finding himself behind the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber by the first corner, Vettel did not panic, biding his time, making a two-stop strategy work as opposed to Webber's three-stop.
"Sebastian suffered some damage in the incident with Hamilton that took about 20 percentage points off the downforce on his car," Horner revealed later.
"He managed to adapt. He played the thinking game today. He watched and waited in that first stint. In the second stint he made his tyres go longer and further than any other driver. Then, when he needed to nail Grosjean, he did it immediately." (© Daily Telegraph, London)