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Sports

Vettel wins in Japan, latches onto Alonso

Sebastian Vettel has won the Japanese Grand Prix from pole position, his third win at the Suzuka circuit in four seasons. Ferrari's Felipe Massa finished second with local hero Kamui Kobayashi rounding out the podium.

Sebastian Vettel's comfortable win in Japan, coupled with the first lap retirement of championship leader Fernando Alonso, has thrown the F1 drivers' title race wide open. Vettel moves within just four points of fellow double champion Alonso with Sunday's win.

The German got away well from pole position and led every lap of the race, never looking seriously challenged. On the penultimate lap, he set a time markedly faster than anyone else in the field could manage; as if to show how much speed his Red Bull car had in hand. Vettel has started the last four races at Suzuka on pole, winning three of them.

Felipe Massa finished second in the other Ferrari, a key drive for the under-pressure Brazilian, whose contract situation for 2013 is unclear. It was Massa's best finish in F1 since the 2010 German Grand Prix. Alonso, meanwhile, collided with fellow title challenger Kimi Raikkonen in the first lap and retired.

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany (C) tosses his trophy on podium next to second placed Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil (L) and thrid placed Sauber Formula One driver Kamui Kobayashi of Japan after the Japanese F1 Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit October 7, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

As Vettel juggled silverware, Kamui Kobayashi made his debut on an F1 podium

Kamui Kobayashi, driving in front of his passionate home supporters, finished a career-best third in his Sauber - completing the podium. The Japanese driver, himself fighting for a 2013 drive, held off McLaren's Jenson Button throughout the race to secure third.

Hülkenberg in the points, Schumacher misses out

Button's McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton finished fifth, ahead of Raikkonen who picked up minor damage in his collision with Alonso on lap 1.

Germany's Nico Hülkenberg rounded out a solid weekend to finish seventh for Force India, with Michael Schumacher the next-best German driver - just outside the points in 11th. Pastor Maldonado, Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo were sandwiched between Hülkenberg and Schumacher.

Vettel's Red Bull team remains well ahead in the teams' championship, while the German defending double champion is now nipping at Fernando Alonso's heels in the drivers' standings. Back-to-back wins in Suzuka and Singapore before that have brought Vettel up to 190 points, four behind Alonso and 33 points ahead of Raikkonen in third position overall.