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September 26, 2017

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Vettel win in Japan Grand Prix puts title on knife-edge

SUZUKA -- Sebastian Vettel slashed the Formula One title race to just four points Sunday as he stormed to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix after championship leader Fernando Alonso span out on the first turn.

Red Bull's double defending world champion escaped a chaotic start and sped away to win by more than 20 seconds ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa and home favorite Kamui Kobayashi, whose first podium received huge roars from the capacity crowd.

The 25-year-old Vettel, who won in Singapore two weeks ago, threw the championship wide open as he became the only man this year with back-to-back victories. With five races left, he trails Alonso 194 points to 190.

Alonso, of Ferrari, was eliminated when he was hit by rival Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus at the first corner and suffered a puncture, kicking up plumes of dust as he skidded into the dirt.

As carnage ensued behind him, Vettel was left out in front and he raced to a luxurious triumph, the 24th of his career, a feat that drew him level with the legendary Argentine Juan-Manuel Fangio in the record books.

Alonso has not led a race since the German Grand Prix in July and his ascendancy in the championship has been more due to consistency than outright speed. On Sunday's evidence, Vettel now has both.

"I saw the safety car at the beginning, but I had a very good start and that was very important. I knew behind me there was a crash and I saw a Ferrari was out, but wasn't sure which one," said Vettel.

"Halfway through I was looking to see the others and I saw their (Ferrari) car still racing. It was Felipe, I didn't know what happened to Fernando."

Only once in the previous 17 years has the winner of the Japanese race not won the title — Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello in 2003, the season when Michael Schumacher won a fourth successive drivers' title.

But Vettel warned there was much racing left in a unpredictable championship which now has every chance of going down to the wire.

"It was an important step today, but there is still a long way to go," Vettel said. "Look at the last couple of races and since Spa (Belgium) — it's been very much up and down.

"We don't know what will happen in the next race, but let's try and take the points. It's been a long season with crazy racing."

The fuming Alonso did not speak to media afterwards, but he took to Twitter to voice his defiance.

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