Grandstand finish looms after Vettel slashes Alonso title lead

 
Julian Harris
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FERRARI’S Fernando Alonso admits the 2012 Formula One drivers’ battle will boil down to a five-race “mini championship” after he crashed out of yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Alonso picked up a puncture on the first bend of the Suzuka track when he was clipped by the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, leaving the Spaniard to watch on as Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel won the race in one hour, 28 minutes, 56 seconds.

This leaves Vettel on 190 points in the battle for the drivers’ title, narrowly behind Alonso on 194.

“It’s five races to go – it will be like a mini championship, because we start with the same points and we need to score one more point [than him] in five races,” Alonso said, while doing his best to remain upbeat. “I think one time I will retire, [but] maybe next time Vettel will retire, you never know, that's motorsport.”

Alonso’s Ferrari team-mate, the experienced Felipe Massa, secured his best finish of the season by crossing the chequered flag 20 seconds behind Vettel.

Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, who last week announced a move to Mercedes from next season, drove a steady race to finish fifth.

Compatriot Jenson Button pushed Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi all the way to the finish line, but the Japanese driver held off the challenge to notch a first podium finish in front of his home crowd.

DRIVERS’ LEADERBOARD
■ F Alonso (Ferrari) 194 points

■ S Vettel (Red Bull) 190

■ K Raikkonen (Lotus) 157

■ L Hamilton (McLaren) 152