SINGAPORE – Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel held off a charging Jenson Button to win the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday and stand one point away from becoming Formula One’s youngest double world champion.
The 24-year-old German led from pole to flag and despite a spirited challenge over the final five laps from Button in his McLaren, held on to move 124 points clear of the Briton with just 125 available from the five races remaining.
“You are one point away from achieving the title, brilliant drive,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Vettel over the radio after the reigning champion took the chequered flag under the floodlights.
“Yes, yes, Singapore. We did it, ” an emotional Vettel replied, whooping in delight.
The title is now set to be decided in Japan on Oct. 9, unless Vettel fails to score and Button wins that race at Suzuka.
Vettel, who had opened a 22.7-second advantage before a safety car period halfway through the 61 lap race, crossed the line 1.7 seconds ahead of Button with Red Bull team mate Mark Webber a further 27.5 seconds back in third.
“The car was fantastic and we were in a comfortable position for most of the race, which is pretty handy around here because it’s quite a big challenge to put the sectors together in qualifying and in the race,” Vettel told reporters.
“I’m very pleased and it looks like we have another chance to seal the championship at the next race.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished a distant fourth.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton collided with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and collected a drive-through penalty before fighting back to fifth place ahead of Force India’s British rookie Paul Di Resta in a career best sixth.
Vettel’s victory was his ninth of the season, 19th of his career, and he only looked threatened when Team Lotus released Heikki Kovalainen into his path as they left the pits from their final stop.
Button closed late on as the leader eased up slightly but once the Briton ran into traffic on the final two laps, Vettel’s victory was never in doubt.
The 2009 world champion is now the only man who can prevent Vettel from becoming the ninth driver to win back-to-back titles.
“I can understand that it’s difficult to move over here. Most people were fighting but they have to respect other cars and understand they are being lapped for a reason, the other cars are quicker and fighting for a higher position,” a frustrated Button said.
“Forgetting that, it was the best we could have done today and we got the best out of the car. A good finish all the same and hopefully something we can build on for the next race.”
Vettel has 309 points to Button’s 185, with Alonso out of contention on 184 and Webber on 182.
Button would need to win all the remaining races and the German, who has not finished lower than fourth all season, would have to fail to score in any of them.
The race got off to a clean start with Vettel pulling away from the field as Button passed Webber into the first turn for second place.
With a clean track ahead of him, Vettel surged clear of the chasing pack.
Hamilton, back in eighth, passed the Mercedes duo of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg on consecutive laps before the clash with Massa on lap 12.
Both men had to pit after it, Massa with a puncture and Hamilton with a damaged front wing. The 2008 champion was then handed a drive-through penalty for causing the collision and resumed in 19th place.
The safety car was deployed midway through the race after seven-times world champion Schumacher’s car clipped the Sauber of Sergio Perez and rose into the air before crashing into the wall at turn eight.
The 42-year-old German walked away unhurt.
Fortunately for Vettel, some lapped cars were lodged between him and Button at the restart and the German was able to pull away from the pack again without being challenged.
“I was a bit lucky that there were some back markers between me and Jenson, I was able to get back into the rhythm straight away and pull out a huge gap,” Vettel added.
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