Sebastian Vettel clinched the Formula 1 World Championship with third place in the Japanese Grand Prix, as Jenson Button took victory for McLaren ahead of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.
The result was Button's first win for McLaren in a totally dry race, and while Vettel's Suzuka winning streak ended, the Red Bull man's podium finish was still more than adequate to make him the champion for a second consecutive year.
Vettel clearly would have preferred to clinch his title with a win - underlining his determination by very firmly defending his lead against the faster starting Button off the line. The McLaren had to flirt with the grass in the close call, prompting Button to inquire over the radio whether Vettel ought to get a penalty. The incident was investigated, but no action was taken.
As Button lost momentum, his teammate Lewis Hamilton swept around the outside of him into second, where he would stay until signs of a right-rear puncture forced him to slow abruptly and make a slightly early pit stop at the end of lap seven. This would drop Hamilton to fourth once the first stops were completed, behind Alonso - who had passed his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa into the first corner early on.
Button was keeping his tires in better shape than Vettel, and closed right in on the Red Bull at the end of the stint. Vettel pitted a lap earlier and stayed ahead in the first stops – but not in the second stops on laps 19 and 20, where Button's superb in-lap pace and a great McLaren stop got the Briton out in the lead.
The safety car came out shortly afterward to clear some debris, including a chunk of Massa's Ferrari bodywork deposited at the chicane when he made contact with Hamilton while trying to go around the outside of the McLaren for fourth. This clash was also investigated, but no action was taken.
With the pack bunched up by the yellow, Vettel found himself back in traffic when he made an early third stop to switch to medium tires on lap 33.
Button ran three laps longer and extended his lead, with Alonso staying out a further lap still and emerging just ahead of the frustrated Vettel. The soon-to-be-champion was all over Alonso for a while, until Red Bull suggested now was not the time to take any risks. Alonso then shot off after leader Button, closing to within a second before the McLaren raised its pace in response.
Mark Webber jumped Massa and Hamilton with an early second stop and secured fourth, while having lost out to Massa in the same pit sequence just after their clash, Hamilton overtook the Ferrari again into the first corner on lap 37.
Michael Schumacher took sixth, staying out very late before his third and final stop and therefore leading a grand prix for the first time in his F1 comeback. That strategy also allowed the Mercedes driver to beat Massa to sixth.
Two-stop strategies worked brilliantly for Sergio Perez (Sauber) – which set the fastest lap – and Vitaly Petrov (Lotus Renault GP) as they took eighth and ninth. Nico Rosberg charged from the back row to take the final point for Mercedes.
Home hero Kamui Kobayashi's hopes of a great race were ruined by a poor start that left him in traffic all afternoon. He could only finish 13th for Sauber, behind the two Force Indias.
Bruno Senna also lost out on lap one, getting away slightly slowly, then running wide. That and a slow first stop left his Renault only 16th.
The only retirement of the race was Sebastien Buemi, whose Toro Rosso left its first stop with its right-front wheel dangling off.
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
The Japanese Grand Prix
53 laps; 307.573km;
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h30:53.427
2. Alonso Ferrari + 1.160
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 2.006
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 8.071
5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 24.268
6. Schumacher Mercedes + 27.120
7. Massa Ferrari + 28.240
8. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 39.377
9. Petrov Renault + 42.607
10. Rosberg Mercedes + 44.322
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 54.447
12. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1:02.326
13. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:03.705
14. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:04.194
15. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth + 1:06.623
16. Senna Renault + 1:12.628
17. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:14.191
18. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault + 1:27.824
19. Trulli Lotus-Renault + 1:36.140
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
21. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
22. Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
23. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
Fastest lap: Button, 1:36.568
Driver Team On lap
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 35
World Championship standings, round 15:
1. Vettel 324 1. Red Bull-Renault 518
2. Button 210 2. McLaren-Mercedes 388
3. Alonso 202 3. Ferrari 292
4. Webber 194 4. Mercedes 123
5. Hamilton 178 5. Renault 72
6. Massa 90 6. Force India-Mercedes 48
7. Rosberg 63 7. Sauber-Ferrari 40
8. Schumacher 60 8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 29
9. Petrov 36 9. Williams-Cosworth 5
10. Heidfeld 34
11. Sutil 28
12. Kobayashi 27
13. Di Resta 20
14. Alguersuari 16
15. Buemi 13
16. Perez 13
17. Barrichello 4
18. Senna 2
19. Maldonado 1
All timing unofficial