Sebastian Vettel has praised his Red Bull team after they gave him the opportunity to come from third on the road to claim victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Despite starting from the outside of the front row, the three-time world champion made a poor getaway and dropped behind both polesitter Mark Webber and the fast-starting Romain Grosjean. His afternoon could have got worse had contact between his front wing and Lewis Hamilton's right rear Pirelli not just resulted in one-way damage to the Briton's car, but Vettel survived to follow instructions from the pit-wall that effectively transformed his race into a fifth successive win.
Urged to back off and conserve his rubber, the German played the game to plan, content to trust his crew as they crafted a strategy that saw him run longer than either Grosjean or, more importantly, Webber. With the Australian subsequently being switched to a three-stop tactic, it was left for Vettel to dispense with Grosjean for second and then pick up the baton when Webber pitted for the final time.
Once out in front, he looked comfortable and, with his team-mate struggling to deal with the Lotus in a late-race charge on the softer Pirelli tyre, a seven-second victory was assured.
“It was a very rewarding win today, a great feeling,” Vettel enthused, “I love this track and it's just fantastic to win here.
“We started to go longer than Romain and Mark in the first stint, [and] took into account that we were a second a lap slower for two or three laps compared to them in order to get the range in the next stint. We then tried to extend that to really put them under pressure towards the end.
“Obviously, after the first pit-stop, Mark decided to go for the three-stop, which wasn't far off [being the best tactic]. Before the race, I think we targeted more towards two stops, but the tyres weren't holding up as well as we thought.
“I really tried to manage the gaps in the beginning of the stint and then close the gap, which worked brilliantly, especially with Romain. The end of the second stint I was just on his tail when he pitted, able to stay out another couple of laps and then I had more or less fresh tyres when I was able to pass him, so, yeah, [it was] a great strategy.”
Team principal Christian Horner admitted that the race had turned on strategy based on the way the two drivers had been using their tyres.