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  • Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia (front R) leads the pack after the satrt of the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France (front C) leads the pack after the satrt of the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, center, leads Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia, front right, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, at the star
  • Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, center, leads Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia, front right, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, foreground, steers his car through turn 2 at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan
  • Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, foreground, steers his car through turn 2 at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands, right, and Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, left, collide at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzu
  • Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands, right, and Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, left, collide at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
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  • APTOPIX Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (The wing of Marussia driver Jules Bianchi flies across the car of Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands, after they collided at the start of the Japan
  • The wing of Marussia driver Jules Bianchi flies across the car of Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands, after they collided at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Marussia driver Jules Bianchi of France slides off the track after colliding with Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands during the Japanese Formula One Grand
  • Marussia driver Jules Bianchi of France slides off the track after colliding with Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, front, and Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands crash at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circui
  • Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, front, and Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands crash at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.(AP Photo/Greg Baker)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, front, and Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands sit in their cars after crashing at the start of the Japanese Formula One Gran
  • Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, front, and Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands sit in their cars after crashing at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.(AP Photo/Greg Baker)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, left, leads Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia into turn 2 at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circ
  • Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, left, leads Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia into turn 2 at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives his car with a damaged tire during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13
  • Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives his car with a damaged tire during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.(AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, right, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany compete during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzu
  • Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, right, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany compete during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.(AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
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  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus drives on his way to finishing third during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives his car during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia Toro Rosso drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Sauber F1 drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain (R) drives his car during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013.AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren leads from Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Lotus drive during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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  • Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany (L) receives a penalty while pitting out in front of McLaren driver Sergio Perez Mendoza of Mexico (R) coming into his pit during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO / POOL / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia leaves his pit during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO / POOL / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain (front) leads Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France race side by side during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circui
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France race side by side during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct.13, 2013. Vettel won the race and Grosjean third. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
  • Image Credit: Associated Press
  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France race side by side during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circui
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France race side by side during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct.13, 2013. Vettel won the race and Grosjean third. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
  • Image Credit: Associated Press
  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain steers his car during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.(AP Photo/Koji
  • Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain steers his car during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.(AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
  • Image Credit: Associated Press
  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Sauber F1 drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Sauber F1 drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Sergio Perez of Mexico and McLaren and Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren drive side by side towards first corner during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • Ferrari driver Felipe Massa of Brazil drives his car during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus drives on his way to finishing third during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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  • Lotus driver Romain Grosjean (bottom) of France heads Red Bull driver Mark Webber (top) of Australia during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Felipe Massa of Brazil and Ferrari drives during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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  • F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race
  • SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives on his way to winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany gestures to celebrate his victory in the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, center, jumps on the podium as he celebrates after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, J
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, center, jumps on the podium as he celebrates after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct.13, 2013. At left is second placed Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia and third placed Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France at right. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
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  • Winning Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany (C) listens to the national anthem on the podium with second placed Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia (4th L) and third placed Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France (3rd R) during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • APTOPIX Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates with the trophy after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates with the trophy after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. At left is second placed Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia, and at right third placed Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
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  • First-placed Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany, second-placed his teammate Mark Webber (2nd L) of Australia and third-placed Lotus driver Romain Grosjean (R) of France spray champagne during the awarding ceremony of the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, second right, celebrates along with second placed teammate driver Mark Webber of Australia, second left, and third placed Lotus
  • Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, second right, celebrates along with second placed teammate driver Mark Webber of Australia, second left, and third placed Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of Franc right, on the podium after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct.13, 2013. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
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Japan's Suzuka circuit is a great track that all the drivers love, but it doesn't usually provide the most thrilling, head-to-head racing. Where it does excel, however, is with surprises and "What just happened there?!" moments, and this year it was no different.

It started with Mark Webber in his Infiniti Red Bull Racing out-qualifying his teammate Sebastian Vettel for the first time this year. They were followed closely by Lewis Hamilton in the first Mercedes-AMG Petronas, the still-solid Romain Grosjean again outdoing teammate Kimi Räikkönen, Felipe Massa racing for another seat in Formula One and putting his Ferrari in fifth, then Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes, Nico Hülkenberg in the first Sauber, Fernando Alonso in the second Ferrari, and Räikkönen continuing to do himself no favors by qualifying tenth.

For the second year in a row, the lights going out was the cue to start the first corner action...

We can't remember the last time both Infiniti Red Bulls had bad starts – instead of just Webber – but that's what happened in Japan. It looked like a perfect situation for Hamilton, who had placed his car on the line angled slightly right, which would launch him in between Vettel and Webber. Once he found himself there, though, things got a little too skinny in the slot and his right rear tire touched Vettel's front wing. Vettel was able to continue unharmed but Hamilton punctured immediately, the tire coming completely off the wheel by the time he got around the track and damaging the floor. Hamilton got back out on track but retired eight laps later, losing 2.5 seconds per lap because of the damage to the floor.

The real beneficiary was Grosjean, who blasted around Vettel on the right and was first into the first turn, then lead the race for most of the next 29 laps ahead of Webber and Vettel. The Lotus driver did everything right this year – after doing everything wrong on the first lap last year when he plowed into the back of Webber before Turn 2 – staying ahead of the Red Bulls on pure pace. Webber was able to get close but not get around, so on Lap 7 both Red Bull drivers were told to leave two-second gaps to the car in front, save their tires and wait until closer to the pit stop windows.



The first round of pit stops came early and that shuffled the order as we found out who was on what strategy. On Lap 15 the order was Grosjean, Webber, Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso, Rosberg, Hülkenberg, Massa, Alonso, Esteban Gutiérrez in the second Sauber, and Räikkönen. This was when we found out who the losers were, because Ricciardo was on a two-stop strategy and held up everyone behind for nearly six laps. Hülkenberg didn't get around him until Lap 21, and Ricciardo pitted the following lap. In that time, the front three put fifteen more seconds into the drivers behind.

Grosjean was on a two-stop strategy and had come in on Lap 12, re-emerging behind Vettel but in front of Webber. Lest you think the Aussie had managed to ditch his race-killing demon after achieving pole position, it stuck a pitchfork in his Japanese race when his team switched him from a two-stop to a three-stop strategy, and on the other side of the pits, Vettel was put on a two-stop strategy. Webber came in for his second stop on Lap 25, Vettel took over first place and then put in the laps he needed to give him a gap ahead of Grosjean almost large enough to cover the pit stop delta.



After the race Webber said he didn't understand why his strategy was changed, when he was originally slated to do two stops (only four other drivers did three-stops, the next-highest-placed was Rosberg in ninth). Apparently his lap timing showed that he was losing time to Grosjean ahead and Vettel behind, but Webber said that when he was called in he was still able to put time into Grosjean when he wanted. Commentators wondered if Red Bull was trying to goad Lotus into having to cover two different strategies. Admittedly, Weber did have a narrower rear wing than his teammate, that hampered his top speed, but whatever the case, he would have to chase Grosjean down and pass the Frenchman on Lap 46 to get second place, because as soon as he came in on Lap 25 first place belonged to Vettel.

The German didn't run away with it, and was a little sloppy compared to his usual standards, locking up and running wide into the dirt more than once. Still, he made his strategy work: he was a close second to Grosjean after the Frenchman's second stop on Lap 38, then passed him three laps later for the lead.



Behind that triumvirate in front, there were a few excellent passes in the pack, but due to tire management for the bulk of the middle, the race was only a little more exciting than a tea ceremony. Jules Bianchi in a Marussia collided with the Caterham of Giedo van der Garde at Turn 1, sending both of them into the gravel trap and out of the race. Massa ignored the call when Ferrari ordered him to let Alonso past, so Alonso had to do it on his own on Lap 20. Late in the race Hülkenberg was trying to secure a second consecutive fourth place finish for Sauber, but couldn't keep Alonso and Räikkönen from getting by him, the Finn making his move on the outside of the chicane at the end of the lap. Nevertheless, Hülkenberg and Gutiérrez both scored for the Swiss outfit; they were Gutiérrez's first points in F1, and the positions mean that Sauber has scored points in Japan all 23 years the race has been held at Suzuka.



The final order was Vettel, Webber, Grosjean, Alonso, Räikkönen, Hülkenberg, Gutiérrez – who made his way up from 14th on the grid, Rosberg – who would have finished higher if not for a drive-through penalty for unsafe release after a pit stop that saw him almost collide with Sergio Perez and run into Lotus pit crew members, Button, and Massa – who fell so far back after serving a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

The win puts Vettel atop the standings with 297 points, Alonso in second with 207. If Vettel finishes fifth or higher in the next race in India, he's a four-time Driver's World Champion. Red Bull's constructor's haul takes them to 445 points, Ferrari in second with 297. Mercedes dropped to third with 287, and they'll be looking to regain that second place. Another measure of how strange the season has been: McLaren has 83 points.



The next race is in India in two weeks. Anything is possible, but there's been too much use of the phrase "mathematical" already, so unless Red Bull decides to sit the race out we expect Vettel to take the Driver's Championship, and if his team can score 24 points they'll take the Constructor's.

No matter what happens, we'll see you then.

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