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Vettel Revives F1 Championship Race, Builds His Own Legend

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Sebastian Vettel capped a week in which Formula One (F1) talk had been centered mostly around the 2013 season - Lewis Hamilton's move from McLaren to Mercedes, Michael Schumacher's retirement - with an impressive victory at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka that relaunches the race for this season's World Drivers' Championship.

Vettel's triumph, combined with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso's misfortune, practically makes the drive for the world title a two-man race. With five races to go, beginning with the Korean Grand Prix this Sunday, October 14, the Spaniard leads with 195 points, with the German only four points behind. Other scenarios are possible but not likely, as Kimi Räikkönen of Lotus is third with 157 points and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren fourth with 152 points.

Alonso's abandon due to a punctured tire after Räikkönen drove into him in the first corner at Suzuka was unfortunate because the Ferraris were ready to compete, as shown by stable mate Felipe Massa, who finished comfortably in second place, his best result of the year. With no points at Suzuka, Alonso has no margin for error. He's still leading, barely, but the feeling among racing fans is that after Suzuka Vettel has become the man to beat for the title.

The truth is, Vettel and his "dream car," a RB8 chassis powered by a Renault RS27-2012 engine, looked untouchable this past Sunday. The two-time defending world champion won the pole, jumped to the lead and escaped the first-corner carnage behind him, then ran away from the field increasing his lead lap after lap. With the race won and against the advice from his technical crew, Vettel set the fastest lap in the penultimate tour just for fun, to see how fast the car can go. And we still don't know if he went all out.

Five races is still a long way to go, and this has been an unusual season. Until Suzuka no driver had won back-to-back races. Vettel joins Alonso and Hamilton as a three-time winner this year. With 24 F1 career wins he ties the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio in 9th place on the all-time list. Among active drivers only Alonso has more, 30. (Schumacher, of course, leads with 91, but he's announced his retirement at the end of the season and there's no danger he would win a race this year.)

Vettel won his 34th pole at Suzuka, breaking a tie with Jim Clark and Alain Prost, and he's third on the all-time list now behind Schumacher, 68, and Ayrton Senna, 65. If RB8 performs like it did in Singapore and Japan, the 25-year old German has a great chance to win his third consecutive world title. Schumacher won five in a row (200-2004) and Fangio four (1954-1957) but nobody else has won three straight. Already regarded as a top-10 all-time F1 driver, Vettel is a legend in the making.

Vladimir Moraru started to follow F1 in 1957, after hearing about Fangio's fifth world title on the radio.

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