Suzuka: Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday and blew the Formula One championship wide open with five races remaining after Ferrari's Fernando Alonso spun out at the start.
Alonso's pre-race lead over reigning champion Vettel, chalking up his second win in a row and third of the season, was cut to four points from 29 with the Spaniard in danger of falling behind in South Korea next weekend.
"It was an important step today but there's still a long way," said Vettel after holding aloft the winner's trophy and making the familiar raised forefinger gesture as No. 1.
"These things happen and obviously you don't hope for those things to happen to yourself," he added of Alonso's exit into the gravel following contact with former Ferrari champion Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus.
"We have so many races, it could happen. We don't know what happens in the next race, it's good to take the points today."
Ferrari's Felipe Massa came second, 20.6 seconds behind Vettel, for the Brazilian's first podium finish since October 2010 with Japan's Kamui Kobayashi delighting his home crowd with third place for Sauber.
Only the third Japanese to stand on a Formula One podium, he was the first since Takuma Sato at Indianapolis in 2004. Only Aguri Suzuki, in 1990, had previously finished in the top three at Suzuka.
"Fantastic, unbelievable," he said, sharing a podium with Vettel for the first time since their Formula Three days and addressing the fans in Japanese.
Massa seemed so out of practice at being on the podium that he knocked over his bottle of champagne, spilling some of it on the stage before he had a chance to shake the bottle as he collected his trophy.
The victory was Vettel's third from pole in Suzuka in the past four years and he also set the fastest lap after leading from start to finish in the Suzuka sunshine with the team warning him to be careful.
Meanwhile, Sahara Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg collected six points after finishing seventh while his team-mate Paul di Resta returned pointless at 12th spot.
Hulkenberg is now at the 14th spot in the Drivers' Championship with 37 points while Di Resta is 12th with 44 points.
Narain Karthikeyan of HRT did not finish the race after being on the wheels for 32 laps.