Skyfall review

The name’s Bond. James Bond. It has been four years since we last heard these famous words utter from the British secret agent following the news that MGM encountered finance troubles during the production of the film.

Thankfully, all of these money issues have been resolved and it is such a relief to have Daniel Craig back on the big screen playing 007.

Directed by the Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, Skyfall is both the twenty-third James Bond film and the 50th anniversary of the series itself.

Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Skyfall sees Commander James Bond’s loyalty to M tested as her past comes back to haunt her.

After accidentally shot and believed killed by one of MI6’s own agent Eve – played by Naomie Harris – while trying to retrieve a hard drive listing undercover agents. A jaded Bond washes up somewhere exotic and sinks into a mire of depression and drinking games involving scorpions before a terrorist attack on MI6 HQ jolts him back to life and forces him to return to London.

Sure enough, the hard drive has fallen into the hands of crazed villain Silva – the quite brilliant Javier Bardem – who is using it to orchestrate a multi-faceted revenge attack on M, causing her professional embarrassment that puts Judi Dench’s character under threat of forced retirement by her superior Mallory – played by Ralph Fiennes.

Issued with some surprisingly standard weaponry by Ben Whishaw’s Q, Bond tracks Silva to his island-based hideout, but when Silva turns the tables and stages another attack on London, Bond is forced to take M into his protection.

Once again, the performance by Daniel Craig continues to impress. Playing the character as an older, wiser and a Bond who both bleeds and bruises. He could easily be ranked, along with Sean Connery, as the best portray of Ian Fleming’s spy.

Despite the presence of two Bond girls featuring the beautiful Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe, Skyfall is essentially Judi Dench’s film. The on-screen chemistry alongside 007 was first-class and it was quite touching to see their personal relationship.

And yet Javier Bardem steals the best scenes. The Spanish-speaking actor delivers a twisted and sinister performance that is a joy to watch. A complete contrast to Bérénice Marlohe, who plays the slinky Severine. Her on-screen presence was limited and it was a shame not to have more scenes with Bond.

The look and feel of Skyfall is one of the most breathtaking in terms of cinematography. Sam Mendes has that unique ability to blend some outstanding action set pieces including that chase sequence in Istanbul before the pre-credits sung by Adele, with some amusing little character moments – such as Bond straightening his cuffs after a death-defying train leap – while maintaining the surprisingly emotional tone of the script.

Skyfall definitely lives up to the hype and it is certainly better than the Quantum of Solace. The best Bond film ever? That’s debatable but in terms of thrills, Sam Mendes has directed a beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable Bond film that celebrates its history despite the reboot.

Vettel scores his fourth consecutive victory in Indian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel extends his lead in the Formula One world championship to 13 points with a fourth consecutive victory in the Indian Grand Prix.

By winning the Buddh International Circuit, his 26th career in the sport, the German has set new records by becoming the first driver to lead three races from start-to-finish since Ayrton Senna in 1989. In addition, he has led for 206 consecutive laps when compared to Senna’s 264.

As for his championship rival Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver drove a fantastic race to minimise the damage to his title bid by battling through to second position.

Red Bull’s rivals may have claimed pre-race that they were determined to prevent Vettel making a clean break, but the champion team actually looked more dominant than ever on lap one, as Vettel and Mark Webber disappeared into the distance while the McLarens and Ferraris battle with each other.

Alonso managed to draft past both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button on the long straight thanks to the Ferrari’s superior straight-line speed, then saw them go back around him – one either side – at Turn 4.

Button came out best and took third, with Alonso managing to get back past Hamilton into fourth position.

Alonso then overtook Button for third place as soon as DRS became available. Hamilton did likewise soon afterwards.

Third seemed to be Alonso’s limit until the second half of the race, when Webber began drifting off Vettel’s superior pace and into the sight of the Spaniard’s Ferrari.

As Webber reported a lack of KERS, Alonso stepped up his chase despite the issue in trying to conserve fuel.

With ten laps to go, Alonso was able to use his superior straight-line speed advantage to breeze past Webber.

As for Vettel, there were some unusual sparks appearing under Vettel’s car and it will be interesting to see if his RB8 will pass post-race scrutineering. The plank must be at a minimum width and any wear could result in disqualification.

The most impressive action was in the pits, in particular Lewis Hamilton pit stop that required a rapidly fitted new steering wheel as well a new set of Pirellis. All five wheels were changed in just 3.1 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton gave chase after Mark Webber in the final moments but could not separate the Red Bull from the podium.

Button finished in a lonely fifth, losing valuable time behind a yet-to-stop Romain Grosjean.

Felipe Massa resisted Kimi Raikkonen for sixth. The Lotus jumped the Ferrari by pitting one lap later, only for Massa to use DRS to immediately re-pass his rival.

Grosjean fell into the midfield at the start, then recovered with some successful overtaking and by running until lap 36 before pitting for a fresh set of soft compounds from Pirelli.

The Lotus got back up to ninth position, chasing Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India.

Hulkenberg had initially sparred with Sergio Perez, but the Sauber made an early pitstop then retired after picking up a puncture while fighting with Daniel Ricciardo’s.

Perez was one of three drivers who sustained tyre damage in combat. Jean-Eric Vergne tagged Michael Schumacher at the first corner of the race, breaking the Toro Rosso’s wing and slicing into the rear tyre on the Mercedes.

Pastor Maldonado also got a puncture in a tussle with Kamui Kobayashi. But Bruno Senna saved the Williams team day with an assertive drive to tenth that included a late pass on Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.

So not the most dramatic Indian Grand Prix and yet in terms of the championship, only 13 points separate race winner Sebastian Vettel and runner-up Fernando Alonso with only three races left.

As for the battle in the constructors’ championship, Red Bull Racing extends their lead and could win the title unless Ferrari outscores them by five points or McLaren by 15.

Indian Grand Prix race results after 60 laps:

1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           1h31:10.744
2.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +9.437
3.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +13.217
4.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +13.909
5.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +26.266
6.  Massa         Ferrari                    +44.600
7.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +45.200
8.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +54.900
9.  Grosjean      Lotus-Renault              +56.100
10.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +1:14.900
11.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +1:21.600
12.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +1:22.800
13.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:26.000
14.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +1:26.400
15.  Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1 lap
16.  Maldonado     Williams-Renault           +1 lap
17.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
18.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
19.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
20.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +2 laps
21.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +2 laps
22.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +5 laps

Fastest lap: Button, 1:28.203

Not classified/retirements:

De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth                 41 laps
Perez         Sauber-Ferrari               21 laps

World Championship standings, round 17:

1.  Vettel       240
2.  Alonso       227
3.  Raikkonen    173
4.  Webber       167
5.  Hamilton     165
6.  Button       141
7.  Rosberg       93
8.  Grosjean      90
9.  Massa         89
10.  Perez         66
11.  Kobayashi     50
12.  Hulkenberg    49
13.  Di Resta      44
14.  Schumacher    43
15.  Maldonado     33
16.  Senna         26
17.  Vergne        12
18.  Ricciardo      9

1.  Red Bull-Renault          407
2.  Ferrari                   316
3.  McLaren-Mercedes          306
4.  Lotus-Renault             263
5.  Mercedes                  136
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            116
7.  Force India-Mercedes       93
8.  Williams-Renault           59
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         21

Next race: Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina. November 2-4.

Vettel leads Red Bull Racing front row in India

Sebastian Vettel underlined his superior practice performance at the Buddh International Circuit by leading Red Bull Racing to its third consecutive front row.

The championship leader, who took over the lead from Fernando Alonso after his victory in Korea, actually made a mistake on his first Q3 run.

Unfazed by the error at Turn 7, Vettel responded with a time of one minute, 25.283 seconds on his second run to beat team-mate Mark Webber to pole. Webber’s challenge was then compromised by a mistake at Turn 3.

Vettel stayed out just in case he had to defend his qualifying status, before abandoning the lap once it became clear he was out of reach. By taking the top spot at the Indian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel is now third in all-time record list with 35 pole positions.

As for his championship rival, Fernando Alonso starts back in fifth.

The McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button filled row two, pushing the Ferraris of Alonso and Felipe Massa down to row three.

Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus and the Sauber of Sergio Perez will share row four.

Despite the fear that the Williams team lacked qualifying pace this weekend, Pastor Maldonado made it through into Q3 and took ninth.

Nico Rosberg also reached the pole shoot-out but did not set a time in the Mercedes.

Several teams saw one of their drivers reach the top ten while the other ended up in the midfield.

Romain Grosjean was pushed outside the Q3 cut late on, leaving him in P11.

Bruno Senna’s promising start to Q2 did not translate into a top ten appearance and will start the race in P13.

As for Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion lacked speed compared to his Mercedes team-mate Rosberg (six tenths of a second) and could only qualify in P14.

There were big intra-teams gaps for Force India and Sauber too, with seven tenths splitting Nico Hulkenberg in P12 and Paul di Resta in P16, and Kamui Kobayashi a long way off emulating Perez’s Q3 form in P17.

Jean-Eric Vergne was again eliminated in Q1. Heikki Kovalainen spun into the gravel at the end of the opening segment, leaving his Caterham team-mate Vitaly Petrov free to lead the tail-end pack.

So another dominant performance by Sebastian Vettel at India. Fastest in all three practice sessions and now pole position. Looking really good for another race victory and extending his championship lead over Fernando Alonso.

Qualifying positions at the Buddh International Circuit:

1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m25.283
2.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m25.327
3.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m25.544
4.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m25.659
5.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m25.773
6.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m25.857
7.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m26.236
8.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m26.360
9.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m26.713
10.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             no time
11. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m26.136s
12.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercede  1m26.241s
13.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     1m26.331s
14.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             1m26.574s
15.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m26.777s
16.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercede  1m26.989s
17.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m27.219s
18.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m27.525s
19.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m28.756s
20.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m29.500s
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m29.613s
22.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m30.592s
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         1m30.593s
24.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m30.662s

107 per cent time: 1m32.071s

Vettel takes championship lead with victory in Korean Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel now leads the Formula One world championship following his 25th career victory in the Korean Grand Prix.

By winning the race – his third consecutive for Red Bull and the team’s first one-two with Mark Webber taking second – the reigning world champion now has a six-point advantage over Fernando Alonso, who had led the majority this season.

Pole sitter Webber immediately lost the lead to his team-mate right off the line, and after fending off the Australian’s attempted retaliation at Turn 3, the 25-year-old German was free to pull away. His lead got up to around ten seconds before he focused on nursing his tyres to the chequered flag.

Fernando Alonso muscled his way up to third position in a busy opening lap, but was unable to match the superior race pace from the flying Red Bulls, to take the final step on the podium.

McLaren had a disastrous race, as Jenson Button was taken out on the first lap when Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi hit both Button and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes at Turn 3.

Lewis Hamilton ran fourth behind Alonso in the first stint before losing pace on his second set of tyres. The McLaren driver was overtaken by both Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen before switching to a three-stop strategy.

That left Hamilton back in tenth, his efforts to recover positions wasn’t successful when he picked up a large piece of astroturf in the final laps.

Having overtaken Hamilton, Massa closed in on his Scuderia team-mate. The Brazilian received a radio message requesting to hold formation and duly finished fourth, ahead of Raikkonen’s Lotus.

Nico Hulkenberg drove an excellent race in the Force India to take sixth position, delivering one of the most exciting moments if honest tedious race when he passed both Romain Grosjean and Hamilton in one sweep as the Lotus and McLaren diced. Grosjean eventually finished in seventh.

Toro Rosso also had a superb race with Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo coming through from their lowly grid positions to eighth and ninth. Although the pair switched places late on as Ricciardo’s tyres faded away… Hamilton’s astroturf drama meant the McLaren fell back after putting the Toro Rosso duo under heavy pressure.

As for Mercedes, this was a disappointing race from the Silver Arrows with Michael Schumacher lacking pace throughout while Nico Rosberg was forced to retire early following a hit from behind by Kamui Kobayashi.

So not a classic Korean Grand Prix but in terms of the world championship it is quite significant. Sebastian Vettel’s victory means he now leads with 215 points, with Fernando Alonso now on 209 followed by Kimi Raikkonen with 167, Lewis Hamilton on 153 and Mark Webber with 152 points.

In the constructors’ standings, Red Bull Racing extend their lead with 367 points with Ferrari moving up ahead of McLaren with 290 over 284.

Korean Grand Prix race results, after 55 laps:
1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           1h36:28.651
2.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +8.231
3.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +13.944
4.  Massa         Ferrari                    +20.168
5.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +36.739
6.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +45.301
7.  Grosjean      Lotus-Renault              +54.812
8.  Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:09.589
9.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:11.787
10.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +1:19.692
11.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +1:20.062
12.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +1:24.448
13.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +1:29.241
14.  Maldonado     Williams-Renault           +1:34.924
15.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +1:36.902
16.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
17.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
18.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
19.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +2 lap
20.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +2 laps

Fastest lap: Webber, 1:42.037

Not classified/retirements:
De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth                 17 laps
Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari               17 laps
Rosberg       Mercedes                     2 lap
Button        McLaren-Mercedes             1 lap

World Championship standings, round 16:                

1.  Vettel       215
2.  Alonso       209
3.  Raikkonen    167
4.  Hamilton     153
5.  Webber       152
6.  Button       131
7.  Rosberg       93
8.  Grosjean      88
9.  Massa         81
10.  Perez         66
11.  Kobayashi     50
12.  Hulkenberg    45
13.  Di Resta      44
14.  Schumacher    43
15.  Maldonado     33
16.  Senna         25
17.  Vergne        12
18.  Ricciardo      9

1.  Red Bull-Renault          367
2.  Ferrari                   290
3.  McLaren-Mercedes          284
4.  Lotus-Renault             255
5.  Mercedes                  136
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            116
7.  Force India-Mercedes       89
8.  Williams-Renault           58
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         21

Next race: Indian Grand Prix, New Delhi. October 26-28.

Webber edges out Vettel to take pole in Korea

Mark Webber claimed a surprising pole position at the Korean Grand Prix, edging out his team-mate Sebastian Vettel to take Red Bull Racing’s 44th in the sport.

The Australian upstaged pace-setter Vettel with a brilliant Q3 lap. It seemed the reigning world champion was heading for his 35th career of poles after setting the fastest time in Q1 and Q2.

In fact, the 25-year-old German’s first Q3 lap was three tenths of a second clear of the opposition.

But then Webber, who had been third in the provisional order, found a half-second improvement on his last pole attempt to set a time of one minute, 37.242 seconds.

The result was also the 200th Formula One pole for Red Bull’s engine supplier Renault.

Vettel’s response was simply not fast enough, with a poor first sector preventing the German from improving on his earlier mark. That ensured pole for Webber by 0.074 seconds, despite his software glitch.

Fernando Alonso was initially in second position following his first Q1 run, but Webber’s pole lap and an improvement from Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren pushed the championship leader back down to fourth.

Lotus showed better form with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean taking fifth and seventh in their upgraded cars, featuring the Coanda exhaust. The black and gold cars will sandwich in between the Ferrari of Felipe Massa.

Nico Hulkenberg took his Force India to eighth, beating the Silver Arrows of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.

There could have been several surprises in the early part of qualifying, but in the end the only major upset was that Jenson Button did not make Q3.

The McLaren driver’s first Q2 lap was compromised by an error, and then he missed the cut by 0.013 seconds when Jenson had to back off on his second run as yellows flew for Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso parking with a gearbox issue.

Had the end of Q1 worked out differently, neither McLaren would have reached the top ten shootout. As Hamilton was one of few drivers not to use the super softs in Q1, and as others found big gains on the quicker Pirelli, his early time meant he was only 17th fastest.

The McLaren was sat in the pits and was unable to respond due to the time limit, but Hamilton escaped a shock elimination as Bruno Senna’s final lap was not good enough, leaving the Williams down with the Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs. Senna’s team-mate Pastor Maldonado fared only marginally better, qualifying in P15.

Alonso did use super softs and had to do two runs in Q1, yet that was only 16th quickest… There were no such problems for either Hamilton or Alonso in Q2, though.

Sauber had to settle for P12 and P13, while Paul di Resta blamed traffic as his Force India ended up only P14.

While at the back, Narain Karthikeyan did not set a time due to brake problems with his HRT. As for Charles Pic, the Marussia driver qualified in P21 but will take engine penalty meaning he will start last on the grid.

Qualifying positions for the Korean Grand Prix:

1.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m37.242s
2.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m37.316s
3.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m37.469s
4.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m37.534s
5.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m37.625s
6.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m37.884s
7.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m37.934s
8.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes 1m38.266s
9.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             1m38.361s
10.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             1m38.513s
11.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m38.441s
12.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m38.460s
13.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m38.594s
14.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m38.643s
15.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m38.725s
16.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m39.084s
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m39.340s
18.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     1m39.443s
19.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m40.207s
20.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m40.333s
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m41.371s
22.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m42.881s
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         no time*
24.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m41.317s**

107 per cent time: 1m45.082s

*Did not set a time, requires dispensation from stewards to start
**Ten-place penalty due to engine change

Vettel victorious in Suzuka

Sebastian Vettel recorded his third win at Suzuka with a perfect lights-to-flag drive at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver is now only four points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso, who was forced to retire after spinning on the opening lap.

Felipe Massa came through from tenth on the grid to finish in an excellent second for his first podium since the Korean Grand Prix back in 2010.

And yet, the home crowd were cheering for Kamui Kobayashi. The Sauber driver fending off Jenson Button for his maiden Formula One podium to take third, equalling the best ever finish for a Japanese driver.

By winning the Japanese Grand Prix, Vettel is within the striking distance to take the championship lead thanks to several likely challengers eliminated in a chaotic first lap.

The carnage began when Alonso’s Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus banged wheels on the run to the first corner. That caused a puncture to the Ferrari and left it spinning into the sand trap.

Kobayashi made a great start and placed his Sauber in between the Red Bulls off the line, although it got much worse for Mark Webber when Romain Grosjean slid into him at the second corner.

The Lotus driver picked up front wing damage and a 10-second stop/go penalty, while Webber was able to recover and needed a pit-stop for checks.

As the chain reaction unfolded behind, Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes was taken out in a clash with Bruno Senna’s Williams.

Once the safety car come in, Vettel was free to let loose. Setting fastest laps despite the team telling him to take it easy! The defending world champion had at one point a lead of over twenty seconds… A pure dominant performance and a great way to score his third victory of the season.

Kobayashi held second until the first pit-stops, when both he and the chasing Button were leapfrogged by Massa. Like Button, the Ferrari driver had gained a lot of ground in the first-corner chaos, and once ahead of the McLaren and Sauber, Felipe was quick enough to pull away.

Button tried his best while racing for track position against Kobayashi, but a slightly slow final pit-stop did not help and the local hero was able to keep last year’s Suzuka winner at bay.

Lewis Hamilton had a quiet start to the race before coming through to fifth. He fell victim to a superb dive-bomb pass from McLaren replacement Sergio Perez in the first stint – the Sauber having dropped behind in a failed outside-line bid to pass Raikkonen at the first corner.

Hamilton then got back ahead of the Mexican at the first pit-stops, and as Perez tried to overtake, this time around the outside at the hairpin, the Sauber ran wide and spun into retirement.

The McLaren then jumped Raikkonen for fifth at the second stops – emerging alongside the Lotus and muscling it aside at the second turn despite Raikkonen seeming to have the momentum.

Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India chased Raikkonen home in seventh, holding off Pastor Maldonado’s Williams.

Webber recovered to ninth, pitting just once more after his lap-one stop.

Daniel Ricciardo made it two Australians in the points. The Toro Rosso driver resisted pressure from Michael Schumacher to the finish, preventing Mercedes from scoring at Suzuka.

The lap one mayhem gave Caterham an opportunity as Heikki Kovalainen emerged in P11. But Heikki was unable to stay ahead of the recovering frontrunners though.

With a non-finish for Fernando Alonso at Suzuka and an important win for Sebastian Vettel – his 24th in the sport, equalling Juan Manuel Fangio’s record – the championship is now becoming a tense and dramatic affair. Only four points separate the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers with five races left.

Japanese Grand Prix, after 53 laps:

1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           1h28:56.242
2.  Massa         Ferrari                    +20.639
3.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +24.538
4.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +25.098
5.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +46.490
6.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +50.424
7.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +51.159
8.  Maldonado     Williams-Renault           +52.364
9.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +54.675
10.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:06.919
11.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +1:07.769
12.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +1:23.400
13.  Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:28.600
14.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +1:28.700
15.  Grosjean      Lotus-Renault              +1 lap
16.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
17.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
18.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
19.  De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth               +1 lap

Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:35.774

Not classified/retirements:

Pic           Marussia-Cosworth            39 laps
Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth                 34 laps
Perez         Sauber-Ferrari               19 laps
Alonso        Ferrari                      1 lap
Rosberg       Mercedes                     1 lap

World Championship standings, round 15:                

1.  Alonso       194
2.  Vettel       190
3.  Raikkonen    157
4.  Hamilton     152
5.  Webber       135
6.  Button       131
7.  Rosberg       93
8.  Grosjean      82
9.  Massa         69
10.  Perez         65
11.  Kobayashi     50
12.  Di Resta      44
13.  Schumacher    43
14.  Hulkenberg    37
15.  Maldonado     33
16.  Senna         25
17.  Vergne         8
18.  Ricciardo      7

1.  Red Bull-Renault          325
2.  McLaren-Mercedes          283
3.  Ferrari                   263
4.  Lotus-Renault             239
5.  Mercedes                  136
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            115
7.  Force India-Mercedes       81
8.  Williams-Renault           58
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         15

Next race: Korean Grand Prix, Yeongam. October 12-14.

Vettel continues his Suzuka dominant form with fourth pole

Sebastian Vettel took his fourth consecutive pole position at Suzuka with a superior performance in the Red Bull RB8.

The defending world champion was quickest in Q2, and then set a mighty lap of one minute, 30.839 seconds early in Q3 to take provisional pole.

Vettel was set to improve further until Kimi Raikkonen spun his Lotus into the Spoon Curve gravel, causing a yellow flag in the middle sector when all the top ten drivers were trying to go faster.

Despite that, Sebastian achieved his 34th pole position in Formula One. His impressive record means the 25-year-old German is now third in the all-time list, one ahead of Alain Prost and Jim Clark.

Mark Webber completed Red Bull Racing’s first front row lock out of the year, but was 0.2 seconds down on his team-mate.

Home crowd favourite Kamui Kobayashi will start third. He was fourth fastest for Sauber, but will gain a place when third-placed Jenson Button is given his gearbox change penalty.

However, the Japanese driver might lose this position due to not slowing down efficiently following Raikkonen’s spin at Spoon Curve.

Both Button’s McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton and world championship leader Fernando Alonso appeared to be hampered by the yellow flags. Alonso’s Ferrari was only seventh, ahead of Raikkonen and Hamilton.

Ferrari was already struggling for pace in Japan, with Felipe Massa unable to do any better than P11.

Romain Grosjean was fifth fastest for Lotus, with Sergio Perez demonstrating Sauber’s pace with sixth.

Nico Hulkenberg edged out Force India team-mate Paul di Resta by less than a tenth to make it into Q3, eventually taking P10. But the German has also received a gearbox-change penalty.

Mercedes had been centre of attention in the build-up to the race following the news announcement on driver line-up. As for the team’s on-track performance, it was a disappointing result for both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.

The former waited until the final seconds of Q1 to set a time and only just scraped through in P16, before taking P13 in Q2, two places ahead of his team-mate Rosberg.

It was another miserable qualifying session for Bruno Senna. He got boxed in behind Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso at the chicane on his last Q1 lap – waving his hand in angry and a slow time.

When Schumacher delivered his final lap, Senna was demoted down to P18, just behind Vergne.

Pastor Maldonado couldn’t do much to raise the Williams team spirits this time, and will start the Japanese Grand Prix in P14.

While at the back go the grid, Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham is ahead of Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT as usual, but things were shaken up in between, with Timo Glock and Pedro de la Rosa ahead of Charles Pic and Vitaly Petrov.

Qualifying positions for the Japanese Grand Prix:

1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m30.839s
2.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m31.090s
3.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m31.700s
4.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m31.989s
5.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m32.022s
6.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m32.114s
7.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m32.208s
8.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m31.294s*
9.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m32.327s
10.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m32.293s
11.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m32.327s
13.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m32.512s
13.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             1m32.625s
14.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m32.954s
15.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes no time*
16.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m33.368s
17.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     1m33.405s
18.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m34.657s
19.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m35.213s
20.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m35.385s
21.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m35.429s
22.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m35.432s
23.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             1m32.469s**
24.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         1m36.734s

107 per cent time: 1m38.471s

*Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change
**Ten-place grid penalty for causing a collision during the Singapore Grand Prix

Schumacher announces second retirement from Formula One

For the second time is his established Formula One career, Michael Schumacher has confirmed he will retire from the sport come the season’s end.

The seven-time world champion made the announcement in the build-up to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Schumacher, who has raced in over 300 races, scoring 91 victories and 68 pole position over 21 years of racing, has called time on his Formula One career. His decision was influenced by last week’s news announcement that Lewis Hamilton has joined the Mercedes team from next year.

Speaking of his decision, Schumacher said: “It is without doubt that we did not achieve our goals to develop a world championship fighting car. But it is also very clear that I can still be very happy about my overall achievements in the whole time of my career.

“In the past six years I have learned a lot about myself. For example, that you can open yourself without losing focus. That losing can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning.

“Sometimes I lost sight of this in the early years. But you appreciate to be able to do what you love to do. That you should live your convictions and I was able to do so.

“I would obviously like to thank Daimler, Mercedes-Benz, the team, the engineers, and all my mechanics for all the trust that they put in those years in to myself. But I would also like to thank all of my friends, partners and companions who over many years in motor sport supported myself.”

The 43-year-old German added that he had felt his energy and enthusiasm had begun to wane, just as it did when he quit Ferrari and the sport the first time at the end of 2006.

“I have been thinking for quite a while [about this],” he said. “We had a three-year agreement, hard to keep motivation and energy – it’s natural you think about this more than when you are young.

“I have had my doubts for quite a while whether I had energy to [carry on]. I said in 2006 my battery was empty and now I am in the red zone. I don’t know if there is time to recharge them – but I am looking forward to my freedom.

“I have no hard feelings. In a different way we achieved a great deal…

“Now I will do exactly as I did the first time – to finish and focus 100 per cent on what I do.”

Schumacher originally retired from Formula One in 2006 – to make way for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari – then returned with Mercedes in 2010. His place at the team has now been taken over by Lewis Hamilton from 2013.

Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said it was an “emotional day” as Schumacher made public his decision.

“We have enjoyed so many experiences together during our time at Benetton, Ferrari and Mercedes, and I feel very proud, honoured and privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Michael so closely.

“In my opinion, he is the greatest Formula One driver, and the records which he holds in our sport speak volumes for his success and commitment. On behalf of everyone at our Silver Arrows team, we wish Michael all the best with his future plans and extend our sincere thanks to him for his commitment, passion and hard work during our three years together.

“We have not achieved the results that we would have wished during this time; however Michael’s contribution to our development and the future of our team has been significant. Whatever Michael decides to do next, I am sure that he will be keeping a close eye on our progress in the years to come.”

Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice president Norbert Haug said: “Michael began his professional racing career in 1989 as a member of the Mercedes Junior Team in Group C Prototypes, and he will conclude it at the end of this season with our Mercedes AMG Petronas Silver Arrows works team, as he informed first us and then the international media today.

“Michael did a fantastic job during the build-up phase of our still-young Silver Arrows works team and, although we have not yet achieved our targets in our third season, Michael’s invaluable hard work has established the foundations for future success. For this, we give him our thanks and recognition.

“All of us in the team – and first and foremost Michael – are working hard to have six more races in which we can show a respectable level of performance together. Thank you, Michael, for everything: it was, and is, a pleasure to work with you.”

There was speculation that Schumacher might make a move to Sauber, where he began his world championship-level career with the Mercedes-backed Swiss-team’s endurance prototype squad in 1990, but that proved wide of the mark.

And so ends the ‘second’ career of Michael Schumacher. After three years racing for Silver Arrows, with his best result so far being that third-place finish at Valencia in 2012 plus that great ‘pole’ lap at Monaco – only to receive a five-place grid penalty – his ‘comeback’ to Formula One hasn’t been as successful as his first.

It would be fitting for the 43-year-old German to sign off the final six races on a high by scoring some championship points to help Mercedes in the constructors’ standings. Plus a good way to demonstrate to his worldwide fans that he still has the passion to race. But his time to compete against the rise of young and upcoming stars means that this decision was for the best.