The Red Bull driver won the Korean Grand Prix on Sunday to move ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso in the F1 championship standings by six points with four races remaining — erasing what looked like a commanding lead for the Spaniard just three weeks ago.
Vettel started second on the grid behind Mark Webber but overtook his teammate on the first turn and never relinquished the lead, finishing 8.2 seconds ahead of Webber. Alonso was third, 13.9 seconds off the pace.
"The foundation was there with a good start," Vettel said. "I wasn't sure because I was starting on the dirty side of the grid, but I was able to get some good grip and get inside at the first turn."
Vettel, who also won the previous races in Singapore and Japan, now looks to be the favorite for a third straight championship title — something only previously achieved by Juan-Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa was fourth, followed by Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton finished a disappointing 10th, despite starting third on the grid.
It was Vettel's fourth win of the season and the first 1-2 finish for Red Bull. Vettel leads the driver's standings for the first time this year.
Vettel said it was too early to think about the championship.
"We've seen the championship go up and down, so we just have to focus on ourselves for the last four races," he said.
Alonso has not won since the German GP, when it looked as though he was going to run away with the championship. He was the innocent victim of first-lap collisions in Belgium and Japan but earned valuable points in Sunday's race.
"We're doing what we can at the moment," Alonso said. "We're trying to save points. It was a perfect Sunday for us: good start, good strategy during the race and finishing on the podium. I'm very happy with today's race and where we are in the championship."
Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi made contact with Jenson Button on Turn 3 of the first lap, sending the McLaren driver to an early exit. Kobayashi was handed a drive-through penalty for causing the collision. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg also went out on the first lap.
Hamilton, who is fourth in the standings at 62 points behind Vettel, had a rear suspension problem with his McLaren and even got a piece of artificial turf from the edge of the track stuck under his car late in the race.
Red Bull also increased its lead in the constructors' championship with 367 points, 77 ahead of Ferrari. McLaren dropped to third place with 284 points.
The next race is Oct. 28 in India.
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