The Red Bull driver moves six points clear of Fernando Alonso after taking victory in Korea, with teammate Mark Webber finishing in second place.
Sebastian Vettel moves into championship lead with Korean Grand Prix victory
Sebastian Vettel survived a late tyre scare to move back to the top of the Formula One drivers' championship with a dominant victory in Korea, as McLaren's title hopes disintegrated.
South Korea's 'Gangnam Style' rapper Psy waved the chequered flag as Vettel crossed the finish line
The Red Bull driver got the jump on team-mate Mark Webber from second on the grid and was able to ease away to his third win in a row and go six points clear of Fernando Alonso, despite concerns his right-front tyre would wear out in the closing laps.
"The foundation was to have a good start," he said afterwards.
"I wasn't sure because I was starting on the dirty side but I had a good launch and managed to get past Mark. But it wasn't over, it's a long way and even in seventh gear I could hear Mark coming.
"We were a bit worried about the front wheel because we've seen a lot of people locking up and overshooting the apexes. The team have been flat out on the car since Japan and that's what we need.
"I'm looking forward to next couple of races. A lot can happen but we need to focus on ourselves and go from there."
Webber was a solid second as Red Bull became the first team to secure a one-two finish in 2012, with Alonso getting the maximum out of his Ferrari with third place.
But Lewis Hamilton could only finish 10th after suffering with tyre degradation and fell 62 points behind Vettel with just 100 points up for grabs from the final four races. His race finished with the departing McLaren driver trying to avoid damaging his car while battling for 10th after picking up a large strip of loose astroturf under his vehicle.
Afterwards Hamilton admitted he is 'probably' out of the title picture.
"It's real sad that we are pretty much out of the championship but sometimes these races show your true spirit within," he said.
Felipe Massa finished fourth, with Kimi Raikkonen in fifth to keep his slim title hopes alive. Force India's Nico Hulkenberg came sixth, ahead of Romain Grosjean.
McLaren teammate Jenson Button was a first-lap retirement after he and Nico Rosberg were clouted by the wayward Sauber of Suzuka hero Kamui Kobayashi at turn three and went no further.
The Japanese driver was ordered to serve a drive-through penalty before being forced to park up in the garage.
Vettel quickly began to eke out a lead over Webber as the top six held position through the first-round of stops.
But this proved to be the start of Hamilton's woes.
The Briton had failed to do a meaningful long run during practice and soon found his tyres to be wearing at an alarming rate, and Massa breezed past him on the run to turn three before he was forced to pit for a second time several laps earlier than his rivals.
It would have ramifications later on.
Vettel's was comfortably managing the gap back to Webber, but had tyre struggles of his own during the latter stages of his second stint, which meant his team-mate got back within 5.3 seconds.
But once he pitted Vettel quickly re-asserted his authority with a lap 1.5 seconds better than his team-mate and the advantage was soon back up to 8.5 seconds.
He desperately tried to keep Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg at bay, but eventually had to give way to the Force India as the German pounced around the outside at turn four, after Hamilton had run Grosjean out of road at turn three
At Ferrari, Massa's excellent pace prompted a request for him to slow up in order to give team-mate Alonso some breathing space as he kept pace with the third-placed Spaniard.
Hamilton pitted again on lap 42 for the super-soft tyre and resumed down in 10th place.
It was at this point that Vettel's cruise to victory was thrown into doubt.
He was advised to cool his pace with eight laps to go as the drivers struggled with heavy wear on their right-front tyres, but ultimately came through to take the win by 6.8 seconds from Webber and close in on becoming just the third man to win three straight titles.