Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.

Sao Paulo – Double defending world champion Sebastian Vettel saw his hopes of a third straight Formula One title suffer a setback when his car was hit in the opening lap of Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.

In a dramatic scramble, Vettel was hit on the fourth turn, suffering damage to the left of his car.

His team radio swiftly brought news, telling the German: “There is visible damage. It is not front wing, we cannot fix it.”

The German returned to the fray, however, as he attempted to recover the lost ground from the middle of the field.

Red Bull driver Vettel only has to finish in the top four to be sure of holding off Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, 13 points behind him going into the final race of the season.

By the ninth lap of 71, Vettel had pulled back to sixth place. – Sapa-AFP