Hamilton edge closer to the title with Suzuka victory, as Vettel retires

Lewis Hamilton has one hand on the Formula 1 championship trophy thanks to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, beating Max Verstappen as Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes took a major blow with retirement.

Hamilton converted pole into an early lead while second-placed Vettel began to drop back immediately, minutes after his Ferrari team had taken the engine cover off the car on the grid to check a spark plug problem.

Vettel’s lack of pace meant Verstappen, who passed Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo off the line, picked off Vettel at the hairpin on the opening lap, before the Ferrari dropped another three places at the start of the second lap.

After a brief safety car period, caused by Carlos Sainz crashing his Toro Rosso at Turn 6, Vettel dropped down to eighth before getting the call on the radio to pit and retire the car on lap 4.

This retirement is a real blow to Vettel’s title hopes and it’s a real shame that the championship looks over after so many problems at Ferrari.

Hamilton then extended his lead to just over four seconds before Verstappen pitted to change his supersofts for soft tyres on lap 21, with Hamilton covering off the undercut on the following lap.

Bottas began to hold up Mercedes team-mate Hamilton after Ricciardo made his pit-stop, allowing Verstappen to close within a second of his rival, but the gap grew again when Bottas allowed Hamilton through at the Casio Triangle chicane at the midway point and started to hold up Verstappen.

It wasn’t until lap 30 that Bottas pitted for supersofts by which time Verstappen had fallen 3.4 seconds adrift.

The Red Bull driver then managed to cut Hamilton’s advantage to a little over two seconds, but couldn’t keep up the pace until Hamilton found himself being held up by Fernando Alonso on lap 51.

That allowed Verstappen to close to within a second at the start of the final lap, but more traffic allowed Hamilton to escape once more and seal the win by a slight margin.

Ricciardo completed the podium in third after a succession of fastest laps late on but couldn’t make further inroads after switching to supersoft tyres on lap 25.

The sole surviving Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth, recovering after dropping to P15 on the opening lap when he was forced wide at Spoon Curve by Nico Hulkenberg.

The Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh. Ocon had run as high as third early on after passing Ricciardo on the opening lap, but was soon demoted to fifth on successive laps by Ricciardo and Bottas.

An aggressive late move at Turn 1 on the Williams of Felipe Massa gave Kevin Magnussen eighth place, with Haas team-mate Romain Grosjean following through to grab ninth.

Fernando Alonso finished P11 in the final home race for Honda as engine partner to McLaren, ahead of Jolyon Palmer’s Renault and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.

This was Palmer’s final race for Renault as he steps down from the driving seat to make way for exciting new talent, Carlos Sainz Jr.

Stoffel Vandoorne came home P14 for McLaren after dropping to the rear on the first lap.

Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein was the only other finisher in P15, his team-mate Marcus Ericsson crashing out early on at Degner 2.

Lance Stroll retired when an apparent failure on the front-right of his Williams sent him skating across the gravel late on, while Nico Hulkenberg’s DRS refusing to close forced him out.

So the perfect result for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes at Suzuka. The reality of winning the 2017 Formula 1 world championship is getting real. The speed, reliability and strategy from the Silver Arrows has been impressive and it will be such an achievement to win the title.

As for Sebastian Vettel. This was a major disappointment to retire from the Japanese Grand Prix with this spark plug problem. So much bad luck and technical issues from Ferrari. It’s going to take a miracle for Vettel to win the title with this setback.

Japanese Grand Prix, race results after 53 laps:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1h27m31.193s
2    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1.211s
3    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    9.679s
4    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    10.580s
5    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    32.622s
6    Esteban Ocon        Force India-Mercedes    1m07.788s
7    Sergio Perez      Force India-Mercedes    1m11.424s
8    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m28.953s
9    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m29.883s
10    Felipe Massa        Williams-Mercedes    1 Lap
11    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    1 Lap
12    Jolyon Palmer        Renault    1 Lap
13    Pierre Gasly    Toro Rosso-Renault    1 Lap
14    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    1 Lap
15    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    2 Laps
–    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    Retirement
–    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    Retirement
–    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    Spun off
–    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    Power Unit
–    Carlos Sainz        Toro Rosso-Renault    Spun off

6 thoughts to “Hamilton edge closer to the title with Suzuka victory, as Vettel retires”

  1. Sebastian Vettel’s world championship hopes suffered another blow in the Japanese Grand Prix when he was forced to retire early on following a spark plug failure.

    The German had qualified on the front row alongside title rival Lewis Hamilton, but there was panic on the grid when Ferrari rushed to check a problem with a spark plug.

    Although Vettel was able to take the start and ran second early on, it was clear that his car was not working properly as he slipped back from early leader Hamilton.

    Max Verstappen overtook Vettel for second at the hairpin on lap 1, while at the start of lap 2 – shortly before a safety car period was called – Vettel lost places to Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas.

    Shortly after the safety car was called in, Vettel dropped further back and, at the end of lap four, he was asked to come into the pits to retire the car.

    Ferrari later confirmed that a spark plug failure was the cause of his retirement.

    In the wake of Vettel’s startline crash at the Singapore Grand Prix, and the engine problems that left him at the back of the grid in Malaysia, the Japanese GP failure has left his title hopes in tatters.

    He is currently 34 points behind Hamilton, who led the Suzuka race early on, and could find himself facing a near-impossible gap to close with four races remaining if his Mercedes rivals goes on to deliver a good result in Japan.

    Source: Motorsport.com

  2. This was a major blow to Sebastian Vettel in terms of his championship hopes and says he now needs to “protect” Ferrari. Motorsport.com has the full story.

    Sebastian Vettel thinks it is essential he “protects” his Ferrari Formula 1 team right now from the inevitable criticism it will face amid its latest reliability drama.

    The German’s world title hopes suffered a fresh blow in the Japanese Grand Prix when he was forced out early on with a spark plug failure.

    On the back of the double engine problems that Ferrari suffered in Malaysia, after a manifold pipe failed on both cars, the latest technical problem has left its championship hopes in tatters.

    Although saying that what happened in Japan ‘hurt’, Vettel felt it would be wrong to criticise the outfit for all that had gone wrong – as he instead said he needed to shield his outfit from likely flak.

    “It’s normal you’re critical, especially if things go wrong, so it’s part of our job,” Vettel told Sky.

    “I think I need to protect them. We’ve done an incredible job so far. It is obviously a pity the last two races with the reliability issues, but you know, it’s like that sometimes.

    The German’s world title hopes suffered a fresh blow in the Japanese Grand Prix when he was forced out early on with a spark plug failure.

    On the back of the double engine problems that Ferrari suffered in Malaysia, after a manifold pipe failed on both cars, the latest technical problem has left its championship hopes in tatters.

    Although saying that what happened in Japan ‘hurt’, Vettel felt it would be wrong to criticise the outfit for all that had gone wrong – as he instead said he needed to shield his outfit from likely flak.

    “It’s normal you’re critical, especially if things go wrong, so it’s part of our job,” Vettel told Sky.

    “I think I need to protect them. We’ve done an incredible job so far. It is obviously a pity the last two races with the reliability issues, but you know, it’s like that sometimes.

  3. Japanese Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton admitted that the points gap to Sebastian Vettel is “unbelievable”. Motorsport.com has the details.

    Lewis Hamilton has admitted he “could only have dreamed” of building his “unbelievable” championship lead over Sebastian Vettel with four races to go in the Formula 1 season.

    The Mercedes driver claimed his fourth victory in five grands prix after Vettel retired early in Japan, to extend his advantage in the title fight to 59 points.

    Hamilton trailed Vettel by 14 points at the summer break but four wins and a second place, allied with Vettel retiring twice and suffering more reliability woe in Malaysia, has handed him a commanding advantage with four races remaining.

    “Honestly I can only have dreamed having this kind of gap,” said Hamilton. Ferrari have put on such a great challenge all year long. My team has done a phenomenal job, the reliability is so on point.

    “They are so meticulous and that is why we have the results and reliability we have.”

    With only 100 points now available, Hamilton could clinch his fourth F1 title as early as the next grand prix in the United States in two weeks’ time.

    Hamilton needs to extend his lead by 16 points at Austin to hold an unassailable advantage.

    “It is kind of unbelievable to think that we are where we are,” said the Briton. “I was excited to have a good race with Seb here, as I was last race, but obviously he has been incredibly unfortunate.

    “In the world today, in F1, it is a lot about reliability – the whole performance and not just speed on track. The team has shown for many years now we have a solid platform.

    “We are leaders in that area, so thanks to everyone at the factory in providing me a car where I can use my ability. There is still a long way to go, 100 points [still available], anything can happen in life and hopefully I can continue like this.”

    Hamilton said he initially felt vulnerable at the start because of “a bit of wheelspin” but had the race “pretty much under control” once Vettel slotted into second.

    Max Verstappen passed Vettel on the opening lap and later chased Hamilton to the flag in a tense finish after Hamilton lost time lapping the battling Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.

    “I was trying to manage the pace and manage the tyres,” he said. “It was the hottest the track had been all weekend and knowing Ferrari and Red Bulls were quick in the race it was so important in those [early] moments I looked after the tyres.

    “It got a bit close to the end. The [late-race] virtual safety car lost a lot of temperature in the tyres and waking them up wasn’t easy. Then I got stuck behind Massa and Alonso.

    “[I’d] never seen his car so big in the mirrors, it was very close with a couple of laps to go.”

  4. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen commented that passing Lewis Hamilton was impossible even without traffic. Motorsport.com has the story.

    Max Verstappen believes he wouldn’t have beaten Lewis Hamilton to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix even without losing time in the traffic late on.

    The Dutchman was all over Hamilton on the penultimate lap of the Suzuka, as the race leader got bogged down behind the lapped McLaren of Fernando Alonso.

    However, this proved a false dawn for Verstappen’s victory hopes as he dropped time clearing Alonso himself, allowing Hamilton to establish a gap once more.

    Verstappen was then held up by the lapped Williams of Felipe Massa – who Hamilton had gotten by with relative ease on the main straight – to end up 1.2s adrift at the chequered flag.

    “I could see Lewis managing his tyres and, with traffic, it seemed difficult for him to follow other cars compared to me,” Verstappen recalled.

    “When you close up, you lose a lot of downforce. I couldn’t really attack him, but I tried.”

    Asked whether losing time behind Alonso cost him the win, he said: “It didn’t help, but it was more last lap with Massa.

    “But I don’t think I could get past Lewis, I could close up. It was not ideal but it wouldn’t have made a difference.”

    Verstappen, who overtook teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the start and quickly moved past the hobbled Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, couldn’t match Hamilton’s pace in the initial run on supersofts.

    But, owing to a “better balance” on softs and despite a blistered tyre, he could stay in touch with Hamilton in the second stint, which enabled his late-race challenge.

    “Once I got past Seb I could do my own thing. First stint was alright, Lewis was a bit faster and then on soft tyres we had a better balance.

    “I didn’t want to close up [to Hamilton] too much in case [that] destroyed my front tyres and I needed them at the end.”

    Meanwhile, Alonso, who was summoned to the stewards after the race over “ignoring blue flags”, said he did his best not to interfere in the victory battle.

    However, he also noted that he would accept whatever ruling the stewards reached, the Spaniard having finished outside of the points in 11th.

    “They can do whatever they want. I don’t have points anyway,” Alonso said.

    “I tried not to bother anyone. They [Hamilton and Verstappen] were first and second with two laps to go and they finished first and second so I don’t think it was determinant for the race.

    “But whatever they say, we’ll accept it.”

  5. Japanese Grand Prix race review as reported by Formula1.com.

    A thrilling finish saw Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by just 1.2s to win Sunday’s 2017 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, with Daniel Ricciardo taking third. The Suzuka round was equally notable, however, for Sebastian Vettel’s second retirement in three races, thanks to a technical problem on his Ferrari.

    Hamilton now has a 59-point lead over Vettel in the standings, with only four races remaining and 100 points on the table.

    The German’s Ferrari was being inspected on the grid, just as team mate Kimi Raikkonen’s had been in Malaysia last week, but he seemed to be okay as he chased Hamilton away at the start. But soon Verstappen passed him in the hairpin to snatch second place, and the next time around fast-starting Esteban Ocon had moved to third for Force India as Ricciardo and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas also passed the Ferrari. Two laps later, Vettel’s troubled day was done, all thanks to a faulty spark plug.

    Meanwhile, so was Carlos Sainz’s after the Spaniard lost control of his Toro Rosso in Turn 7 on the opening lap, prompting the first of three safety-car interventions. It was an unhappy ending to Sainz’s last race with the Italian team prior to switching to Renault in place of Jolyon Palmer.

    Hamilton and Verstappen soon resumed their battle, but gradually the Mercedes driver began to pull away. He was five seconds clear when Verstappen made his sole pit stop on the 21st lap, and Hamilton covered that next time around.

    On the soft Pirelli tyres, however, the Mercedes looked less happy than it had on the supersofts, and for the remainder of the race the Dutchman kept him firmly on his toes.

    There had a been a virtual safety car (VSC) deployment on the ninth lap after Marcus Ericsson nosed his Sauber into the wall at Degner 2; there was another on the 47th, however, when Lance Stroll’s Williams broke its front suspension going through the final section of the esses. And that was very nearly Hamilton’s undoing.

    As the Briton struggled with cold tyres when the track went green on the 50th lap, Verstappen was giving it his all and looked very dangerous. Then, a bit of intransigence from McLaren’s Fernando Alonso saw him pull back in front of Verstappen to continue his own fight with Williams’ Felipe Massa, once he had let Hamilton lap him. The Spaniard is being investigated by the stewards for that, though Verstappen said that he didn’t think he could have overtaken Hamilton and that he had only really been able to reel him in as the Mercedes driver dealt with traffic.

    In the end Verstappen was 1.2s behind, but at one stage the gap had been under a second.

    Ricciardo hung on to get the Suzuka podium he’s always wanted, but Bottas attacked him fiercely after starting on the soft tyres and running the supersofts in his final stint. He just failed by nine-tenths of a second to challenge for the final podium position.

    On another day of disaster for Ferrari, Raikkonen salvaged only fifth place after running the same strategy as Bottas, both men having lost five grid places for gearbox changes.

    Ocon lost his hard-won third place after the Ericsson VSC, dropping behind Ricciardo and Bottas in short order having seemed to be controlling them prior to the Swede’s off. He then spent the race running just ahead of Force India team mate Sergio Perez, who asked for but was refused permission to challenge him for sixth place.

    Haas also had a great day after Kevin Magnussen had forced his way by Massa’s Williams in Turn 2 on the 43rd lap; as the Brazilian ran wide, Romain Grosjean also passed him in the second Haas, to give the America team eighth and ninth places and move them a point ahead of Renault in seventh overall.

    It was a horrible day for the French team as Nico Hulkenberg ran in the points for a long time after starting on softs, but tumbled when he switched to supersofts and then ran into a retirement-prompting problem with the DRS mechanism on his rear wing. Team mate Palmer had an unhappy final race for the team to 12th place.

    Ahead of the Briton, Massa just held on for the final point by eight-tenths from the aggressive Alonso, as Pierre Gasly brought his Toro Rosso home 13th ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren and Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber.

  6. Valtteri Bottas has firmly set his sights on Sebastian Vettel’s second place in the World Drivers’ Championship now that his confidence in the handling of his Mercedes returned in the Japanese Grand Prix.

    After admitting to a slump in form recently, Bottas finished a close fourth at Suzuka – just failing to beat Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull in the closing stages for a place on the podium.

    As Vettel racked up his second DNF in three races, Bottas has now closed to within 13 points of the Ferrari team leader with four races remaining.

    “The race was good, I think the weekend overall was a lot better – I felt better in the car and I had the fastest lap in the race, which is always good,” said Bottas. “So looking forward to Austin, and I just want to win again. I’ll keep pushing.

    “[Second place] is definitely a good target. It’s not like fighting for the championship win, things are looking pretty good for Lewis, but I’ll do everything I can to get second.”

    Bottas said he simply ran out of laps to make a move on Ricciardo, having earlier compromised his race to allow teammate Hamilton past him on his alternate strategy after taking a grid penalty for a gearbox change.

    “I got very close [to Ricciardo],” rued Bottas. “The pace was really good in the end, and that was what we expected with the strategy choice, so there was opportunities at the end, but not enough laps left. Which was a shame, I think it was a pretty decent race. Fourth place is not that much reward for that.

    “I’ve definitely learned a lot this year, and learned something from this weekend, and I’m going to focus on these late few races and make the most out of them.”

    Source: Motorsport.com

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