Lewis Hamilton is within touching distance in winning the 2018 Formula 1 world championship after a masterclass display at Suzuka with his 71st victory in Formula 1.
His title rival Sebastian Vettel could only managed sixth position following a clashed with Max Verstappen. That crash and spin was very costly in terms of the championship…
Hamilton’s ninth win of the year and Vettel’s sixth place at Suzuka, after spinning to the back, leaves Hamilton leading by 67 points with four races remaining.
That means Hamilton only needs to outscore Vettel by eight points in the United States Grand Prix to clinch a fifth world championship.
Hamilton held his pole advantage at the start and kept Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at ease throughout the first stint, which was punctuated by a safety car.
Kevin Magnussen’s Haas picked up a puncture after he moved to the right down the start-finish straight defending from Charles Leclerc and was rear-ended by the Sauber.
The Haas eventually shed the damaged tyre, and bodywork that splintered thanks to the flailing rubber, and the safety car was deployed while the debris was cleared.
By this point a flying start from Vettel had launched him from eighth to fourth, helped by Verstappen’s first incident of the day with a Ferrari.
Verstappen locked up entering the final corner on the opening lap and ran off track, bounced over the grass and kerb as he rejoined at the second part of the chicane.
That resulted in light contact with Kimi Raikkonen, who was forced wide as he tried to pass the Red Bull on the outside, and allowed Vettel to sneak ahead of his team-mate.
When the safety car period ended on lap eight Vettel attacked Verstappen, who had been handed a five-second penalty for the Raikkonen incident.
Vettel tried to sneak inside Verstappen into the fast Spoon left-hander, but carried too much speed and made light contact with the Red Bull and spun onto the run-off.
This was a risky move by the Ferrari driver and even though Verstappen gave him little space, the move was not on… That mistake by Vettel against the Red Bull cost his chance of this season’s world championship.
Verstappen managed to continue without losing a position to Raikkonen but Vettel dropped to the back – the stewards looked into the clash but took no further action.
Despite his early time penalty, Verstappen was able to maintain third ahead of Raikkonen thanks to Ferrari pitting The Iceman first and releasing him into traffic.
That also allowed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had started P15 after a problem in qualifying, to jump Raikkonen having carved through the order in a stellar opening stint.
The lead order settled thereafter, with Hamilton constantly extending his lead as Bottas came under late pressure from Verstappen.
Bottas survived a mistake at the final corner with six laps to go, which resulted in him skipping across the chicane, to complete a Mercedes one-two for the second race in a row.
Raikkonen drifted further away from the Red Bulls in fifth, while Vettel gradually made his way back to sixth – but by the time he was clear of the rest of the field, he was a minute behind Hamilton and 40 seconds behind Raikkonen.
That gap shrank to 18.8 seconds at the flag as Ferrari opted not to switch the drivers, denying Vettel an extra two points.
Sergio Perez stole best-of-the-rest honours in seventh after Racing Point Force India benfitted from Haas and Toro Rosso with a superior strategy.
Romain Grosjean and Pierre Gasly ran sixth and seventh early on for their respective teams, but Force India stopped Perez and Esteban Ocon earlier than their immediate rivals.
The fresh-tyre advantage allowed them to jump Gasly, before Perez caught and passed Grosjean after a virtual safety car called to deal with Charles Leclerc’s stricken Sauber.
Ocon was not able to match his team-mate and finished ninth, with Carlos Sainz Jr beating Gasly to the final point after passing him late on.
That meant Toro Rosso failed to score at all after qualifying sixth and seventh for engine supplier Honda’s home grand prix.
Brendon Hartley finished P12 at the end of a muted race in which he had already plunged from sixth to tenth with a poor start.
Only three cars retired from the Japanese Grand Prix – Magnussen, Leclerc, who had also been rear-ended by team-mate Marcus Ericsson just as they prepared for the restart after the safety car, and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
So a perfect weekend for Lewis Hamilton. Fastest in all three practice sessions. Pole position and now race victory. It’s going to be mission impossible for Sebastian Vettel to take the title down to the wire.
Japanese Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 1h27m17.062s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 53 12.919s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 53 14.295s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 53 19.495s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53 50.998s
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 53 1m09.873s
7 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 53 1m19.379s
8 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 53 1m27.198s
9 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 53 1m28.055s
10 Carlos Sainz Renault 52 1 Lap
11 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 52 1 Lap
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
13 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 52 1 Lap
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 52 1 Lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 52 1 Lap
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
17 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
– Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 38 Retirement
– Nico Hulkenberg Renault 37 Retirement
– Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 8 Retirement
1 Lewis Hamilton 331
2 Sebastian Vettel 264
3 Valtteri Bottas 207
4 Kimi Raikkonen 196
5 Max Verstappen 173
6 Daniel Ricciardo 146
7 Sergio Perez 53
8 Kevin Magnussen 53
9 Nico Hulkenberg 53
10 Fernando Alonso 50
11 Esteban Ocon 49
12 Carlos Sainz 39
13 Romain Grosjean 31
14 Pierre Gasly 28
15 Charles Leclerc 21
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Lance Stroll 6
18 Marcus Ericsson 6
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 1
1 Mercedes 538
2 Ferrari 460
3 Red Bull-Renault 319
4 Renault 92
5 Haas-Ferrari 84
6 McLaren-Renault 58
7 Force India-Mercedes 43
8 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
9 Sauber-Ferrari 27
10 Williams-Mercedes 7