Valtteri Bottas took his first Formula 1 win since Baku to help Mercedes clinch a sixth consecutive constructors’ championship as a jump start and first-corner clash from Ferrari ended the chance of a strong result at Suzuka.
Bottas launched from third to first on the run to the first corner, passing both Ferraris as Leclerc got away slowly while poleman Vettel lost momentum by moving slightly before the five red lights went out.
That put Bottas into a lead, while Vettel avoided a jump-start penalty – despite television replays clearly showing he moved before the red lights went out – to finish in second position but could not stop Mercedes taking the teams’ title.
After Vettel immediately dropped to second, Leclerc’s race was massively compromised moments later at the first corner.
Max Verstappen swept around the outside of Lewis Hamilton and Leclerc after a superior start in his Red Bull, but Leclerc then ran deep into Turn 2 as the corner tightened.
He went wide and made contact with Verstappen, throwing the Red Bull driver off-track and breaking his own front wing.
Leclerc continued for two laps in third position, irritating Hamilton as the Ferrari’s damaged wing showered the chasing Mercedes with sparks and then debris – which broke Hamilton’s right-side wing mirror.
On lap three, Leclerc pit, dropping to the back of the field and behind Verstappen, as race control communicated their first-lap incident would be investigated after all, having initially said it was not necessary.
As Leclerc charged back to sixth, Verstappen struggled with an oddly-handling, damaged car and retired on lap 15, with the clash investigation moving to after the race.
Vettel’s fortune with the race officials allowed him to stay in the lead fight and hold up Hamilton, allowing Bottas to take control and he stretched his lead.
Ferrari moved first in the strategy fight, pitting Vettel on lap 16 with Bottas following suit one lap later and Hamilton stopping on lap 18.
In that time, Bottas’s advantage over Vettel rose while Hamilton fell more than 20 seconds adrift, a move that left him feeling frustrated over the radio.
All three committed to a two-stop strategy, but used it differently: Vettel pit on lap 31 of 53 and ditched his softs for mediums, while the Mercedes ran longer and opted for softs.
Bottas stopped on lap 36, at which point he was 14 seconds clear of Hamilton, and Hamilton ran an extra seven laps before making his final visit to the pits.
That left Bottas leading Vettel by under 10 seconds, with Hamilton within five seconds behind the Ferrari and armed with fresher, softer tyres.
With five laps to go Hamilton moved into DRS range and had half a look into Turn 2 but Vettel didn’t budge and Hamilton ran slightly wide.
Hamilton had a better chance with three laps to go when Vettel got stuck at the final chicane trying to lap a Toro Rosso, backing Vettel into Hamilton and giving Hamilton a great run.
However, Hamilton closed too late on the straight to attack, and Vettel retained the place to the end.
Bottas’s win, his first since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, reduced Hamilton’s championship lead to 66 points with 104 still on offer.
Alex Albon scored his best Formula 1 result with fourth position for Red Bull, despite falling behind both McLarens at the start.
He made one of those places back early on with a lunge on Lando Norris that resulted in wheel-to-wheel contact into the final chicane.
Albon got ahead of Carlos Sainz by stopping twice as Sainz implemented a one-stop strategy to finish a fine fifth.
McLaren should have had a double points finish but, after being hit by Albon, Norris had to make an early pitstop because debris from Leclerc’s broken wing got caught in his brake ducts. He eventually finished P13.
Daniel Ricciardo charged to seventh position, executing a very long first stint on medium tyres then switching to softs at the end and picking off several cars with just a few laps remaining
He passed teammate Nico Hulkenberg for ninth and promised his Renault team “I’ll get them” as he pursued Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly, who he then picked off on successive laps.
Stroll faded from the top ten late on, with Hulkenberg nicking ninth and Sergio Perez set to steal the final point from Racing Point teammate Stroll on his penultimate lap.
However, having also passed Hulkenberg, Perez crashed out on the final lap after contact with Gasly, promoting Stroll to P10.
So congratulations to Valtteri Bottas in winning the Japanese Grand Prix. His first since Baku earlier this season. As for Mercedes, an incredible achievement in winning the constructors’ title for the sixth successive time. All that hard work has paid off with this fine result as champions.
Japanese Grand Prix race results:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:21:46.755
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +13.343s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +13.858s
4 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda +59.537s
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren-Renault +69.101s
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1 lap
7 Daniel Ricciardo Renault +1 lap
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda +1 lap
9 Nico Hulkenberg Renault +1 lap
10 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes +1 lap
11 Federation Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Honda +1 lap
12 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault +1 lap
13 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
14 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
17 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes +1 lap
18 George Russell Williams-Mercedes DNF
19 Robert Kubica Williams-Mercedes +2 laps
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda DNF