Nico Rosberg has extending his title lead with a masterclass victory in the Japanese Grand Prix as another slow start affected Lewis Hamilton.
With his 30th career pole position, Rosberg led from the start and never looked back to record his 23rd victory in the sport and his ninth this season. This result means the Mercedes driver has a 33-point gap over Hamilton with four races left.
Hamilton could only manage third, with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen taking second as 5.7 seconds covered the top three at the chequered flag.
The Japanese Grand Prix sealed a third successive constructors’ championship for Mercedes after it failed to clinch it in Malaysia last weekend when Hamilton’s engine blew.
Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of a third successive win at Suzuka were over after the first few seconds.
Following overnight rain, come the start of the race there were still damp patches on the circuit, with one of those being Hamilton’s grid box, and the three-time champion showing some concern beforehand.
Once the five red lights went out Hamilton then bogged down and was swamped, slotting into eighth and apologising to his team shortly afterwards.
While Rosberg enjoyed the lead, what followed was damage limitation from Hamilton, who passed Nico Hulkenberg on lap seven before making up another two positions at his first pitstop to get ahead of Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton then soon cleared Ricciardo to leave him with Verstappen and Vettel in between him and Rosberg after all the opening pitstops in which the leaders took on the hard compound tyres.
Come the second round of stops Hamilton again made up lost ground, getting ahead of Vettel by pitting before the Ferrari.
Mercedes again gave Hamilton the hard tyre, while Ferrari switched Vettel to softs in an aggressive move, but despite a couple of laps of pressure from the latter he was unable to get close to make a move on the former.
Vettel’s irritation over backmarkers this season reached new heights in this race as the four-time champion was continually on the team radio bemoaning being held up, and by the end he could only claim fourth, 14.4 seconds behind Rosberg.
Hamilton did close to within a second of Verstappen on lap 44, and on lap 52 he made a move into the chicane, but was forced to take the escape road as the 19-year-old moved to the inside to defend as they hit the brakes.
Behind the leading top four, Raikkonen, who started the race with a five-place penalty for a gearbox change after qualifying third, and Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth.
Force India pair Perez and Hulkenberg were seventh and eighth, with the team ekeing out a 10-point gap over Williams whose drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finished ninth and tenth on a one-stop strategy.
So the constructors’ title has been won by Mercedes for the third successive time. Top stuff to everybody at Silver Arrows.
As for the drivers’ championship, this is looking good for Nico Rosberg. 33-point advantage and 100 to play for. Rosberg can afford to finish second in the remaining four races and still win the title. Can Lewis Hamilton fight back? It’s going to be difficult and yet the pressure is on. Roll on the US Grand Prix.
Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka race results:
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 53 1h26m43.333s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 53 4.978s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 5.776s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 53 20.269s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53 28.370s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 53 33.941s
7 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 53 57.495s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 53 59.177s
9 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 53 1m37.763s
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 53 1m38.323s
11 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 53 1m39.254s
12 Jolyon Palmer Renault 52 1 Lap
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
14 Kevin Magnussen Renault 52 1 Lap
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
16 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 52 1 Lap
17 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
18 Jenson Button McLaren-Honda 52 1 Lap
19 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
20 Esteban Gutierrez Haas-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
21 Esteban Ocon Manor-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
22 Pascal Wehrlein Manor-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
1 Nico Rosberg 313
2 Lewis Hamilton 280
3 Daniel Ricciardo 212
4 Kimi Raikkonen 170
5 Max Verstappen 165
6 Sebastian Vettel 165
7 Valtteri Bottas 81
8 Sergio Perez 80
9 Nico Hulkenberg 54
10 Felipe Massa 43
11 Fernando Alonso 42
12 Carlos Sainz 30
13 Romain Grosjean 28
14 Daniil Kvyat 25
15 Jenson Button 19
16 Kevin Magnussen 7
17 Jolyon Palmer 1
18 Pascal Wehrlein 1
19 Stoffel Vandoorne 1
20 Esteban Gutierrez 0
21 Marcus Ericsson 0
22 Felipe Nasr 0
23 Rio Haryanto 0
24 Esteban Ocon 0
1 Mercedes 593
2 Red Bull-Renault 385
3 Ferrari 335
4 Force India-Mercedes 134
5 Williams-Mercedes 124
6 McLaren-Honda 62
7 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 47
8 Haas-Ferrari 28
9 Renault 8
10 Manor-Mercedes 1
11 Sauber-Ferrari 0
Next race: United States Grand Prix, Circuit of the Americans. October 21-23.