Verstappen wins Mexican Grand Prix as Hamilton takes title

Max Verstappen took race victory in a dramatic Mexican Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton survived a collision with title rival Sebastian Vettel to score his fourth world championship.

The Red Bull driver boldly passed pole-sitter Vettel into Turn 1 at the start, escaping contact with the Ferrari driver to continue and dominate the race at Mexico City.

But behind him, Vettel had suffered minor front wing damage, and Hamilton got ahead of the Ferrari through Turn 2. Vettel then tagged the right-rear tyre of Hamilton on the exit of Turn 3, further damaging his own wing and giving Hamilton a puncture.

That forced both drivers to limp back to the pits, leaving Verstappen clear to defeat Valtteri Bottas by 19.6 seconds to take his third Formula 1 win.

Though Vettel recovered to fourth position to cut Hamilton’s championship lead to 56 points, there are only 50 remaining in the final two races, meaning Hamilton won the championship despite only battling back to ninth.

While Hamilton struggled to close back up to the pack, Vettel made quick progress through the field, recovering up to seventh before the race was neutralised by the virtual safety car when Brendon Hartley’s retired with an engine problem.

Race leader Verstappen took the opportunity to pit from the lead, with Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen, who had climbed up to third following early stops from Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez and Hulkenberg’s retirement with an engine issue.

The trio rejoined in the same positions, with Vettel and Hamilton also pitting for fresh Pirelli and taking ultra-softs and super-softs respectively with a little over half of the race to go.

The championship rivals restarted their recovery drives, with Vettel passing Kevin Magnussen to take seventh, while Hamilton passed Romain Grosjean, Pascal Wehrlein, Pierre Gasly and Marcus Ericsson to run P12.

Vettel lunged down the inside of Perez to take sixth at Turn 4 and made short work of Stroll into Turn 1 to snatch fifth, before setting off in pursuit of Ocon.

The Ferrari driver caught the Force India quickly and used DRS to blast past Ocon into Turn 1 for fourth place, with team-mate Raikkonen a further 24 seconds up the road with 14 laps to go.

When he heard the size of the gap, Vettel replied “Mamma mia, that’s a little bit too much” and he ultimately crossed the line fourth.

Hamilton, who came out on top in a brilliant battle with Fernando Alonso late on to take ninth, joins Vettel and Alain Prost on four world titles, with only Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio ahead on the all-time list with seven and five respectively.

Ocon equalled his best-ever Formula 1 result with fifth, ahead of Stroll, Perez and Magnussen.

Daniel Ricciardo recovered from starting P16 – following grid penalties for engine component changes, to run seventh early on, but his race lasted just five laps as he suffered yet more problems with his Renault engine.

Marcus Ericsson spent the early part of the race just inside the points, but retired in the closing stages after reporting a brake-by-wire failure and retiring the car.

Renault suffered a double retirement, with Carlos Sainz Jr stopping late on after reporting his car was pulling on the straights.

So a fantastic result for Red Bull and Mercedes. Max Verstappen winning his third race of the season while Lewis Hamilton achieved a dream result of four championship titles.

As for Sebastian Vettel. Brave fight back but alas, it was too much. Hopefully Ferrari can strike back with better reliability and no big mistakes next year.

Many congratulations to Lewis Hamilton. Now the most successful British Formula 1 driver with four titles.

Mexican Grand Prix race results, 71 laps:
1    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    71    1h36m26.550s
2    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    71    19.678s
3    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    71    54.007s
4    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    71    1m10.078s
5    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    70    1 Lap
6    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    70    1 Lap
7    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    70    1 Lap
8    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    70    1 Lap
9    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    70    1 Lap
10    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    70    1 Lap
11    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    70    1 Lap
12    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    70    1 Lap
13    Pierre Gasly    Toro Rosso-Renault    70    1 Lap
14    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    69    2 Laps
15    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    69    2 Laps
–    Carlos Sainz    Renault    59    Retirement
–    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    55    Power Unit
–    Brendon Hartley    Toro Rosso-Renault    30    Power Unit
–    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    24    Retirement
–    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    5    Retirement

Drivers’ standings:
1    Lewis Hamilton    333
2    Sebastian Vettel    277
3    Valtteri Bottas    262
4    Daniel Ricciardo    192
5    Kimi Raikkonen    178
6    Max Verstappen    148
7    Sergio Perez    92
8    Esteban Ocon    83
9    Carlos Sainz    54
10    Lance Stroll    40
11    Felipe Massa    36
12    Nico Hulkenberg    34
13    Romain Grosjean    28
14    Kevin Magnussen    19
15    Stoffel Vandoorne    13
16    Fernando Alonso    11
17    Jolyon Palmer    8
18    Pascal Wehrlein    5
19    Daniil Kvyat    5
20    Marcus Ericsson    0
21    Antonio Giovinazzi    0
22    Pierre Gasly    0
23    Brendon Hartley    0

Constructors’ standings:
1    Mercedes    595
2    Ferrari    455
3    Red Bull-Renault    340
4    Force India-Mercedes    175
5    Williams-Mercedes    76
6    Toro Rosso-Renault    53
7    Renault    48
8    Haas-Ferrari    47
9    McLaren-Honda    24
10    Sauber-Ferrari    5

Vettel scores 50th pole position in Mexico

Sebastian Vettel achieved his 50th pole position in the sport with  a dramatic qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix, knocking Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen off top spot at the end.

Verstappen was quickest on the first runs in Q3 with a one minute, 16.574 seconds, but lapped three-tenths slower on his final attempt.

This allowed Ferrari driver Vettel to snatch pole with a lap of one minute, 16.488 seconds, having been just over a quarter-of-a-second slower on the first runs.

Lewis Hamilton was third fastest for Mercedes after a moment in the Turn 12 right-hander which cost him time in the final sector, meaning the championship leader had to rely on his first-run time.

This put him ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who posted a lap good enough for fourth having had to abandon his first run without setting a time.

This was because of a lockup at Turn 13 after passing the slow Verstappen.

Kimi Raikkonen was fifth ahead of Esteban Ocon, with Daniel Ricciardo failing to improve on his final lap and ending up seventh.

The Renault duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr were eighth and ninth ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez.

Williams team-mates Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll were the only drivers among the five eliminated in Q2 to post a lap time.

Massa ended up P11, missing out on a place in Q3 thanks to lapping 0.231 seconds slower than Perez.

Stroll was over a second behind his team-mate in P12, with much of the time lost with a scruffy run through the stadium section late in the lap.

Brendon Hartley, on his second Formula 1 appearance for Toro Rosso, reached Q2 for the first time but ended up P13 thanks to stopping with a loss of power exiting Turn 3 on his first flying lap.

With Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne carrying grid penalties of 35 and 20 position respectively, McLaren opted not to mount a serious assault on Q2 with both drivers completing a token run without attempting a flying lap – leaving them P14 and P15.

Sauber duo Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein were fastest of those eliminated in Q1 in P16 and P17 respectively.

Both did three runs in Q1, but Wehrlein was bumped into the dropzone by Vandoorne late on, moments before Ericsson jumped ahead of him.

Wehrlein did not improve on his final lap but still ended up ahead of Haas duo Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, who also both squeezed three runs into Q1.

Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly did not run in qualifying on his return to Formula 1 action after engine problems struck in final practice.

The 21-year-old already carries at least a 15-place grid penalty thanks to power unit component changes during practice, and completed only 12 laps on his first appearance at Mexico City.

So a fantastic result for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. The last time the Scuderia was on the front row at Mexico was Clay Regazzoni in 1970… Fingers crossed this qualifying result will be the start of Vettel’s championship fight back.

Qualifying positions, Mexican Grand Prix:

1    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    1m16.488s
2    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m16.574s
3    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1m16.934s
4    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1m16.958s
5    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    1m17.238s
6    Esteban Ocon    Force India/Mercedes    1m17.437s
7    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    1m17.447s
8    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    1m17.466s
9    Carlos Sainz    Renault    1m17.794s
10    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m17.807s
11    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1m18.099s
12    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    1m19.159s
13    Brendon Hartley    Toro Rosso-Renault    –
14    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1m19.176s
15    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    1m19.333s
16    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m19.443s
17    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m19.473s
18    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    –
19    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    –
20    Pierre Gasly    Toro Rosso-Renault    –

Hamilton scores Mercedes constructors’ title with victory at Austin

Lewis Hamilton is within striking distance to winning his fourth Formula 1 world championship with a commanding victory in the United States Grand Prix at Austin.

The Mercedes driver lost the lead to his title rival Sebastian Vettel at the start, but got back past the Ferrari driver early on to score his ninth victory of the season and fifth in six attempts at the Circuit of Americas.

Vettel finished second, 10.1 seconds adrift, and now trails Hamilton by 66 points with only 75 remaining, with Max Verstappen snatching third from Kimi Raikkonen with an incredible pass on the final lap of the race.

However, Verstappen was given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage when completing that overtake, which demoted him to fourth with Raikkonen promoted back to third.

Valtteri Bottas finished fifth as his Mercedes team clinched its fourth successive constructors’ championship with three races still remaining.

Vettel made a great start from second on the grid to dive up the inside of Hamilton into Turn 1, despite Hamilton’s efforts to defend the line.

Hamilton reported that his tyres felt good and after a couple of laps had got back within DRS range before launching an attack down the back straight.

The Mercedes nipped down the inside to take the position and though Vettel attacked through the twisty section that followed, Hamilton held the Ferrari off.

Vettel pitted at the end of lap 16, swapping the ultra-softs for softs, but Hamilton chose to stay out three laps longer before pitting for fresh set of Pirelli.

Vettel set a series of fast laps, but ran wide at the penultimate corner as Hamilton pitted, with the Mercedes emerging from the pits just ahead into Turn 1 to stay ahead.

Max Verstappen ran a long first stint, having started P16, and rose through the field to take the lead as others made their pit stops.

Hamilton quickly caught the Red Bull driver and used DRS to make the pass on cut back at Turn 14 to retake a lead.

Verstappen pitted at the end of lap 24, taking the soft tyre and rejoining fifth. Red Bull then went aggressive by pitting him for a second time 13 laps later.

The Red Bull driver took the super-softs and stayed fifth, such was the gap to Esteban Ocon behind, with Vettel responding and taking the same compound, rejoining fourth having run second.

That promoted Bottas to second with Raikkonen third, but the Mercedes driver was struggling for speed and after a series of attacks, Raikkonen finally made one stick at the end of the back straight to snatch second.

Vettel used fresh tyres to close back up to Bottas, passing the Mercedes driver around the outside of Turn 1 to take third with five laps to go.

Raikkonen was informed by his team that Vettel was now the car behind and promptly moved over at Turn 1 to allow his team-mate to take second position.

He then lost third in the final sequence of corners when Verstappen dived down the inside of the long right-hander on the final lap only to be given the position back following the Red Bull driver’s penalty.

It was a bad day for Verstappen’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who retired early on, having had a great battle with Bottas for third, with a suspected engine problem.

Ocon absorbed pressure from Carlos Sainz Jr to hold on to sixth, with the latter scoring points on his first start for Renault in seventh.

Sergio Perez, who was frustrated with his Force India team when he felt he was being held up by Ocon midway through the race, ended up eighth with Felipe Massa and Daniil Kvyat completing the top ten.

Brendon Hartley finished P13 on his Grand Prix debut with Toro Rosso, 26 seconds behind Toro Rosso team-mate Kvyat.

Nico Hulkenberg retired after suffering a loss of oil pressure, while Fernando Alonso’s race was ended with an engine problem.

Pascal Wehrlein also failed to finish after contact with Kevin Magnussen at the start while his Sauber team-mate finished P15, having incurred a five-second penalty for causing a separate collision with Magnussen.

With this victory at the Circuit of the Americas, Lewis Hamilton is just ten points away in sealing his fourth world championship. It’s going to be a really difficult for Sebastian Vettel to wrestle this title back but anything can happen in Formula 1. Roll on Mexico.

United States Grand Prix, race results after 56 laps:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    56    1h33m50.993s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    56    10.143s
3    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    56    15.779s
4    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    56    16.768s
5    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    56    34.967s
6    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    56    1m30.980s
7    Carlos Sainz    Renault    56    1m32.944s
8    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
9    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
10    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    55    1 Lap
11    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
12    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    55    1 Lap
13    Brendon Hartley    Toro Rosso-Renault    55    1 Lap
14    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
15    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
16    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
–    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    24    Retirement
–    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    14    Retirement
–    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    5    Retirement
–    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    3    Retirement

Qualifying masterclass from Hamilton at Circuit of the Americas

Lewis Hamilton achieved his 72nd Formula 1 pole position with a masterclass performance in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver was fastest in all three segments of qualifying, ending up 0.239 seconds clear of title rival Sebastian Vettel.

This was despite a poor final sector from Hamilton’s second Q3 run preventing him from improving, meaning the one minute, 33.108 seconds he set on his first attempt was good enough for pole.

Vettel was only fourth on the first runs in Q3, but he recovered with a strong second lap to jump ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who also lost time in the final sector and did not improve on his first run time.

Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest thanks to setting his lap time before Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, the duo setting identical marks of one minute, 33.577 seconds.

Max Verstappen, who has a 15-place grid penalty, was sixth quickest and is the only driver from the top ten in qualifying who will start on super-softs rather than ultra-softs having used the slower Pirelli compound to set his Q2 time.

Esteban Ocon was seventh fastest, a second off Verstappen, while Carlos Sainz Jr completed only one run in Q3 thanks to only having one set of fresh ultra-softs, ending up eighth.

Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez – who only had used tyres for his first Q3 run – rounded out the top ten.

Felipe Massa was eliminated in Q2 after a late improvement from Perez, missing out by less than half-a-tenth and ending up P11.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was P12 ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, who has a five-place grid penalty thanks to the upgraded Honda power unit that was introduced at the start of the US GP weekend, and Romain Grosjean.

Nico Hulkenberg ended qualifying P15 having opted not to run in Q2 for what the team described as “strategic” reasons because of his 20-place grid penalty for engine component changes.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the quickest of the drivers to be eliminated in Q1, missing out thanks to being just seven-thousandths slower than Grosjean.

That put him ahead of Lance Stroll, who complained over the radio of a deployment problem on his final run that he subsequently said cost him eight-tenths on the back straight.

The Williams driver is also being investigated by race stewards for impeding Grosjean, having jinked to his right and off the track while the Haas driver was attempting to go around the outside of him near the end of the lap.

Toro Rosso debutant Brendon Hartley, who has a 25-place grid penalty, was P18 having briefly lifted himself out of the dropzone early in the final-run flurry before being shuffled back.

The New Zealander was ultimately only 0.054 seconds off a place in Q2, having lapped eighth-tenths slower than team-mate Kvyat’s Q1 time.

Pascal Wehrlein was P19 for Sauber, with Kevin Magnussen slowest for Haas.

Magnussen is also being investigated by stewards for impeding Perez through Turns 13/14.

So a commanding performance by Lewis Hamilton. Quickest in all the practice sessions,

Congratulations Hamilton on setting a new track records, his 72nd pole in the sport and his 117 front row. Impressive set of achievements.

Qualifying positions, United States Grand Prix:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1m33.108s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    1m33.347s
3    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1m33.568s
4    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    1m33.577s
5    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    1m33.577s
6    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    1m34.647s
7    Carlos Sainz    Renault    1m34.852s
8    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    1m35.007s
9    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m35.148s
10    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1m35.155s
11    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m35.529s
12    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m35.870s
13    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1m36.842s
14    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    1m36.868s
15    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    1m35.641s
16    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    1m37.179s
17    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m37.394s
18    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m33.658s
19    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    –    –
20    Brendon Hartley    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m36.889s

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

Record-breaking qualifying result for Hamilton at Suzuka

Lewis Hamilton achieved his 71st career pole position in Formula 1 with a dominant qualifying performance at Suzuka.

The Mercedes driver had so much speed and confidence. Breaking the lap record set by Michael Schumacher from 2006.

Championship leader had the edge over his rivals by more than four tenths clear of Sebastian Vettel after the first runs in Q3 and lowered his own benchmark by a couple of hundredths to confirm pole.

Vettel’s Ferrari was provisionally on the front row after the first runs, but a small improvement at the end was not enough to stay second.

Valtteri Bottas, who almost crashed at the second Degner in Q1 after shunting in final practice session, found a lot of time on his own final run to make it onto the front row.

However, a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change on Bottas’s Mercedes will promote Vettel back onto the front row for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest in the best of the Red Bulls, just 0.026 seconds clear of team-mate and Sepang winner Max Verstappen.

Kimi Raikkonen went off at the second Degner on his first run in Q3, scene of his crash in final practice, and his second effort was only good enough for sixth.

Raikkonen will also drop five places on the grid after requiring a new gearbox following that crash.

Esteban Ocon narrowly beat Sergio Perez again, while Felipe Massa’s Williams and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda rounded out the top ten in Q3.

Perez is under investigation for impeding Massa’s Williams team-mate Lance Stroll in Q1, while Alonso will drop to the back of the grid thanks to a 35-place grid penalty for an illegal engine change, following a hydraulic leak discovered after practice.

Alonso’s McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne missed out on beating Alonso into Q3 by just 0.029 seconds after failing to improve on his second run, but he should start the race inside the top ten thanks to Alonso’s grid penalty.

Nico Hulkenberg was P12 in the best of the Renaults in Q2, a tenth further back, while Kevin Magnussen scored the best qualifying result for Haas since the Belgian Grand Prix by posting P13, within a tenth of Hulkenberg.

Jolyon Palmer was P14, less than three tenths from making the top ten, while Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso was cut adrift of the group in P15, almost four tenths slower than Palmer.

Palmer and Sainz both face 20-place grid penalties for requiring illegal engine component changes.

A heavy crash for Romain Grosjean at the top of the Esses in the closing stages of Q1 brought that segment to an early end, which prevented any of the lower runners from go quicker.

Grosjean, who complained “something wrong on the car, massive oversteer” as he ran off the road at Turns 5 and 6 before crashing into the wall before Turn 7, was already in the drop zone when he crashed, having earlier lapped less than a tenth slower than Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen.

So, Grosjean ended up in P16, ahead of Toro Rosso rookie Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll, who complained about being blocked multiple times in the early part of Q1.

Marcus Ericsson was quickest of the Sauber drivers in P19, almost three tenths clear of team-mate Pascal Wehrlein and within two tenths of Stroll.

So a brilliant performance by Lewis Hamilton at Suzuka. His first pole position at this challenging, figure of eight track. Title rival Sebastian Vettel starts alongside on the front row and it’s going to be a fascinating fight for race victory.

Qualifying positions, Suzuka:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1m27.319s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    1m27.791s
3    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    1m28.306s
4    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m28.332s
5    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    1m29.111s
6    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m29.260s
7    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1m27.651s
8    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1m29.480s
9    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    1m29.778s
10    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    1m29.879s
11    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    1m28.498s
12    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m29.972s
13    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m30.849s
14    Pierre Gasly    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m31.317s
15    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    1m31.409s
16    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1m31.597s
17    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    1m31.885s
18    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    1m30.022s
19    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m30.413s
20    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    1m30.687s

Verstappen victorious at Sepang

Max Verstappen scored his second career victory in Formula 1 with a dominant drive in the final Malaysian Grand Prix, as Sebastian Vettel recovered from starting last on the grid to take fourth position.

Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen passed pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton into Turn 1 on lap four at Sepang and from there controlled the race to take the win.

Hamilton finished 12.7 seconds adrift in second, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo completing the podium in third.

Ferrari’s Vettel, running a new spec power unit, hunted Ricciardo down in the closing laps, but had his challenge cooled when his team told him to back off because of concern over engine temperatures.

In a bizarre incident on the slow down lap, Vettel collided with Lance Stroll’s Williams, causing significant damage to the left rear of the Ferrari.

Vettel, who hitched a lift back to pits on the side of Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber and took his steering wheel with him, now trails championship leader Hamilton by 34 points with five races to go.

There was drama for Ferrari before the start as Kimi Raikkonen, who was due to start second, suffered a turbo problem, and though the team tried to fix it, it was unable to do so before the race began, forcing The Iceman into retirement.

Hamilton got away cleanly from pole, with Verstappen holding off a fast-starting Valtteri Bottas to take second, and Ricciardo slotting into fourth.

Verstappen then set about closing the gap to Hamilton and once he was in DRS range, the Red Bull driver was able to launch a move down the inside at Turn 1.

His team-mate Ricciardo hustled Bottas, getting alongside around the outside of Turn 1 and though the Mercedes driver held on around the outside of Turn 2 to get the place back, Ricciardo had the momentum to pass into Turn 4.

Further back, Vettel was making strong progress, climbing up to P12 by lap two and eighth position by the end of lap 11.

Hamilton was the first of the frontrunners to pit for the first and only time at the end of lap 26, the Mercedes driver swapping super-softs for a fresh set of soft tyres.

Race leader Verstappen reacted the next lap, taking the softs, too, and rejoining ahead of Hamilton.

Ricciardo inherited the lead, but handed it back to Verstappen, who led Hamilton by around nine seconds, when he pitted two laps later.

As Verstappen controlled the race out front, Ricciardo set about trying to catch Hamilton, but in the end the Mercedes was out of reach and Ricciardo had to focus on the threat from Vettel.

Vettel got close enough to launch one attack into Turn 1, but Ricciardo slammed the door shut in front of him, and after that Vettel was forced to back off.

Bottas finished a lonely fifth place with Force India’s Sergio Perez having a clean race to take sixth.

Stoffel Vandoorne made a strong start, rising up to fifth from seventh, but he did not have the speed to match Vettel and Perez and ended up seventh for the second successive race.

Stroll was eighth, ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa, who came out on top in a feisty battle for ninth with Esteban Ocon.

It was a scrappy race for Ocon, who was sandwiched between Massa and team-mate Perez at the start, leading to him picking up a puncture.

He also collided with Carlos Sainz Jr at Turn 1, pitching him into a spin, and then found himself on the grass when battling Massa later in the race.

Nico Hulkenberg finished just outside the points in P11 with Renault team-mate Jolyon Palmer having a scrappy race, including two spins in close succession, the second of which was the result of contact with Kevin Magnussen, and ended up P16.

Sainz was running in the points when he was forced to retire with an engine problem, while rookie Toro Rosso team-mate Pierre Gasly finished P14 in his first Grand Prix.

So many congratulations to Max Verstappen. After so much bad luck this season with seven non-finishes in the first 14 races, the popular Red Bull driver finally wins his second  race in Formula 1. The best birthday present with this Malaysian Grand Prix result.

As for Sebastian Vettel. This was a solid performance after a disappointing qualifying. Starting last and yet finished in fourth position. Brilliant fight back. Hopefully Vettel can continue this battle for the title.

Malaysian Grand Prix race result after 56 laps:
1    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    56    1h30m01.290s
2    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    56    12.770s
3    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    56    22.519s
4    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    56    37.362s
5    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    56    56.021s
6    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    56    1m18.630s
7    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    55    1 Lap
8    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
9    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
10    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
11    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    55    1 Lap
12    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
13    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
14    Pierre Gasly    Toro Rosso-Renault    55    1 Lap
15    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    55    1 Lap
16    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    55    1 Lap
17    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
18    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    54    2 Laps
–    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    29    Power Unit
–    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    0    Not started

Drivers’ standings:
1    Lewis Hamilton    281
2    Sebastian Vettel    247
3    Valtteri Bottas    222
4    Daniel Ricciardo    177
5    Kimi Raikkonen    138
6    Max Verstappen    93
7    Sergio Perez    76
8    Esteban Ocon    57
9    Carlos Sainz    48
10    Nico Hulkenberg    34
11    Felipe Massa    33
12    Lance Stroll    32
13    Romain Grosjean    26
14    Stoffel Vandoorne    13
15    Kevin Magnussen    11
16    Fernando Alonso    10
17    Jolyon Palmer    8
18    Pascal Wehrlein    5
19    Daniil Kvyat    4
20    Marcus Ericsson    0
21    Antonio Giovinazzi    0
22    Pierre Gasly    0

Constructors’ standings:
1    Mercedes    503
2    Ferrari    385
3    Red Bull-Renault    270
4    Force India-Mercedes    133
5    Williams-Mercedes    65
6    Toro Rosso-Renault    52
7    Renault    42
8    Haas-Ferrari    37
9    McLaren-Honda    23
10    Sauber-Ferrari    5