Lewis Hamilton is within reach of his fourth Formula One title after winning the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix for Mercedes while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel suffered engine problems and failed to finish.
The Briton, who started from pole position, crossed the line just 1.2 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo to move 59 points clear at the top of the overall standings.
Vettel made it no further than the fourth lap before retiring in the pits. An inquest has been launched as to the technical issues and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has labelled the Italians luck as “unbelievable”
Already 34 points behind Hamilton before the start, the setback was the third in as many races for the German, whose hopes now rest on Hamilton suffering similar misfortune in the last four Grand Prix’s.
“I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap,” said Hamilton, interviewed on the podium by Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato.
“I wouldn’t say that I have one hand on it (the title),” he added later. “There’s still 100 points available so I‘m still going to keep the pedal to the metal.”
Today’s win was the 61st of Hamilton’s career and third at the Suzuka circuit. It came a day after the 32-year-old smashed the track record to seize pole at the 5.8-km track in dominant style.
With the gap he now holds over Vettel, the 32-year-old could clinch the title as soon as the next race in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 22.
Vettel had lined up alongside the Briton, raising the prospect of the two title rivals racing side by side to the first corner, but the Ferrari had already run into trouble before the start.
Vettel’s mechanics changed his car’s spark plug on the grid and seemed to have resolved the problem. But while he made a clean start, Hamilton managed to keep the lead at the first corner.
Clearly lacking power after losing several places by the end of the first lap, Vettel was forced to retire from the race. Later Vettel received his 2nd reprimand from the race stewards this time for failing to attend the Anthem ceremony, one more in the last four races and he could be liable for a 10 place grid penalty. Not what the German needs.
“Of course it hurts, and we’re all disappointed,”
said the four times world champion, who hugged his mechanics and gave the crowd a quick wave after returning to the pits.
“For sure now you don’t look at the positives because it’s not the day to look at positives,” he added.
With Vettel on the pit wall and Mercedes shortcomings not being highlighted due to a lack of challenge from the other teams, they looked strong. In the closing stages of the race, Lewis Hamilton reported over the radio that he was suffering from severe tyre vibrations. Whatever the issue the pit wall could not find anything wrong and it was later put down to short shifting (and perhaps vibrations from the turbo), it made for a nail-biting conclusion to the race as Verstappen looked like with another few laps could have fought for first place armed with the knowledge that Hamilton has no desire to put himself at risk at this stage with what would be a pointless fight in terms of the championship. Besides every point that Red Bull earn ahead of the Ferrari’s are a point that eludes the Maranello team…a penny saved is a penny earnt.
After the race Hamilton described how he struggled harder in the second half of the race:
“The first half of the race was very well under control and the second part was a lot harder,” said Hamilton. “I had massive understeer. I‘m really grateful the car stuck in and I didn’t make any mistakes.”
The Mercedes team suffered from gearbox issues with Valtteri Bottas’s car, who had started sixth due to a grid penalty recovered well to claim P4 and come within a few tenths of a second of the podium. Bottas showed strong pace (especially in the closing laps) and never gave up pushing to the end, indeed clocking up the DHL Fastest Lap of 1.33.144. The effects of this bad luck, however, were almost neutralised as similar fate was bestowed upon the Ferrari number two driver. Still, Lady Luck seems to be being well looked after in Mercedes hospitality at the moment.
HAAS had a great weekend, both cars finishing in the points which mean they have moved up one position in the constructors’ championship which potentially net them an extra few million in prize money if that stays the same.
Britain’s Jolyon Palmer completed his last race for Renault in 12th place. His replacement from Toro Rosso, Spaniard Carlos Sainz, was the first retirement of the day.
The Britton later posted this message to his fans:
Looking forward to the US….I am not sure either of these drivers thrives under this sort of pressure.
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