Japanese GP: Lewis Hamilton wins after Sebastian Vettel hits new trouble
Vettel collides into Max Verstappen; Hamilton can clinch title at US GP; Bottas second, Verstappen third at Suzuka
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 04/12/18 5:04pm
Lewis Hamilton moved to within touching distance of a fifth world championship with victory in the Japanese GP after another mistake by title rival Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton can clinch the championship with victory in two weeks' time at the United States GP if Vettel does not finish second, or if he out-scores his rival by eight points.
While Hamilton's form since the summer break has been sublime, Vettel's season has become increasingly ragged and the Ferrari driver was, once again, guilty of a critical error during the race when he crashed into Max Verstappen.
Launching an over-aggressive overtaking move on the Red Bull, Vettel hit the side of Verstappen's car at Spoon and spun. The Suzuka stewards investigated the incident but, perhaps mindful of the damage done to Vettel who returned to the fray in last place, opted against penalising the German.
But the Sky F1 pundits were emphatic in their condemnation of Vettel's mistake.
"I cannot believe the mistakes from Vettel and the cracks that appearing," commented Sky F1's Paul di Resta. "Vettel only has himself to blame for that mistake. He's throwing the championship away at exactly the same point it all went wrong last year."
Vettel's error was all the more perplexing given that Verstappen had already been hit with a five-second penalty to be served at his first pit-stop for a tangle with Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Verstappen had run wide at the chicane but was penalised for not returning in a safe manner after banging wheels with Raikkonen.
Valtteri Bottas finished second, over ten seconds behind his Mercedes team-mate, with Verstappen third and 'driver of the day' Daniel Ricciardo fourth.
Vettel made to pay for another mistake
Vettel's mistakes have become a reoccurring theme through the season.
The German ran off track at Spoon to disastrous effect during qualifying, but his error at the same corner on race day was even more glaring as he rammed into the side of Verstappen.
"It was so unnecessary from Vettel," observed Sky F1's Ted Kravitz. "Didn't his engineer tell him that Verstappen had a penalty to serve?"
Although Vettel launched a spirited fight to climb back into sixth, his recovery couldn't shake off the charge that he has been his own worst enemy in this year's world championship fight.
Hamilton on cusp of title after perfect performance
On a captivating weekend in front of packed crowds at Suzuka, the shame would be if Vettel's mistakes overshadowed Hamilton and Mercedes' excellence.
If this weekend was Ferrari's perfect storm, it was Hamilton's perfection which was its dominant feature.
Hamilton has gone through the gears since August but the Englishman hit a new level in Japan as he secured his sixth victory from the last seven races.
Fastest in every practice session before claiming pole position, Hamilton led every lap of the race and, a few grumbles about an intermittent engine glitch aside, appeared to be in total control.
Ironically, only a very late push from Vettel to set the race's fastest lap denied Hamilton a full 'grand slam', but that will have been of no concern to Hamilton after storming 67 points clear in the standings.
A fifth world championship is almost there.
Red Bull show what might be possible
Red Bull's race was another tale of'what might have been - and, less obviously, what might be in 2019 when they swap to Honda power.
With Bottas unable to live with Hamilton, Verstappen had caught the Finn by the end of the race and his five-second penalty for the Raikkonen clash ultimately cost the young Dutchman a deserved second place.
Ricciardo was equally impressive, scything through the field around a track where overtaking is considered particularly difficult. But for his engine failure in qualifying, who knows what the Australian might have achieved on race day.
Equally debatable is the wisdom of his decision to switch to Renault next year on a weekend when the team scored just a single point, customers McLaren slumped to the back of the field, and Toro Rosso ran strongly prior to Carlos Sainz stealing the final points-paying position with a late move on Pierre Gasly.
"With Seb, it was at a corner where you can't make an overtake," Verstappen told Sky F1. "It shows that even the most experienced drivers can make errors when under pressure."
Japanese GP race result
|1) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes|
|2) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes|
|3) Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|4) Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|5) Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari|
|6) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari|
|7) Sergio Perez||Force India|
|8) Romain Grosjean||Haas|
|9) Esteban Ocon||Force India|
|10) Carlos Sainz||Renault|
|11) Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso|
|12) Marcus Ericsson||Sauber|
|13) Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso|
|14) Fernando Alonso||McLaren|
|15) Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren|
|16) Sergey Sirotkin||Williams|
|17) Lance Stroll||Williams|
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