Relax, all you Mercedes fans: Singapore was a one-off and Mercedes-Benz are right back where they started from – on top of the world once more after their eighth 1-2 victory of the season, with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg home for the sixth time in 2015.
“It was important for us to strike back,” said Hamilton after taking his eighth victory of 2015 and extending his title lead to 48 points with five races to go.
The race was effectively run after four corners: Rosberg undid all of his good work on Saturday, when he took pole for only the second time this season as opposed to Hamilton’s 11, by losing out in the fight for the lead off the line.
It was neck-and-neck through there, but by Turn 2 Hamilton was in front, by Turn 4 Rosberg had been relegated to fourth by Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and Valtteri Bottas in the Williams, and the German was already in damage limitation mode.
“Lewis just got a better start,” said Rosberg, who complained of a headache and a sore neck before getting into the Silver Arrow for the 53-lap race.
“At Turn 2 I made a mistake, and that was the end of it. Second was the best thing after that: I had to win today but it didn’t work out.”
Hamilton’s only mild concern was vibration levels on his second set of tyres, otherwise he cruised home by a margin – or should that be a chasm? – of 18.964 seconds for the 41st F1 win that puts him level with Ayrton Senna on the all-time winners’ list.
Vettel effectively lost his chance of second place when Rosberg successfully undercut him at their second stops on lap 31. Although the Singapore winner raised the spectators’ pulse rate mildly by threatening to close in on Rosberg in the last phase of the race, he settled for third at a track where he had already won four times.
“My favourite place,” he beamed. “I love the track, I love the fans, I love the trophy but unfortunately I didn’t get a bigger one today!”
Hamilton now has 277 points to Rosberg’s 229, so with Vettel on 218 there is more interest in the scrap for second place than for the title itself.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo also saw his chances of a decent result go out the window when his Red Bull was dealt a glancing blow by Felipe Massa’s Williams off the line, both men pitting and Ricciardo rejoining too far behind to launch any kind of comeback. He eventually finished 15th in a race where all 20 starters were classified, though Felipe Nasr’s Sauber was not actually running at the end.
Kimi Raikkonen was best of the rest in fourth for Ferrari, who are now 169 points adrift of Mercedes in the constructors’ race, with Valtteri Bottas fifth for Williams and Nico Hulkenberg producing another strong result for Force India in sixth.
It was another troubled weekend for Lotus, who were locked out of their own hospitality units as disputes over unpaid bills rumbled on, so to see Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado come home seventh and eighth respectively must have been a shot in the arm for their long-suffering mechanics.
Once again the two Toro Rosso youngsters shone, Max Verstappen producing another stirring come-from-behind drive from the pit lane after his engine failed in qualifying to lead team-mate Carlos Sainz home in ninth and 10th places.
It was another bitterly disappointing weekend for McLaren Honda in the engine-supplier’s own back yard, with Fernando Alonso’s frustrations boiling over as he yelled ‘GP2 engine! GP2 engine!” from the cockpit while watching a stream of cars go past him on his way to 11th.
Team-mate Jenson Button was more restrained but undoubtedly no less frustrated as he finished 16th, the first time in his last 12 visits to Suzuka that the amiable Englishman has finished outside the points.
Next up is Sochi in Russia, where Hamilton and Rosberg monopolised the front row and finished 1-2 when F1 first visited in 2014. Don’t bet against a repeat this time…