Hamilton wins to edge closer to F1 title

Cool, composed and ruthless, Lewis Hamilton could hardly believe his luck on Sunday, when he moved closer towards his fourth drivers’ world championship by winning the Japanese Grand Prix as title rival Sebastian Vettel retired after just four laps.

Hamilton, starting from his 71st pole position after a record-breaking performance in qualifying on Saturday, controlled the race from lights to flag as he steered his Mercedes to the 61st win of his career.

It was his fourth win at Suzuka, his eighth this year, and his fifth in seven races – a surge of form and results that has seen him move 59 points clear of Vettel of Ferrari with four races remaining.

“Honestly, I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap,” said Hamilton, who resisted a late attack by Dutchman Max Verstappen of Red Bull in the closing laps, following the deployment of a Virtual Safety Car (VSC).

“The team has done a phenomenal job – they’re just so meticulous, so a big thank you to the guys.”

Verstappen, who won in Malaysia a week earlier, finished second ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian driver beaming with delight after securing his first podium in Japan and his ninth this season.

Hamilton can now clinch the championship at one of his favourite circuits in Austin on 22 October if he wins and Vettel, who was undone by a faulty spark plug, fails to finish in the top five.

“It is kind of unbelievable to think that we are where we are,” said Hamilton. “I was excited to have a good race with Seb here, as I was last race, but obviously he has been incredibly unfortunate.

“In the world today, in F1®, it is a lot about reliability, the whole performance, and not just speed on track. The team has shown for many years now we have a solid platform.

“We are leaders in that area, so thanks to everyone at the factory in providing me with a car where I can use my ability.

“There is still a long way to go, 100 points. Anything can happen in life and, hopefully, I can continue like this.”

Hamilton trailed Vettel by 14 points after the Hungarian Grand Prix on 30 July, but has since taken total advantage of Ferrari’s failing reliability and Vettel’s misfortunes.

“I was trying to manage the pace and manage the tyres,” added Hamilton, who said the second half of the race was more difficult than the first.

“It was the hottest the track had been all weekend and, knowing Ferrari and Red Bulls were quick in the race, it was so important I looked after the tyres.

“It got a bit close to the end. The late VSC lost a lot of temperature in the tyres and waking them up wasn’t easy.

“Then I got stuck behind (Felipe) Massa and (Fernando) Alonso. I’ve never seen his (Verstappen) car so big in the mirrors and it was very close with a couple of laps to go.”

But Verstappen admitted he did not believe he could win.

“At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have passed Lewis because it’s really hard once he’s in free air – it was only when he was held up that I could close up and do something, but it’s tough,” he said.

For Red Bull, it was a second successive double podium finish as Verstappen and Ricciardo came home ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, Raikkonen, and Esteban Ocon, who was sixth for Force India ahead of teammate Sergio Perez.

Kevin Magnussen finished eighth ahead of his Haas teammate Romain Grosjean, with Felipe Massa taking 10th and the final point for Williams after beating Alonso, seeking some consolation for McLaren Honda, to the line.

Vettel was philosophical in his disappointment.

“It’s just a pity to have these two races with reliability issues,” he said.

“Now it’s important to get some rest and give my all for the last four races and see what happens.”

In his final race for Renault, Jolyon Palmer finished 12th, while his chosen replacement Carlos Sainz crashed out on the opening lap in his last appearance for the Toro Rosso team.

French rookie Pierre Gasly, drafted in to the Toro Rosso team, finished 13th. 

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