Analysis: No end to ruthless Mercedes dominance as Ferrari fade again

"Honestly, I'll take it one step at a time," Lewis Hamilton had to say, avoiding complacency, but the Formula One title race looks to be run for another year.

Hamilton's advantage over Sebastian Vettel stands at 67 points with just four races remaining, while Mercedes are 78 clear of Ferrari. If it is not quite all over until the fat lady sings, then she is at least warming up her vocal chords.

The talk following Hamilton's win at the Russian Grand Prix centred around the team's decision to ask Valtteri Bottas to sacrifice a first victory of the season for his team-mate. This time, the focus is on the ease of a second consecutive one-two in Japan.

For, just as last season, rivals Ferrari have faded horribly.

Vettel won four of the first 11 races in 2017 – as many as Hamilton – before recording just one more victory in the remainder of the campaign, as the Mercedes man kicked on and cruised to the title.

This time around, since Vettel won the British Grand Prix to claim an eight-point lead, Hamilton has come out on top in six of the last seven races – including the most recent four.

As Hamilton has found his best form again, Ferrari have made errors with alarming regularity.

In six of the seven races this year where Vettel has failed to reach the podium – including in Germany, two weeks on from Silverstone, where he retired from pole – Hamilton has won. The Briton's ruthless efficiency continues to dog his rival, punishing each and every mistake.

And in Japan, in the last chance saloon, with no room for error, Ferrari endured a horror weekend.

Vettel qualified only eighth fastest after being sent out on intermediate tyres before switching back to slicks ahead of a downpour in Q3.

The German climbed to fourth in pursuit of Hamilton on Sunday but then made contact with Max Verstappen, with the two drivers blaming one another as Vettel slid back to 19th. In the circumstances, a sixth-placed finish represented a solid return.

But once more, it is too late for excuses. Vettel surely will not catch Hamilton; Ferrari again look to be no match for four-time defending champions Mercedes.

Given the rest of the grid will reshuffle come the end of the year, with Ferrari among those to change their driving line-up, few would bet against the ever-consistent Mercedes dominating again in 2019.

The German outfit have strolled to the title even without Bottas recording a single win.

Ferrari may have been frustrated by Verstappen's role in this latest farce – he hindered Kimi Raikkonen, too – but they have been outclassed all year long and must find a response fast before another season of masterful Mercedes racing is upon us.

Follow the Action