Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix this morning to put one hand firmly on the 2017 Formula One title as Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel had another race to forget in the sunshine at Suzuka.
Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari suffered a second engine failure in as many weeks and was forced to retire after only five laps while Lewis Hamilton won by just a second after a late rampage by Max Verstappen who definitely felt he could have won a second race in as many weeks after his triumph in Malaysia last weekend.
Lewis Hamilton is now 59 points ahead of Sebastian Vettel and could secure this season’s title as early as the US Grand Prix later this month if he can extend his lead by another 16 points.
“I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap,” said Hamilton. “I was excited to have a good race with Sebastian here but he’s been incredibly unfortunate.”
Vettel has suffered an unexpected dip in results since the summer break but hit an all-season low today as he cut a dejected figure on the sidelines as his car was parked after just five laps due to unreliability issues. The problem was detected before the race started but Vettel managed to get the car on the grid but as soon as the race started it was obvious the Ferrari couldn’t get enough power up and was woefully short of pace on the straights.
The engine blew – so did his title chances.
“It’s normal to be critical, especially if things go wrong because it’s part of our job,” Vettel told reporters. “But I need to protect them [Ferrari] – they’ve done an incredible job so far.”
Ferrari’s sudden unreliabity comes in a season that started like they finally had a car that could rival the Mercedes but losing out again in 2017 is pushing the Scuderia’s title drought to a decade and the pressure is definitely on.
Even as Hamilton and his W08 were in title winning mood, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen showed why he is regarded as arguably the brightest youngster in the Formula One for many years. He went past his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the first turn after showing bravery and exuberance then had it easy getting into second place as Vettel’s Ferrari struggled for power and eventually retired. Verstappen chased down Hamilton for the whole of the race and it became a close fight when he got himself clearly in Hamilton’s rear.
Mercedes had to deploy Valterie Bottas as buffer against the rampaging Dutch youngster as he got too close for comfort. This barely change anything as Verstappen closed withing DRS range of Hamilton’s W08 which had already lost its tyres but Valterie Bottas once again showing himself as the master team player.
Daniel Ricciardo finished third to earn his eighth podium finish of the season – the most in a single season in his career. Valterie Bottas finished fourth to cut the gap between Vettel and himself to a meagre 13 points while the other Ferrari was just behind Bottas.
The two Force Indias finished sixth and seventh and Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean scored points in eighth and ninth while Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams was the last driver to score points, just ahead of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
All eyes will be on Lewis Hamilton as Formula One goes across the Atlantic to the United States. The US GP zooms off on October 22