F1: Hamilton takes Suzuka win with title in sight

Source: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Lewis Hamilton claimed a decisive victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, with his title rival Sebastian Vettel suffering an early retirement due to a faulty spark plug.

At the start, Hamilton led the pack into Turn 1, with Esteban Ocon (Force India) passing Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing) into fourth. Ahead of them, Max Verstappen went down the inside of Vettel at the hairpin to take second place, with the German driver reporting a loss of engine power on the team radio.

The safety car was deployed shortly after because of Carlos Sainz Jr spun off the track in his final race for the Scuderia Toro Rosso team before replacing Jolyon Palmer at Renault.

At the restart, Vettel dropped to seventh behind Sergio Perez (Force India), before Ferrari called him in to retire the car at the end of Lap 4.

During the race, Sebastian talked to the media about his title changes: “It’s normal to be critical, especially if things go wrong as it’s part of our job. But I need to protect them [the team]. We’ve done an incredible job so far.

“Obviously, [a bit] bitter the last two races with the reliability issues. It’s like that sometimes, of course it hurts and we are all disappointed, but now I think the best thing to do is get back, get some rest and then go flat out for the last four races and see what happens”.

Back at the front, Hamilton began to open a gap to Verstappen and covered the Dutchman’s undercut during their sole pit stop for tyres.

The pair of them re-joined the track behind Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes AMG Petronas), which allowed Verstappen to close in, with Hamilton reporting on the team radio that he was losing grip in the dirty air.

The team quickly responded and ordered Bottas to make way, who then subsequently held up Verstappen for two laps before the Finnish made his stop and went in pursuit of Ricciardo.

Seven laps from the end, the virtual safety car was deployed after Lance Stroll (Williams) suffered a failure in his front right wheel under braking for the ‘S’ curves.

When the race restarted, Verstappen began to reel in Hamilton once again as they approached the lapped traffic of Felipe Massa (Williams) and Fernando Alonso (McLaren-Honda), who themselves were scrapping over the last championship point in tenth.

However, the Red Bull driver got stuck behind the traffic on the final lap, which was enough to allow Hamilton to claim his eighth win of the season and extend his championship lead over Vettel to 59 points.

After the race, Lewis talked through the race with his perspective: “It was a little bit close. Max [Verstappen] was quick in the second stint, I was finding the first one well looked after. And then in the second one, I probably did a too slower outlap after the pit stop, but I felt that I had the time, so the gap went down from three seconds to one and a half and then I pulled it back to three”.

“And then it was just generally bouncing around 2.5 seconds. Then there was the traffic, the VSC, which did a great job but I had no grip in my front tyres, completely dead tyres. Unfortunately, he [Verstappen] was right on my tail and I got a bit of traffic, so once I got of clear of that it was good but it was a little bit close. But as I said, not too bad”.

Behind them, Ricciardo held off Bottas for third despite the Mercedes driver setting the fastest lap of the race near the end.

Kimi Rӓikkӧnen (Scuderia Ferrari) went wide at the Spoon Curve on the opening lap and dropped to fourteenth, but managed to recover to finish in fifth with comfortable gap to the Force India’s of Ocon and Perez.

Haas’ Kevin Magnussen barged his way passed Massa to take eighth, followed home by his team-mate Romain Grosjean in ninth, with Massa himself taking tenth after fending off his former team-mate Alonso, the latter of whom has received two penalty points on his Super Licence for failing to respond to the blue flags within the required time.

It was a bad day overall for the German drivers, as Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) retired after his DRS failed shortly after his pit stop, whilst Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) was the last of the finishers in fifteenth, albeit two laps down on the leaders. Wehrlein’s team-mate Marcus Ericsson also retired early on after going straight on into the barrier at the first Degner.

With Hamilton taking 25 points and Vettel coming home empty handed, the Briton now has a staggering 59 point lead in the World Driver’s Championship. The Ferrari man’s streak of bad luck in the past few races means that Hamilton can claim the title in the next round at Austin if Vettel finishes outside of the top 5.

2017 Japanese Grand Prix Official Classification:

Pos. Driver (Nationality), Team Laps Time/Reason for Retirement
1 Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Mercedes AMG Petronas 53 1:27:31.193
2 Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing-TAG-Heuer 53 +1.211
3 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS), Red Bull Racing-TAG-Heuer 53 +9.679
4 Valtteri Bottas (FIN), Mercedes AMG Petronas 53 +10.580
5 Kimi Rӓikkӧnen (FIN), Scuderia Ferrari 53 +32.622
6 Esteban Ocon (FRA), Force India-Mercedes 53 +1:07.788
7 Sergio Perez (MEX), Force India-Mercedes 53 +1:11.424
8 Kevin Magnussen (DEN), Haas-Ferrari 53 +1:28.953
9 Romain Grosjean (FRA), Haas-Ferrari 53 +1:29.883
10 Felipe Massa (BRA), Williams-Mercedes 52 +1 Lap
11 Fernando Alonso (ESP), McLaren-Honda 52 +1 Lap
12 Jolyon Palmer (GBR), Renault 52 +1 Lap
13 Pierre Gasly (FRA), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault 52 +1 Lap
14 Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL), McLaren-Honda 52 +1 Lap
15 Pascal Wehrlein (GER), Sauber-Ferrari 51 +2 Laps
Not Classified
Lance Stroll (CDN), Williams-Mercedes 46 Front Suspension/Brake Failure
Nico Hulkenberg (GER), Renault 41 DRS Failure
Marcus Ericsson (SWE), Sauber-Ferrari 8 Crashed
Sebastian Vettel (GER), Scuderia Ferrari 4 Power Unit Issue
Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault 0 Spun Off


2017 FIA Formula One Championship Drivers’ Standings after Sixteen Rounds:

Pos. Driver (Nationality), Team Points
1 Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Mercedes AMG Petronas 306
2 Sebastian Vettel (GER), Scuderia Ferrari 247
3 Valtteri Bottas (FIN), Mercedes AMG Petronas 234
4 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS), Red Bull Racing-TAG-Heuer 192
5 Kimi Rӓikkӧnen (FIN), Scuderia Ferrari 148
6 Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing-TAG-Heuer 111
7 Sergio Perez (MEX), Force India-Mercedes 82
8 Esteban Ocon (FRA), Force India-Mercedes 65
9 Carlos Sainz Jr. (ESP), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault 48
10 Nico Hulkenberg (GER), Renault 34
11 Felipe Massa (BRA), Williams-Mercedes 34
12 Lance Stroll (CDN), Williams-Mercedes 32
13 Romain Grosjean (FRA), Haas-Ferrari 28
14 Kevin Magnussen (DEN), Haas-Ferrari 15
15 Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL), McLaren-Honda 13
16 Fernando Alonso (ESP), McLaren-Honda 10
17 Jolyon Palmer (GBR), Renault 8
18 Pascal Wehrlein (GER), Sauber-Ferrari 5
19 Daniil Kvyat (RUS), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault 4
20 Marcus Ericsson (SWE), Sauber-Ferrari 0