"The whole weekend’s been incredibly strong from the team. A great one-two shows the team’s strength in depth"
Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix to take another major step towards his fifth Formula One title.
The Mercedes driver was helped by a rash overtaking move by Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel who collided with Max Verstappen while trying to pass the Red Bull driver on the inside of the Spoon curve.
The accident on the eighth lap, after Vettel had moved from eighth on the grid to fourth, saw the Ferrari driver spin off the track, putting him back to 19th, before he eventually finished sixth.
Hamilton was untroubled from pole position and took the chequered flag at the end of the 53 laps on the Suzuka circuit ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas.
“I loved it. The whole weekend’s been incredibly strong from the team. A great one-two shows the team’s strength in depth,” said Hamilton, who has a fifth win in Suzuka, nine this season and 71 in all.
It was also a second consecutive Japanese GP win for the 33-year-old Briton, who now has a lead of 67 points over Vettel with four races of the season remaining.
Next up is the US Grand Prix in two weeks when Hamilton could seal the championship. The title will be his again if he wins in Austin and Vettel finishes third or below.
“Each week you have a positive weekend and go to another grand prix and don’t know how you’re going to perform. But Austin’s a good track for us and I can’t wait to unleash this beast there,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton now has four consecutive victories and six of the last seven to dominate the second half of the F1 season, while a miserable run for Vettel and Ferrari continues.
The race began well for Vettel when he moved quickly up four places from the grid.
However after a safety-car period following a shunt between Kevin Magnussen in a Haas and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, he tried to overtake Verstappen.
Vettel could have waited for the Dutchman to serve a five-second penalty for pushing Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen off the track, but decided to attack at the first opportunity.
Unfortunately for the German he came off worse in the collision and found himself having to play catch-up from the back, while Verstappen was able to continue in third place. The stewards decided to take no action.
“I was pushing to get past. I wasn’t desperate to get past,” Vettel told Sky Sports.
“I knew he had a five-second penalty. The gap was there, but as soon as he saw me, he defended, but I had the inside. In my opinion, he tries to push when he shouldn’t.”
Verstappen saw the incident differently, saying: “You can’t overtake on that corner. I gave him enough space.”
The Red Bull driver was also unhappy with his time penalty for the incident with Raikkonen, claiming the Ferrari driver “chose the wrong line”.
“It’s ridiculous, the five seconds, but we managed to survive that,” he said after finished third ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who had started 15th on the grid.
Raikkonen ended ahead of Vettel, while Sergio Perez (Force India), Romain Grosjean (Haas), Esreban Ocon (Force India) and Carlos Sainz (Renault) completed the leading 10. dpa