Lewis Hamilton saw off Max Verstappen to fully capitalise on another dismal race for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari
With Hamilton and Vettel starting on the front row it the Japanese Grand Prix was finely poised, but for the second race in a row a Ferrari had a problem on the grid, and this time it was Vettel. It appeared to have been fixed but once the race started it was clear that not all was well, and before long Vettel pulled into the pits and retired.
Hamilton headed the field for much of the rest of the race, but not without serious pressure from Max Verstappen, especially in the closing laps. Lewis’s complaints of a vibration weren’t helped by Fernando Alonso, who was too preoccupied with trying to snatch the final point from Felipe Massa to let the leaders lap him.
That gave Max half a chance, which quickly evaporated on the final lap when he got stuck behind Massa in the first sector and had to settle for second. That’s not the first time the Williams driver has played been involved with the leaders in the closing laps this year, either!
Daniel Ricciardo saw off a charging Valtteri Bottas for third whilst Kimi Raikkonen recovered from an atrocious first lap to finish a distant fifth. The two Force India spent much of the race glued together behind them but unfortunately for us, the team told Sergio Perez not to attack his teammate, denying us the chance of a few more fireworks.
Kevin Magnussen gave us one of the highlights of the race when he pulled off a brutal (but fair) pass on Massa at turn two, promoting him and his teammate up to eighth and ninth, where they remained until the end.
The last two Japanese Grands Prix were completed without any retirements, but that certainly wasn’t the case this year. Carlos Sainz ended his final race for Toro Rosso in the gravel on the first lap, and Marcus Ericsson plonked his Sauber in the barriers at the second Degner.
Nico Hulkenberg was all set for a charge through the field after taking his sole pit stop very late, but his DRS got stuck open and despite the best efforts of his mechanics to fix it (by thumping it really, really hard), he too was out. Lance Stroll’s race also came to a late end with some sort of tyre failure.
But the most significant retirement was that of Vettels. Losing another 25 points to Hamilton with just four races left means he now trails in the championship by 59 points, meaning Hamilton can actually win the title at the next race in Austin if things go his way. And to think the gap between them three races ago was just three points!