Lewis Hamilton took his most significant step yet towards the F1 World Title with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix. Challenged hard by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who finished second, Hamilton drove a superb race to put one and a half hands on the title.
You might be wondering why I didn’t mention Sebastian Vettel in the opening. Well, his Asian adventure had a final sting in the tail. On the formation lap, Vettel complained of a lack of power. The issue was traced to a faulty spark plug, and the team tried desperately to fix the problem on the grid. Vettel was able to take the start, but it quickly became apparent that he was struggling for pace. After a safety car period, caused by Carlos Sainz, in his last race for Toro Rosso, going off at the first corner, Sebastian was overtaken by many, before being called into the pits to retire.
It means in the three Asian races, Vettel has taken just twelve points, leaving him 59 points behind Hamilton in the Championship with four races to go.
With this latest failure, it seems Vettel’s hopes for a fifth World Championship have passed him by. After the retirement, Vettel left the track. He did, however, speak to one broadcaster. Speaking to Sky, he said: “It’s normal you’re critical, especially if things go wrong, so it’s part of our job.”
“I think I need to protect them. We’ve done an incredible job so far. Bitter the past two races with the reliability issues – but you know, it’s like that sometimes.
“Of course it hurts, and we’re all disappointed, but now we need to get back, get some rest and then go flat out for the last four races and see what happens.”
In the end, it was another gift for Lewis Hamilton who still had to hold off the hard-charging Max Verstappen to claim the race victory.
“I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap,” said Hamilton. “Ferrari have put on such a great challenge all season long. My team have done a great job. They are so meticulous and that is why we have the reliability we are having.”
The Championship, seemingly, is over.
ANOTHER GREAT SHOWING FROM MAX
Max Verstappen followed up his fantastic victory in Malaysia with a well-deserved second place in Japan. After an excellent start where he dispatched of his teammate, Verstappen then took Sebastian Vettel at turn 11 hairpin to take him to second place behind Hamilton. Rarely more than three seconds behind Lewis, Verstappen kept the pressure on all race, driving flat out to keep up with the Brit, his race only ended thanks to the Massa-Alonso scrap that held him up. It was another critical result in his career, further reinforcing his considerable talent.
Daniel Ricciardo took his ninth podium of the year after an early race scrap with the Force India of Estaban Ocon. Valtteri Bottas was fourth after helping Lewis by briefly holding up Verstappen before his pit-stop. Kimi Raikkonen in the only Ferrari was fifth as Ocon, Perez, Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa made up the rest of the points. Massa, in particular, deserves praise for holding off former teammate Fernando Alonso for the final points paying position.
Oh, and if you missed it, Danny Ric took some amusing photos on Lewis Hamilton’s phone on the podium and uploaded them to Instagram. Worth checking out.
MOMENT OF THE GP
Of course, the moment of the GP is Sebastian Vettel’s retirement. After shocking Singapore and Malaysian Grands Prix, to retire from this one was a real kick in the teeth and a nail in his Championship coffin.
DRIVER OF THE GP
It has got to be Max Verstappen. An excellent start and turned what could have been a procession into a race. A superb drive.