Hamilton romps to Japan win to close on world title

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton walks in the pits after his victory in the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on October 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Behrouz MEHRI

A rampant Lewis Hamilton led a Mercedes one-two at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to move to the brink of a fifth Formula One world title.

The Briton dominated at Suzuka after starting on pole, stretching his lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to 67 points with just four races left as the German’s hopes were dashed by a collision with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Valtteri Bottas held off Verstappen to take second almost 13 seconds behind Hamilton in a breathless 53-lap race at the fast-flowing Japanese circuit.

“Woo-hoo! I love you guys!” Hamilton screamed over team radio after his sixth win in the last seven races.

“I hope you guys are not getting bored of this — because I’m definitely not.”

Vettel realistically needed to win to keep alive his fading title hopes but, despite making up four places in a frantic start after starting on the fourth row, spun off on lap eight in a shower of sparks after a risky lunge on Verstappen.

The German, who began from eighth in qualifying, survived the scrape but found himself back in 19th and could only finish sixth, dealing a hammer blow to his slim title hopes.

Hamilton will retain his world title if he wins the next race at Austin and Vettel fails to finish second.

“It’s a great one-two for Mercedes and a true showing of the strength in depth we have,” said the Briton after his fifth Japan victory and ninth of the season.

‘Unleash the beast’

“I can’t wait to unleash this beast in Austin,” he added, pointing at his car. “We’ve gone from strength to strength this year as a team but I’m taking it one step at a time.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth for Red Bull after starting way back in 15th with Kimi Raikkonen fifth after Ferrari opted not to switch his position with Vettel for the sake of two extra points.

Vettel was left wondering what might have been after a ruining an electric start with an ill-advised attempt to duck inside Verstappen at turn 13.

“In that corner you can’t overtake,” shrugged the Dutchman, who had earlier received a five-second penalty for nudging Raikkonen off the track.

“I even gave him space but he under-steered into my car.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner put it even more bluntly when asked to assess Vettel’s rush of blood.

“It was a bit late and obviously opportunistic,” he said. “You know with Max, he’s never going to give an inch and it’s cost Sebastian dear today. That’s probably the end of his championship.”

Vettel saw it differently.

“The gap was there, I had the inside,” he fumed.

“I had the speed. I made the corner and then he didn’t give enough room and we touched.”

Further down the order, Sergio Perez took seventh for Force India ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Haas.

The second Force India of Esteban Ocon came in ninth with Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr 10th.

Vettel unhappy

Sebastian Vettel tore into Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for a hair-raising collision in Japan on Sunday that all but killed off the German’s fading Formula One title hopes.

After starting from eighth following a horror show in qualifying, Vettel carved through the field and made a daring lunge inside Verstappen at turn 13 to take third but his Ferrari clipped the Red Bull and spun off in a shower of sparks.

Vettel recovered to finish sixth at Suzuka but now trails Lewis Hamilton by a whopping 67 points with four races left this season after his Mercedes rival roared to victory.

“I was obviously pushing to get past but I wasn’t desperate to get past,” said Vettel.

“The gap was there, I had the inside. As soon as he realises somebody is close or next to him, he tries to push when you shouldn’t push anymore.”

Verstappen had already incurred a five-second penalty after nudging Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari off the track.

“I knew he had a penalty,” insisted Vettel. “But I also felt that we were faster. For me, the gap was there — otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

“I got through the whole field without any trouble,” added the former world champion.

“It’s normal that it sometimes gets close but you need to always give the space and in that case I couldn’t go anywhere and then we touched.”

Verstappen saw it differently, sniffing: “He could have been a bit more careful.”

‘No regrets’

The Dutchman also pointed to his move on Vettel in China earlier this year, which caused both cars to spin and led to a 10-second penalty for Verstappen.

“I’m not the one who makes the rules but I think it’s a similar scenario to what I had in China with him,” said Verstappen.

“He drove into the side of my car.”

As his chances of pipping Hamilton to a fifth Formula One crown slip away, Vettel was still seething after the race.

“I don’t regret the move,” he bristled. “Obviously with that outcome you would do it differently. But the gap was there — I had more speed, I would have made the corner.”

Raikkonen was also in a dark mood after an incident on the opening lap when Verstappen drove over the grass at the chicane before bumping into his Ferrari.

“He ran wide and went off the track and I just went on the outside at the next corner, leaving him space,” growled the Finn, who finished fifth.

“He knew that I was there and he just drove into me and pushed me off the track.”

Verstappen though was unrepentant and called his penalty “stupid.”

Told by Red Bull team boss Christian Horner that the Ferrari mechanics might be looking for him in the pit lane, Verstappen shrugged: “That’s not my problem, they were too aggressive.”

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