Lewis Hamilton blazed to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg on Sunday to strengthen his grip on a third world title. The Briton, who is chasing back-to-back Formula One championships, opened a 48-point gap over Rosberg with five races left after putting on a masterclass at Suzuka. Sebastian Vettel, surprise winner in Singapore last week, took third with Kimi Raikkonen fourth in the second Ferrari.
“Awesome stuff, Lewis! Fantastic race, mate!” Hamilton’s team engineer said over the radio as he took the chequered flag 19 seconds ahead of Rosberg, pumping his fists to celebrate an eighth victory in 14 races this season. After hitting back in style from his first race-ending retirement in over a year in Singapore, Hamilton whooped: “Fantastic job, guys. So great to be back up here.” Dripping with champagne, Hamilton added: “It was important for us to strike back. We didn’t bring our A-game in the last race. We had to make sure we brought it here.”
Stung by last week’s flop, Hamilton got off to a flying start, darting into the lead at turn two after Rosberg slithered onto the grass and fell from pole to fourth. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shredded a tyre trying to thread the needle in the dash for the first corner and brushed wheels with Felipe Massa, whose Williams also had to limp back to the pits for a change of front wing.
Normal service was resumed at the front of the pack, meanwhile, after Mercedes were rocked by a mysterious loss of pace in Singapore, which allowed Vettel to boost his slim title chances. Their mojo firing again in brilliant sunshine in Japan, the two Mercedes destroyed the Ferraris with Hamilton relentlessly pounding out fastest lap after fastest lap. He survived a scare midway though the 53-lap race, complaining of vibrations and overheating in the cockpit but it proved only a temporary glitch as he pulled away to equal boyhood hero’s Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 victories. “For me to win here at a race where I loved watching Ayrton drive and to match his wins, it doesn’t feel real at the moment,” said Hamilton after winning at Suzuka for the second year in a row. “It’s quite an emotional day. I’m full of joy and happiness and light.” Rosberg recovered to take second on lap 32 when Vettel pitted but emerged just behind his fellow German.
Rosberg set about trying to eat into Hamilton’s 10-second advantage but to no avail as he got snarled up in backmarker traffic and his rival pulled away. “Lewis just got a better start, fair play,” said Rosberg, who faces an uphill battle to stop Hamilton’s momentum. “It is going the wrong way, definitely. I had to win today — that was important.” Vettel, now trailing Hamilton by 59 points, refused to accept his bid for a fifth world title was over.
“It’s not done until it’s done,” he snapped. “What kind of racing driver would I be if I stopped believing?“ With Formula One in a sombre mood a year after Frenchman Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash at Suzuka, there was relief for race organisers when the rain that washed out much of Friday’s practice held off over the weekend. Valtteri Bottas finished fifth for Williams after qualifying third fastest with Nico Hulkenberg sixth for Force India.
They were followed by Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado for troubled Lotus, who spent the week locked out of their paddock hospitality unit because of unpaid bills. Meanwhile, McLaren’s woes continued as former world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finished outside the points at the home of engine supplier Honda. As cars sped past him early in the race Alonso, who came home in 11th, barked down the radio “it’s embarrassing, very embarrassing!” — summing up the team’s season.
Driver and Constructor Standings after the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on Sunday:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes – 277
2. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes – 229
3. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari – 218
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari – 119
5. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams – 111
6. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams – 97
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull – 73
8. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Red Bull – 66
9. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus – 44
10. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India – 39
11. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India – 38
12. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Toro Rosso – 32
13. Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber – 17
14. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus – 16
15. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso – 12
16. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren – 11
17. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber – 9
18. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren – 6
19. Roberto Merhi (Spain) Marussia – 0
20. Will Stevens (Britain) Marussia – 0
21. Alexander Rossi (U.S.) Marussia – 0
1. Mercedes – 506
2. Ferrari – 337
3. Williams-Mercedes – 208
4. RedBull-Renault – 139
5. Force India-Mercedes – 77
6. Lotus-Mercedes – 60
7. Toro Rosso-Renault – 44
8. Sauber-Ferrari – 26
9. McLaren – 17
10. Marussia-Ferrari – 0