By Nicola Kenton
- Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth victory in eight races winning the Japanese Grand Prix
- Mercedes had a one-two with Valtteri Bottas finishing second and Max Verstappen third
- Hamilton now has a 67-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship
SUZUKA, JAPAN – Lewis Hamilton edged closer to a fifth World title after securing victory at the 2018 Japanese Grand Prix and further extending his world championship lead.
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Hamilton could win World Championship in Austin
Lewis Hamilton claimed his fourth win in-a-row at the Japanese Grand Prix. It was the Brit’s ninth victory this season and his 50th with constructor Mercedes. The four-time World Champion excelled from start to finish at the track in Suzuka. Hamilton dominated the practice sessions on Friday, got the best of the conditions in qualifying on Saturday and controlled the race from the front on Sunday.
It was a simple race for Hamilton who stayed ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas at all times. The Brit was the last of the front-runners to pit but emerged well ahead of Bottas. Occasionally, Hamilton mentioned on team radio that there were issues with his car but they weren’t serious enough to impact the Brit’s race.
In the drivers’ world championship, Hamilton’s nearest rival is still Sebastian Vettel but the gap between the two grew wider once again. The Brit picked up 25 points while his German rival languished is sixth place collecting only eight points. As a result, Hamilton extended his lead to 67 points and there is now the possibility of the Brit winning his fifth World title at the US Grand Prix – he just needs to outscore Vettel by eight points.
Mistakes cost Vettel dear
With this year’s World Championship slipping further away, Vettel needed to win the Japanese Grand Prix to change the momentum swing that Hamilton had. In the practice sessions, Mercedes were much faster than Ferrari but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believed that the Italian team were disguising their pace.
When it came to qualifying on Saturday things could not have gone much worse for Vettel. Both himself and team-mate Kimi Räikkönen made it through to the final session but following some rain, they went out for their first run on the intermediate tyres. Whereas, Mercedes opted for slick (dry) tyres and the gamble paid off for the Northamptonshire-based team. When Vettel was on the correct tyre compound, he made a mistake on his run and posted the ninth best time. The German had another opportunity but could not post a better time, as track conditions deteriorated and the rain came again, meaning he would have to start the race from ninth.
Sunday didn’t get much better for Vettel. Initially, he made up ground and when Räikkönen and Max Verstappen had an incident, the German took advantage of his team-mate’s misfortune. However Vettel then tried to lunge down the inside of the Dutchman. It was a risky move which did not pay dividends for the German who ended up spinning and had to work his way back through the field again. A costly weekend meant Vettel could only finish the race in sixth place, losing another 17 points to Hamilton in the championship.
Verstappen makes the most of Ferrari misfortune
Red Bull driver Verstappen recorded his third podium in five races at the Japanese Grand Prix. On Saturday, the Dutchman was able to take advantage of Ferrari’s errors and put his car into third place on the grid. It was an unexpected result for the Milton Keynes-based team but Verstappen was sure to try and maintain his position as best he could.
On Sunday the Dutchman had contact with Räikkönen on the first lap. Verstappen went wide at a corner and as he returned to the track, he pushed the Finn wide and Räikkönen lost a place to his team-mate. The stewards decided that the incident was Verstappen’s fault and he was given a five-second penalty.
A few laps later, Verstappen came into contact with Vettel at Spoon but the Dutchman didn’t suffer much damage or lose a significant amount of time. The stewards also investigated this incident but it was deemed that no further action was required. At the end of the race, having secured third place, Verstappen began to chase down Bottas but the Finn controlled his pace to stay ahead. The result was Verstappen’s third podium at Suzuka in the last three years and continued a strong vein of form for the Dutchman following the summer break.
Ricciardo recovers from 15th
If Vettel didn’t have a good Saturday afternoon, his former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo had an even worse one. The Australian made it through the first qualifying session but quickly hit trouble in the second. Ricciardo returned to the pits after reporting a power issue, he had to be pushed down the pit-lane by a mechanic and was returned to the garage to see if the issue could be resolved. It couldn’t be fixed in the allotted time and having not been able to set a time, the Australian had to settle for 15th place on the gird.
Race day saw Ricciardo quickly make his way through the field. The Australian performed many of his overtakes at the chicane and by the lap 14 he had made his way up to fifth place. After the pit-stops, the Red Bull driver had gained another place as he emerged ahead of Räikkönen who was held up in traffic on his out-lap.
Fourth was the best that Ricciardo could do on the day, as he was unable to catch or challenge his team-mate for the final podium place. However, the Australian was voted ‘Driver of the Day’ and it ends a torrid run of form for Ricciardo who had had two retirements and two sixth places since returning from the summer break.
Intense midfield battle
While the top of the championship is nearly resolved, the midfield battle is anything but. After the Japanese Grand Prix, three drivers have 53 points: Sergio Perez (Force India), Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Nico Hulkenberg (Renault). Further to this, Fernando Alonso (McLaren) is 10th on 50 points while Esteban Ocon (Force India) is placed 11th with 49 points to his name.
As expected, the top three teams pulled away from the rest of the field but there is no clear constructor who has put themselves as the fourth placed team. Renault currently have 92 points with Haas just behind on 83 but Force India have been rising through the ranks, after their points were wiped in the summer following the takeover and change of name. McLaren have been stagnant with Alonso only finishing in the points twice in six races.
With four races remaining and plenty of money at stake in the constructors’ championship, the midfield teams will be fighting for as many points as possible. Renault and Haas will have to watch out for Force India, as they have had four double points finishes in the last six races but they will have to work hard to recover that they lost.
The United States Grand Prix takes place in Austin, Texas on October 19th-21st.
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