Lewis Hamilton romped to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to close in on a fourth world title after Sebastian Vettel retired with engine failure four laps in.
The Briton dominated from pole, steering his Mercedes to a crushing eighth win of the year, stretching his Formula One championship lead over Vettel to 59 points with just 100 left to play for.
“Honestly I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap,” said Hamilton after holding off a late charge from Max Verstappen in Suzuka.
“The team has done a phenomenal job, they’re just so meticulous so a big thank you to the guys.”
The Red Bulls of Verstappen — who stunned Hamilton to win in Malaysia last week — and Daniel Ricciardo secured a double podium for the second successive race.
SOUND ON 🔊
“Get in there, Lewis boy”
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 8, 2017
Valtteri Bottas finished fourth in the second Mercedes with Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari taking fifth and Esteban Ocon sixth for Force India.
As Hamilton powered to his fourth victory in Japan, Vettel’s title hopes suffered a potentially fatal blow with four races left after a nightmare start from the front row.
Ferrari mechanics worked frantically on the grid to fix a spark plug issue before lights out and Vettel was quickly complaining of a lack of power.
The German, who finished fourth in Malaysia and crashed from pole in Singapore before that, plummeted to sixth on the first lap before being told to retire the car as Hamilton roared away into the distance.
“It’s just a pity in the two races with the reliability issues,” said Vettel, who led the championship just six weeks ago.
“But now it’s important to get some rest and give my all for the last four races and see what happens.”
The warmer conditions were supposed to favour the Ferraris but Hamilton ruthlessly took a stranglehold on the 53-lap race, backing up his record-breaking pole performance on Saturday.
Verstappen raised pulses over the final two laps but ultimately his charge was too little too late to prevent a fourth successive Suzuka win for Mercedes.
Also in the points, Sergio Perez finished seventh for Force India ahead of the two Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean with Felipe Massa holding off Fernando Alonso’s McLaren to take 10th for Williams.
Lewis Hamilton struck a huge psychological blow in the Formula One title race Saturday with a sizzling qualifying drive to take pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Briton, who leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 34 points with five races left, steered his Mercedes to a track record of one minute, 27.319 seconds with Valtteri Bottas second fastest.
Vettel will join Hamilton on the front row after Bottas incurred a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change to his Mercedes on Friday.
“The car is crazy here,” said the triple world champion after his 71st career pole, and first at Suzuka.
“This track has always been one of the greatest and with this car it’s just mind-blowing,” added Hamilton, looking to hit back after being stunned by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Malaysia last weekend.
“With the downforce we now have it’s three seconds faster than before and it’s just insane speeds that this car is throwing us around inside.
“It’s incredible, my first pole position here – 10th time lucky or whatever it is.”
A three-time winner of the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton fired a clear warning to Vettel, who realistically needs to win this weekend to revive his fading title hopes.
A lap to savour for @LewisHamilton
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 7, 2017
The German, who finished fourth in Malaysia after starting from last, set the tempo in Friday’s rain-hit practice but was well off the pace in qualifying.
“I tried everything on that last lap as I knew I had to take a bit more risks,” said Vettel.
“I knew that we’d be on front row because of Valtteri’s penalty so I’m pretty happy.”
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest, followed by Verstappen – putting the two Red Bulls on the second row.
The Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez start on row three with Bottas and the Williams of Felipe Massa behind them.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen qualified sixth quickest, has also been demoted five places after switching his gearbox following a shunt in Saturday’s practice.
There were more hair-raising moments in qualifying as Bottas, who crashed in the morning’s free practice, almost lost control early on.
Romain Grosjean was less fortunate and smashed into a wall moments later, mangling his Haas machine.
“Massive oversteer – I don’t know what happened,” snapped Grosjean over team radio.
Former world champion Fernando Alonso outqualified McLaren team mate Stoffel Vandoorne but it mattered little as the Spaniard will start the race from last after changing his engine overnight.
As a result, Vandoorne will be promoted from 11th to 10th on the starting grid.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 7, 2017
Sebastian Vettel has played down Ferrari’s reliability issues before this week’s crunch Japanese Grand Prix, insisting it was no time for panic.
The four-time world champion was bullish Thursday despite slipping 34 points behind Mercedes title rival Lewis Hamilton after finishing fourth from stone last in Malaysia last weekend.
Vettel’s hopes of catching Hamilton were boosted by the news his Ferrari will not need a new gearbox following a post-race shunt with Lance Stroll’s Williams, meaning the German is set to avoid a five-place grid penalty.
But gremlins that plagued the team’s weekend in Malaysia prompted a tetchy response from Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne, who admitted he was “angry” at the lack of reliability shown by the cars.
“We had a problem in Malaysia, stopping myself and Kimi,” said Vettel, whose Finnish team mate Raikkonen was wheeled away from his front-row grid slot with engine failure.
“It’s normal that you try to understand things. Knowing what’s going on internally, there’s no panic or any big plans as a reaction. Maybe it’s more a coincidence between the events.”
He added: “Our situation is clear: we are taking it race by race but our goal is to win every one. We can’t be happy unless we perform to our limit.”
Vettel is due a little good fortune after crashing from pole in Singapore three weeks ago.
“Obviously the last few races weren’t great hits for us,” said the former Red Bull driver.
“But sticking your head in the sand is no alternative either. I believe we have a strong car and there are plenty of races left.
“I think we have a good understanding but it’s only been a couple of days,” he added. “I’m pretty convinced we shouldn’t have any issues here.”
Vettel also refused to throw in the towel, despite a significant gap between him and Hamilton with just five races left this season.
“We are behind so it depends on what Mercedes is doing,” he said.
“I think it’s pretty clear we need to do our best. We are behind on points if we look at the championship, so we need to score much more than them.”
Red Bull, meanwhile, have begun to flex their muscles with Max Verstappen capping his 20th birthday weekend by posting his second Formula One victory in Malaysia with Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo taking third.
“How we achieve it doesn’t matter, as long as we achieve it,” said a defiant Vettel, who has won four races this year to Hamilton’s seven.
“We have the package,” he added. “Now we just have to bring it to the track.”
Provided by AFP Sport