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, 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 then held off the young Dutchman and secured second.
Here, we look at the key takeaways from the race in Asia.
Hamilton in control (again)
It feels like repetition every week but the Briton is simply been the superior driver and not even someone of Vettel’s calibre has come close to him in the second half of the season.
Starting from pole, he led from the front to secure his ninth win of the season – with the result in Japan only strengthening his grip on a fifth world title pursuit even more.
Around Suzuka, the 33-year-old looked comfortable and did not encounter any difficulty, finishing 12 seconds ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton, 67 points clear of the Ferrari driver with just 100 on the table, will now secure his fifth title at the United States Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time if he wins and Vettel is third or lower.
That is indeed the likeliest of outcomes given Hamilton’s superb recent record of five wins from his six previous visits to Texas.
Error after error for Vettel
The four-time world champion is becoming desperate and hot-headed in his race craft and it is his poor mistakes that have effectively cost him the world title.
Starting from P8, the German had a chance to challenge Mercedes and moved up to fourth, but then dropped to 18th after a collision with Verstappen on lap eight.
Although he did move through the traffic, he still finished 70 seconds behind race winner Hamilton in sixth place in what was another poor display for the Ferrari team.
The reason we’ve been denied great races this season hasn’t been due to the sheer dominance of Hamilton, but the errors every weekend from Ferrari and the experienced Vettel.
Red Bull revival
It was notable to see the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo finish in the top five for the first time since the French Grand Prix back in June.
Verstappen secured his seventh podium of the season, keeping third place after serving a five second penalty for leaving the track and not returning safely on lap one.
The 21-year-old did challenge Bottas briefly for second spot, but the Finn had too much pace and control to stay ahead during the second half of the race.
With Ricciardo sailing home in fourth after starting from P15, it proved to be a successful day for Christian Horner and Co.
Still, their results need to stay consistent after a mixed campaign to date, where engine troubles reduced their title chances. Remember, this was supposed to be the most exciting driver line up on the grid, but they are failing to deliver this season due to the Honda engine issues.
Penny for thought of Lando Norris
The 18-year-old – who is set to join McLaren next season – had his first chance to drive the F1 car on Friday in free practice and was welcomed with a warm reception from the fans at Suzuka.
But, what must the Bristol native be thinking after watching Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso struggle to 14th and 15th respectively in Japan on Sunday.
The prospect of racing in Formula One is any young driver’s dream, but it is hard to know what hope Norris has in a car that continues to be miles off the pace, even with a driver like Alonso – at present – behind the wheel.
If Norris can even flourish for a year or two at McLaren then there is no doubt a bigger and faster team will come calling for his services.
Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes on pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix as another disastrous Ferrari blunder left Sebastian Vettel only ninth.
Hamilton, who headed into qualifying after topping every practice session, delivered again at the Suzuka circuit to finish ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes locked out the front row for a second consecutive race.
Vettel, 50 championship points behind Hamilton, will start way down the order after his team selected the wrong tyre in the changeable conditions.
Despite a smattering of rain drops ahead of the shootout for pole, Mercedes elected to send Hamilton out on slick rubber, and it proved to be the right call.
In contrast, Vettel, and his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, were both on track on the intermediate tyre, and they had to stop for slicks.
By the time Vettel was ready to post a fast lap, a rain shower left the German exposed, and after he made a mistake by running off the track in damp conditions at the Spoon Curve, he finished more than four seconds adrift of Hamilton in ninth.
Raikkonen managed to qualify fourth.
The shower intensified, and there would be no challenge to Hamilton, who cruised to his 80th career pole.
“I never in a million years thought I would get to 80 poles,” he said. “(Ferrari’s mistake) adds to the championship momentum.
“It is so difficult to make the right call, but that is another real big difference that we as a team have made this year.
“When it comes to being under pressure, and making the right calls, that is why were are the best team in the world.”
Max Verstappen, who took advantage of Ferrari’s error, was asked about Hamilton’s championship battle with Vettel. “Is it still a battle?” he asked. “I am not sure.”
Thirty years ago at Suzuka, Ayrton Senna led Alain Prost home as the Brazilian sealed the world championship, and McLaren recorded yet another one-two finish of a dominant year.
Fast-forward three decades, and these are bleak times for Britain’s most successful Formula One team.
Here, on Saturday, Fernando Alonso, who is quitting the team and the sport at the end of the year, and Stoffel Vandoorne occupied the 18th and 19th slots respectively on the grid.
They should have been on the final row, only for the error-prone Marcus Ericsson to crash out of qualifying after losing control of his Sauber at the Dunlop Curve and hitting the barriers.
Daniel Ricciardo’s recent bad run took another sorry twist after he was eliminated from Q2 following yet another engine failure.
The Australian, who has now missed the top-10 shoot-out four times in the last six races, compared to only three times before during his entire Red Bull career, unleashed a roar of anger as he marched along the pit lane.
He will start 15th. Romain Grosjean finished fifth for Haas ahead of Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley.
While it is too early for Hamilton’s seemingly inevitable championship coronation to take place in Japan on Sunday evening, only a meltdown by team or driver stand in the way of glory this season.
Hamilton, who was comfortably fastest in both practice sessions at Suzuka on Friday, has recorded five victories from his last six outings to establish a dominant 50-point lead over Sebastian Vettel.
And with a maximum of only 125 championship points on the table, it is surely a case of when, rather than if, he will engrave his name alongside Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the owner of five world crowns.
Although Hamilton had Mercedes to thank for his 70th career win in Russia last Sunday – after they controversially used team orders to usher aside Valtteri Bottas – he has been in electric form following the summer break.
Hamilton, with inferior machinery, destroyed both Ferrari cars on their home patch in Monza last month to take a fine win, before he delivered one of the qualifying laps of his career at the next round in Singapore to pave the way for another victory. He was lightning fast on Friday, too.
As the season reaches its climax, the Briton can now afford to score four third-place finishes and one second at the final five grands prix to secure the championship spoils.
“When I look back at those recent races, I couldn’t have hoped for better performances,” Hamilton, 33, said. “There have been some dream experiences for me, performing at that level. It is what I live for.
“As the season progresses you hope that you can improve, and usually you do get better, but I didn’t know I was going to improve in the way that I have.”
If, as expected, Hamilton takes the chequered flag here on Sunday – a race that he has won in three of the past four years – then there is a small chance that he could secure the championship in America in a fortnight. The probability, however, is that he may have to wait until Mexico a week later.
“The earlier you can win the title, the better because there is less stress for the team,” he added. “You gain back some years of your life the quicker you get it done, too.”
Hamilton finished the best part of half-a-second faster than anybody else in practice on Friday. Bottas was second, while Vettel ended the day an uncomfortable 0.883 seconds down on his rival.
“This track is awesome,” a giddy Hamilton said over the radio. “I am having the best day.”
Out of the car, he added: “I’m loving driving more than ever. It’s just the best. I won’t be driving forever so you have to cherish these moments.”
Hamilton headed for Japan following a tennis date with his father, Anthony, the man who simultaneously worked multiple jobs to fund his son’s formative career, but is now somewhat on the periphery.
“We didn’t really reminisce about the past,” Hamilton said. “My dad’s having tennis lessons so I said to him we should have a game.
“I don’t play tennis, we are both terrible at it, and it was not very good to watch, but I beat him.
“I’ll always remember when I was about six, and we would go to Blockbusters in Stevenage. Afterwards he would say ‘let’s race to the car’. My little legs couldn’t carry me fast enough, and he would never let me win.
“So, the same competition happens today, and I never let him win if I can help it.” For Vettel, it is a feeling he knows all too well.