Lewis Hamilton took another step closer to the World title with a comfortable win at the Japanese GP, a race in which Sebastian Vettel clashed with Max Verstappen and all but ended his own title hopes.
Starting from pole position, Hamilton crossed the track to cover Valtteri Bottas who in turn kept Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen behind him. Vettel was the big mover inside the top ten as, starting P8, he was fourth by the end of lap 1 thanks in part to a great overtake around the outside of Romain Grosjean and contact between Verstappen and Raikkonen.
After a mistake saw him cut the corner, Verstappen forced Raikkonen off the track, leaving the Finn with a damaged SF71H. Verstappen was slapped with a five-second time penalty for ‘not returning to the track safely’.
The Safety Car was out on lap 4 as Kevin Magnussen’s Haas dropped shredded carbon fibre on the track. The Dane’s Haas suffered a rear left puncture when he was hit from behind by Charles Leclerc having made a late move to block the Sauber rookie. Leclerc pitted for a new nose. The incident was investigated with no further action taken. Magnussen retired laps later due to the damage. There was more drama as Marcus Ericsson ran into the back of his Sauber team-mate behind the SC.
The racing resumed on lap 8 with Vettel attacking Verstappen through Spoon. The two made contact with Vettel spinning off the circuit and dropping to P19. His chances of a victory, in the race and the World title, over.
From Vettel's view pic.twitter.com/UqzsGnGmcT
— iGP Manager (@iGPManager) October 7, 2018
While the Ferraris played with Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas scampered into the distance with the championship leader three seconds ahead of his team-mate by lap 18 with the Finn a further three ahead of Verstappen.
Raikkonen was running fourth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who started P15 due to an engine issue in qualifying. For the Aussie, who started on the soft tyres, the podium looked possible given Verstappen’s penalty and Raikkonen’s damage.
Raikkonen was the first of the top six to pit, coming in on lap 18, with Verstappen in on lap 21. He served his penalty and still managed to return to the track ahead of Raikkonen, who had been held up by Pierre Gasly.
Verstappen pits for soft tyres, and serves his penalty while he's at it
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 7, 2018
Bottas came in on lap 24 followed by Ricciardo. The Aussie jumped Raikkonen in the stops but not Verstappen. Hamilton pitted next, coming in from first, coming out still in first place ahead of Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. Vettel was P10 at the halfway stage but pitted soon after to drop back down to 16th.
Despite seemingly racing toward a comfortable win, five seconds up the road from Bottas, Hamilton reported a few issues with his car relating to driveability and upshifts. Mercedes were not overly concerned and the championship leader raced to the victory, his sixth P1 in seven races. The 25 points mean he leads the title race by 67 points with 100 still in play.
Bottas found life a bit more difficult as traffic meant he was caught by Verstappen with 10 to go. The VSC for Leclerc’s retirement dropped the gap to 0.9s with Verstappen, on the soft tyres, able to get heat into his rubber faster than Bottas, who was on the mediums.
Verstappen’s tyres, though, seemed to go faster than Bottas with the Red Bull racer falling back. Bottas took second, Verstappen third.
Ricciardo and Raikkonen were fourth and fifth while Vettel finished in sixth place with the Ferrari driver offering much of the race’s excitement. Twice forced to slice his way through the field, he pulled off some fantastic passes.
Perez brought his Force India home in seventh place ahead of Grosjean, Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz.
Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll were also handed five-second penalties, Stroll for pushing Alonso off the track and Alonso for rejoining in an unsafe manner. They finished P14 and 17.
— WTF1 (@wtf1official) October 7, 2018
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.934
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 12.919s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 14.295s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 19.495s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 46.526s
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 71.489s
7 Sergio Perez Force India 78.750s
8 Romain Grosjean Haas 85.930s
9 Esteban Ocon Force India 86.733s
10 Carlos Sainz Renault 1 LAP
11 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1 LAP
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 LAP
13 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1 LAP
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1 LAP
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1 LAP
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1 LAP
17 Lance Stroll Williams 1 LAP
Did not finish
Charles Leclerc Sauber suspension
Nico Hulkenberg Renault
Kevin Magnussen Haas crash damage