Lewis Hamilton continued his winning run in the 2018 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix inching closer to the title as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel suffered further blow.
It was a sound start from Hamilton as he led Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas from Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Haas’ Romain Grosjesn stayed fifth as Vettel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo made inroads.
The biggest loser on the first lap was Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley as he dropped out of Top 10, having started in sixth. While Hamilton headed Bottas, Verstappen ran wide in the final corner allowing Raikkonen to get on with the Dutchman.
Verstappen decided to quickly rejoin the track thereby colliding with Raikkonen, who was on the outside. The stewards decided to penalise Verstappen with a five-second time penalty for rejoining the track in unsafe manner.
Raikkonen though lost the place to Vettel who clawed his way up to fourth from eighth. At the same time, there was a collision between Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc outside the Top 10.
Magnussen while defending his position on the start/finish line moved slightly to his right to cover the position but Leclerc carried much pace to hit the back of the Dane. It punctured Magnussen’s tyre who had to complete the whole lap on those tyres.
It came off on the final corner which caused the safety car to be deployed, thereby bunching up the field. The incident wasn’t investigated but Magnussen was forced to retire with suspected damage.
On re-start, Hamilton continued to lead Bottas but Vettel tried a move on Verstappen for third at the Spoon corner. It didn’t stick when the German tried the inside line on the Dutchman, who closed on him quickly.
They touched as Verstappen continued on with Vettel spinning out. The German had to wait for all the cars to pass to rejoin the track – further damaging his title chances. At the same time, replays showed Marcus Ericsson hitting the back of Leclerc on re-start.
The Monegasque was slowed due to the car in front with Ericsson unable to slow down on time. They both continued on still without much issues. It was a straightforward race from then on at the front.
Mercedes switched both the drivers on the medium tyres in a straight pit stop as Hamilton eased into his ninth win of the 2018 season and extend the championship lead by 67 points over Vettel with four races to go.
Bottas fended off a late charge from Verstappen to secured a Mercedes 1-2 as the Dutchman overcame the five seconds penalty to secure a fine podium finish. Ricciardo also jumped Raikkonen to fourth in a dismal day for Ferrari.
Raikkonen was fifth as Vettel salvaged sixth in the end but his title chances have slimmed hugely with the win for Hamilton. The best of the rest fight was won by Racing Point Force India’s Sergio Perez.
But it didn’t come without any controversy. He passed Grosjean after the VSC period for Leclerc, who stopped to retire due to a broken part on his Sauber. The Haas driver complained that Perez gained time in VSC.
However, there was no investigation done by the stewards into the matter. Grosjean was asked to stay within five seconds of Perez – just incase – but he finished over seven in the end in eighth.
He had fellow countryman Racing Point Force India’s Esteban Ocon right on his tail in the last few laps but Grosjean managed to stay ahead by 0.857s. The Top 10 was eventually completed by Renault’s Carlos Sainz.
The Spaniard fought back from outside Top 10 to get a point after he passed Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly with few laps remaining as Renault battles Haas for fourth position. It was crucial after Nico Hulkenberg retired with a suspected issue.
Gasly though had a disappointing end after running inside the Top 10 for majority of the race. The strategy went wrong for the Frenchman as he missed a point along with Hartley, who finished 13th behind Ericsson.
The Kiwi was in a close fight with Ericsson towards the end with the two McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne behind in a four-way tussle. But the Swede had enough to hang on to 12th.
For Alonso, it was a fightback after he was handed a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage early on in the race during his fight with Williams’ Lance Stroll. The Canadian himself was given a five-second penalty for causing a collision.
As a result, Stroll finished 18th behind teammate Sergey Sirotkin with Leclerc, Hulkenberg and Magnussen the three drivers to retire from the 53-lap race which ended the 2018’s Asian leg/