Formula 1

Hamilton Wins as Vettel Retires at Japanese GP

3 Mins read
Credit: Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG Petronas

Lewis Hamilton secured his fourth victory in five races, holding a last gasp Max Verstappen charge at bay, while title rival Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire by an engine problem.

Hamilton held Verstappen at arms length throughout the majority of the race, the latter moving into second position on the opening lap after passing team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the first turn and Vettel later in the lap.

There was a late scare for Hamilton however, as the Brit struggled with tyre wear in the closing stages and found himself stuck behind the squabbling pair of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. This allowed Verstappen to close to within three tenths on the penultimate lap, but the Dutchman caught Massa at the Esses and lost over a second, ensuring Hamilton would cling on to victory at the chequered flag.

Vettel’s troubles were apparent before the race began, with the engine cover off his Ferrari on the grid before the formation lap. A spark plug issue led to a lack of power from the car’s engine, sending him all the way down from 2nd to 10th by the end of lap four, at which point he pulled into the pits to retire his ailing Ferrari.

Ferari’s woes were compounded at the start when Kimi Räikkönen went wide at Spoon while battling Nico Hülkenberg for 9th position, sending the Finn way down the order.

The safety car was deployed on the second lap of the race, when Carlos Sainz Jr ran wide at the final section of the Esses and spun off into the tyre barrier on the opening lap.

Daniel Ricciardo had fallen behind Esteban Ocon shortly before the safety car period, but moved back in the podium places after several laps stuck behind the Force India.

Limiting his time stuck behind Ocon transpired to be a crucial factor in his race, as on the alternate strategy of starting on the soft tyre, Valtteri Bottas had caught Ricciardo in the closing stages on the supersoft. It was too little too late for the Mercedes in the end, forcing Bottas to settle for fourth.

Räikkönen had used a similar strategy to his compatriot Bottas, surging as high as fourth during his first stint. He was left unchallenged for fifth as he surged ahead of the Force India pair, but was unable to reach any of the leading quartet.

Ocon came home with team-mate Sergio Perez right on his gearbox, as the latter was audibly frustrated on the radio at behind stuck behind. The Force India pair have suffered a number of intra-team incidents during the season, with collisions at Baku and Spa-Francorchamps the most notable, leading to team orders forcing Perez to stay behind and settle for seventh.

The Haas pairing found themselves in a similar situation, with Romain Grosjean asking his team to allow him past team-mate Kevin Magnussen, who had been stuck behind Massa for much of the second stint.

Magnussen forced the issue shortly thereafter, taking advantage of a wide line from Massa into the first turn to barge his way down the inside of Turn 2 for eighth place, which in turn pushed Massa further wide and allowed Grosjean to follow him through for ninth.

Massa fell backwards in his final stint, barely holding Alonso at bay in the closing laps for the final points. The sister Williams had a much more difficult race, with Lance Stroll failing to challenge for points throughout. A front-right puncture late in the race sent him through the grass at the Esses, narrowly avoiding a collision with Ricciardo in the closing stages.

The most dramatic crash was by Marcus Ericsson, who ploughed straight on into the tyre barrier at Degner 2 under braking early on. Hülkenberg would join him on the sidelines, forced to retire when his DRS flap stuck open shortly after his final stop and trying to pick his way through the pack and back into the points.

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Alasdair Lindsay is a Regular Contributor to TCF and can be found on twitter at @AlasdairLindsay
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