Lewis is one step closer to his 4th Formula One title
The Japanese Grand Prix has seen its fair share of epic championship battles, and for the 2017 edition, it seemed that points leader Lewis Hamilton was to have his hands full with a resurgent Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, who had his best race of the season, just a week ago. The four time champ fought back from back to the grid to finish 4th in Sepang, giving Vettel much needed points in the battle for the 2017 WDC.
Qualifying saw Lewis Hamilton fend off all attacks from Vettel and co., by setting the fastest lap record around Suzuka. Lewis’ new lap record was 1’27.319 half a second faster any of his rivals, giving the Brit the 71st pole position of his career. Valtteri Bottas came in P2 with Vettel, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Raikkonen rounding up the top 3 rows. Both Bottas and Raikkonen were slapped with a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox change made to their cars before qualifying and had to start from 6th and 11th, respectively .
As the cars took to the grid, TV cameras quickly spotted mechanics taking off the engine cover of the #5 Ferrari, there was a frantic rush to try to resolve a problem in the car (it was later found out that a faulty spark plug was the culprit). Vettel was able to take the start, but it was Lewis Hamilton who had a good launch off the line and lead the field in the short run to turn 1. Vettel tried to hold station but with Verstappen and Ricciardo attacking the Ferrari, Vettel had no option but to try and defend, but eventually gave away his position. It was evident that the Ferrari was sorely lacking in pace and even before the end of the 1st lap, Vettel dropped from P2 to P6, dashing Ferrari fans and Sebastian’s hopes of claiming his 5th World title. The Ferrari pit wall ended Sebastian’s misery by calling him into the pits and eventual retirement on lap 5.
This meant that should Hamilton take the win, the Brit would lead the WDC race by a massive 59 points, and with power circuits like Austin, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi next in the calendar, the 2017 title chase has titled well onto Lewis’ side.
Announcement of Vettel’s absence was music to Hamilton’s ears, but, the 3 time champ kept his foot down to ensure a good gap between himself and new 2nd place man, Max Verstappen. The Mercedes F1 W08 had the power advantage and Lewis made easy work of his rivals; lap 23 saw the Brit dive in for a change of Pirelli’s to come out behind Bottas and Ricciardo, both of whom, has yet to pit. Lewis kept chasing Bottas, who inherited the lead after Daniel took to the pits, and with a fast Max Verstappen hounding the Merc duo, a call was made to Valtteri to let Lewis pass; this ensured that the #44 car didn’t have to endure the dirty air from the #77 car, and give Hamilton a rolling roadblock to keep the charging #33 Red Bull at bay.
Despite a late charge from the Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton took the checkered flag to win the 61st race of his career, this was also his 3rd win at Suzuka and Hamilton’s 40th win with the Silver Arrows and the 10th for the year. Max Verstappen setteled for 2nd place with Daniel Ricciardo holding off Valtteri Bottas to take 3rd spot. By finishing in 4th place, Bottas now has his best finish in Japan and the Finn claimed the fastest lap (lap 50) around Suzuka with a time of 1’33.144, which, gave Mercedes its 150th fastest lap award.
Lewis Hamilton now leads the drivers standings with 307 points, 59 points ahead of Sebastian Vettel with 247 points. With his 4th place showing, Bottas now has 234, just 13 points shy of Vettel.
In the Constructors championship, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport (540 points) now has a commanding 145 point lead over Ferrari (395 points), with only 172 points left to fight for.
The USGP is next on the calendar, and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport could wrap up the Constructors title by coming in 1-2 in Austin, similarly, should Sebastian fail to again finish, and even with Lewis finishing in 2nd. Hamilton will claim his 4th World Drivers Championship.