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Lewis Hamilton stormed to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, claiming his fourth straight Formula One win and moving a step closer to a fifth world championship.
Starting from pole, the Mercedes driver was never seriously challenged and crossed the finish line 12.919 seconds ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas who secured his first podium at the circuit. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, 14.295 seconds back.
“I was having so much fun driving this track,” said Hamilton. “I was really able to just embrace the moment and enjoy every single lap, every single corner and the feel of the car.
“Suzuka is such a unique circuit, you go down a hill into Turn 1, then up-hill, you go underneath the track – it’s one of my favourite circuits. The pace was really great and this is definitely the best weekend I’ve had here and the best feeling I’ve had here balance-wise, it was really lovely.
“The whole weekend has been incredibly strong for the team. It’s a great 1-2 for Mercedes and shows you the strength and depth of our team.”
Hamilton has won six of the last seven races and now leads Sebastian Vettel by 67 points with four races left. He only needs to outscore Vettel by eight points at the next race in the United States to clinch a fifth world championship.
“We’ve gone from strength-to-strength as a team,” Hamilton said. “And Austin is usually a good track for us so I can’t wait to unleash this beast there.”
Vettel started eighth and quickly moved up to fourth place, overtaking both Toro Rosso cars that started ahead of him. But the Ferrari driver attempted to pass Max Verstappen on the ninth lap and the two cars collided with the Ferrari spinning off into the run-off. The move dropped Vettel back to 18th.
“I’m not the one who makes the rules,” Verstappen said. “It was a similar situation to what happened in China with him. He could have been more careful.”
Vettel worked his way back up to sixth but couldn’t move higher than that.
It was an impressive day for Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo who started 15th but finished fourth ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Force India’s Sergio Perez was seventh ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean. Force India’s Esteban Ocan was ninth while Renault’s Carlos Sainz rounded out the Top 10.
There was an early collision with Sauber driver Charles Leclerc hitting the rear tyre of Kevin Magnussen resulting in a puncture and bringing out the safety car.
Verstappen was given a five second penalty for an incident with Raikkonen where he clashed with the Ferrari as he rejoined after running off at the chicane.
“Kimi chose the wrong line in the chicane, he could have also just waited for me to come back on the track,” Verstappen said. “We touched a little bit but I really think it’s ridiculous those five seconds.”
Next up is the US Grand Prix on October 21, considered by F1 fans as one of the best races of the year. Hamilton has pretty much ruled it since its debut on the calendar in 2012 and will hope to tie up the title in a country which he calls ‘home’ for at least part of the year.
Hamilton added: “There’s still 100 points available, so we have to try and focus and never be complacent. The team has done such an amazing job the last few weekends, we need to bring the same focus and performance and keep pushing.”
Team manager Toto Wolff aims to make sure of that, saying there ‘hasn’t been a single silver bullet – just a lot of hard work, creativity and a mind-set to channel the pressure of the competition and keep pushing hard’ to achieve its objectives.
“The approach will remain the same in the coming races. We will not let up one single bit when it comes to bringing more performance to the car, and keep taking everything day-by-day,” he said. “From here, every race is like a mini-championship and we need to keep aligning our race weekends in the same way we achieved in Sochi and Suzuka.”
Hamilton was left holding the baby at a fans’ session before the race in Japan and will surely look far more comfortable holding the drivers’ championship trophy aloft.