Hamilton Closes In On A Fifth Title
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Following the furore over the Mercedes Formula 1 team’s controversial use of team orders to favour Lewis Hamilton over Valtteri Bottas in Russia a week ago the season continued with the championship’s annual visit to the mighty Suzuka circuit in Japan where Hamilton proved to be invincible without any additional help.
In both of Friday’s free practice sessions the Mercedes cars had been in a class of their own, with Hamilton fastest ahead of Bottas on each occasion. The British driver was fortunate to avoid a big accident in the opening period after closing at high speed on the slow Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly at the chicane and having to take avoiding action down the escape road.
In second practice the best of the rest honours went to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, but the German was still a massive 0.8 seconds slower than his title rival Hamilton as they continued their battle for a fifth drivers’ title this year.
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Marcus Ericsson crashed his Sauber during the opening part of the qualifying process, emerging unscathed personally even if his car wasn’t so lucky, before Daniel Ricciardo suffered yet more bad luck with his Red Bull car suffering a power unit issue in the second session.
As the qualifying hour reached its critical third stage the flying silver Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas claimed the front row of the grid for the following day’s Grand Prix. Both Ferrari drivers were initially sent out on intermediate wet weather tyres on an almost dry track and Vettel was caught out by a damp patch during his first attempt to challenge the Mercedes pair, setting only the ninth fastest time. Then, when Ferrari realised their error and switched to slick tyres, it was too late as heavy rain arrived. This tactical error left Ferrari boss Mauricio Arrivabene far from impressed.
Red Bull’s young Dutch charger and Ferrari’s veteran Finn Kimi Räikkönen earned the right to start just behind the Mercedes duo, with impressive performances from Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley earning them the third row.
In the opening stint of the race Hamilton led from Bottas despite an early Safety Car period after Charles Leclerc’s Sauber had impacted with the rear of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas. Vettel had made a flying start to move up to fourth position and on lap eight at Spoon corner was attacking Verstappen, who had picked up a five second penalty after a clash with Räikkönen. Light contact between Vettel and Verstappen resulted in the former spinning off and dropping to dead last.
As the Grand Prix progressed Hamilton gradually extended his lead over his team-mate Bottas who came under late pressure from the chasing Verstappen, albeit to no avail for the Dutchman. After a fine effort from Ricciardo the likeable Australian finished fourth, completing a decent day’s work for the Red Bull duo.
Mercedes claimed a 1/2 finish for the second race in a row as Hamilton achieved his ninth win of the year and the recovering Vettel could only climb to sixth position by the chequered flag.
This left Hamilton with a 67 point lead over Vettel for the Drivers’ championship title with just four Grand Prix remaining, whilst Mercedes extended its grip over Ferrari on the Constructors’ front.
It’s now time to switch continents for the next race as in two weeks’ time we have the USA Grand Prix, held at the excellent Circuit of the Americas just outside Austin, Texas. A track and a city I can thoroughly recommend if you ever fancy combining attendance at a Formula 1 race with an American road trip.
2018 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr27m17.062s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +12.919s
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +14.295s
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +19.495s
5 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +50.998s
6 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +1m9.873s
7 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1m19.379s
8 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +1m27.198s
9 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1m28.055
10 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Lapped
11 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Lapped
12 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
13 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
14 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Lapped
15 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
16 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
17 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
18 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) Retired
19 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Retired
20 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 17 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 331
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 264
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 207
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 17 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Mercedes 538
2 Ferrari 460
3 Red Bull 319
Hamilton Closes In On A Fifth Title, 7th October 2018, 14:27 PM