Lewis Hamilton on brink of fourth world title after Japanese Grand Prix victory
PUBLISHED: 11:39 08 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:45 08 October 2017
Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG
Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton won big in Japan to move within touching distance of a fourth Formula One world drivers' championship.
The 32-year-old Mercedes F1 driver from Hertfordshire won the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka from pole position today.
And with title rival Sebastian Vettel retiring from the race after five laps, Hamilton extended his world championship lead over the German Ferrari star.
Three-time world champion Hamilton, with 306 points, now lead the Drivers’ Championship by 59 points from Vettel (247), with 100 points remaining to be scored in the 2017 season.
Depending on positions in the United States Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, Stevenage-born Hamilton could even clinch the drivers’ title in America on Sunday, October 22 – with three races to spare.
He will wrap up a fourth title triumph at the Circuit of the Americas if he outscores Vettel by 16 points in Austin.
A more likely scenario is the Mercedes team securing the constructors’ trophy in USA – they are 145 points ahead of Ferrari with just 172 points up for grabs.
Hamilton said: “It’s almost unbelievable to think we are where we are in the championship.
“I was excited to race Sebastian today, but he was obviously very unfortunate.
“It’s still a long way to go, there are still 100 points. I’m just going to keep my head down and hopefully will continue to be in a form like this.”
After Vettel’s early retirement with spark plug problems, Hamilton managed to fend off Max Verstappen’s Red Bull to take the chequered flag for the third time at the Suzuka International Racing Circuit.
It was Hamilton’s 61st career F1 victory, eighth of the 2017 season and 40th win with the Silver Arrows.
Hamilton said: “The start was okay, although the initial getaway was not spectacularly good, I had a bit of wheel spin.
“But from then on I had a good start and it was pretty much under control from there.
“I was trying to manage the pace and the tyres; it was a long way to go, it was the hottest the track had been all weekend, so that was really crucial.
“With the VSC towards the end, I lost a lot of temperatures in the tyres and waking them up was not so easy.
“I got stuck behind traffic, I was losing so much time and Max’ car was so big in my mirror.
“It was very close for a couple laps, but I was able to keep it together.”
He added: “It was not an easy walk in the park today, it was a win that I had to work very hard for. Great race by Max, I enjoyed racing him.”
Today’s result marks the tenth victory for the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows of the 2017 season.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished in fourth place behind the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. It was the Finn’s best ever finish in Japan.
Bottas also scored the fastest lap of the race, making it the 150th fastest lap for Mercedes-Benz power.
After closing to within 13 points of second-placed Vettel in the championship standings, Bottas said: “It was a close fight; especially in the end I was getting closer to Daniel [Ricciardo], but there just was not enough time anymore and the VSC didn’t help either.
“The pace seemed to be okay, but coming to this race we always knew that overtaking is tricky.
“The strategy was good for me today. It created a good opportunity in the end, otherwise it would have been really difficult to even get close.
“The race was close to our game plan, but it would have been nice to be on the podium.
“We went through all of the scenarios before the race, so when Lewis caught up to me after his pit stop, of course I tried to help him win.”
Bottas added: “I’ve definitely learned a lot again from this weekend. I now want to focus on the last few races, make the most out of them and see where we end up this year.
“I’m looking forward to Austin. I enjoy the track very much; it’s where I got my first points in Formula One and I always love going back there.”
With 540 points, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport lead Ferrari (395 points) by 145 points in the Constructors’ Championship, with 172 points remaining to be scored.
Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles today accepted the Constructors’ trophy on behalf of the team on the Japanese GP podium.
Team supremo Toto Wolff described Hamilton’s race as “another perfect performance”.
Wolff said of his number one driver: “He controlled the race from start to finish, taking nothing more out of the tyres and engine than he needed to at any point.
“It got close with Max at a few points, especially in the closing laps when they came up on traffic and were struggling for tyre temperature, but he kept cool and brought it home to the flag.
“As for Valtteri, he recovered well from the gearbox penalty to claim P4 and come within a few tenths of a second of the podium.
“He had strong pace today and never gave up pushing to the end, it was a real battling drive.”
Looking towards the championship placings, Wolff said: “One look at the points standings might give us some brief comfort but there are still four races to go, 100 points to win in the drivers’ title and, if the past weeks have shown us anything at all, it’s that anything can happen in motorsport.
“We take no prisoners in how we claim our points – but we are all conscious that we have benefited from our rivals’ misfortune and reliability woes in recent weeks.
“So nothing changes in our approach: we must take the next races one at a time, push to better understand the car and keep our humble attitude.
“That is the approach that has worked for us so far and the way we will continue until the final race in Abu Dhabi.”
Technical director James Allison added: “Having departed Sepang [after the Malaysian GP] with a good result but in poor spirits because of a tricky weekend, and having arrived here under a bit of a cloud regarding the performance of our car, it is nice to be leaving this weekend with an even stronger result and also off the back of a fine performance in qualifying and the race.
“This was welcome on many levels: first, for both championships; second, because we were able to categorically answer the questions regarding the development direction of our car; third because this was the vindication of a team that, even when it takes a blow, can spring right back up and apply itself to the challenge with fresh vigour.
“We have not exorcised all of our Sepang demons, but every result like that is an opportunity to learn and improve.
“We have seen some of that learning applied here in Suzuka and we will continue to do the same for the remainder of the year.”