Mistakes cost Sebastian Vettel, now 67 points back in the title chase


Crowning Lewis Hamilton as the Formula 1 champion for 2018 appears to be just a formality.

Mercedes’ Hamilton won his ninth Grand Prix of the 2018 season, while extending his lead to 67 points in Japan as mistakes again cost Sebastian Vettel.

On Saturday, Hamilton took pole in mixed conditions, while mistakes and poor strategy calls cost Ferrari and Vettel. On Sunday, Vettel made yet more mistakes, and finished only sixth.

Valtteri Bottas finished second on Sunday, 12.919 seconds back, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen completed the podium. Just two other drivers — Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen managed to finish within a minute of Hamilton, who won for the 71st time in his career.

Vettel, who started ninth, looked to be on pace for what would have been a surprise podium finish after rapidly making his way through the pack into fourth in the opening laps, but an overly ambitious move on Max Verstappen into the Spoon corner resulted in contact and a spin. What made the move even more questionable was that it was entirely unnecessary as Verstappen had already picked up a 5-second penalty for making earlier contact with the other Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen.

Vettel’s miscue saw him drop to 19th, the last car running with Kevin Magnussen having retired in the early stages after contact while defending from Charles Leclerc’s Sauber caused a puncture.

“The whole weekend has been incredibly strong from the team,” said Hamilton. “It’s a great one-two for Mercedes and a true showing of the real strength in depth that we have as a team and this track is the best track in the world. I don’t know why they don’t make tracks like this anymore but every second of the run, it was just great fun.

“I was able to look after the tires the way I wanted and just manage the pace but it’s really weird because I’ve been racing a long, long time but the happiness I have inside is as high as always so it’s a great feeling.”

Hamilton came to Japan with a 50-point lead and leaves with a 67-point advantage. Only 100 points remain on the table and Hamilton will have a chance to wrap things up at the Circuit of the Americas in two weeks. Just four races remain.

“Honestly, I really just take it one step at a time,” said Hamilton. “Each week you have a positive weekend and then you go to another Grand Prix and you’re not sure how you’re going to fare and how you’re going to perform because there’s still gaps in between but I think that we’ve gone from strength to strength this year as a team so I really hope that I can — Austin is generally a good track for us and I can’t wait to unleash this beast there.”

Hamilton has won five times at COTA, including the last four. In 2013, Vettel took the top spot.

“I was obviously pushing to get past but I wasn’t desperate to get past,” said Vettel when asked about his contact with Verstappen. “I knew he had a penalty but I also felt that we were faster. Then he was clipping on the straight with his battery and I was catching, I had a good exit, obviously the safety car helped to be closer.

“Then the gap was there and obviously as soon as he saw me he defended but I had the inside and as soon as he realized somebody was close and next to him, he  tries to — in my opinion — push when you shouldn’t push anymore.

“I mean, look at (the incident with) Kimi. He’s off the track and he comes back and, if Kimi just drives on then they collide but it’s not always right that the other guy has to move. I think we are all racing, the race is long. For me, the gap was there otherwise I don’t do it. I think I got through the whole field without any trouble. Sometimes closer, sometimes with more margin but it’s normal that sometimes it gets close but I think that you always need to leave a space and in that case I couldn’t go anywhere and then we touched.”

F1 Japanese Grand Prix Results

  Driver Manufacturer Race Time
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport 1:27:17.062
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport +12.919 secs.
3 Max Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing +14.295
4 Daniel Ricciardo Aston Martin Red Bull Racing +19.495
5 Kimi Raikkonen Scuderia Ferrari +50.998
6 Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari +1:09.873
7 Sergio Perez Racing Point Force India F1 Team +1:19.379
8 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team +1:27.198
9 Esteban Ocon Racing Point Force India F1 Team +1:28.0551
10 Carlos Sainz Renault Sport Formula One Team +1 Lap
11 Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
12 Marcus Ericsson Alfa Romeo SauberF1 Team +1 Lap
13 Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren F1 Team +1 Lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team +1 Lap
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams Martini Racing +1 Lap
17 Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing +1 Lap
18 Charles Leclerc Alfa Romeo SauberF1 Team DNF
19 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Sport Formula One Team DNF
20 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team DNF