Japan’s Suzuka Circuit has long been a cauldron of drama, having hosted plenty of championship-defining moments since Formula 1 first visited the Honda-owned track in 1987.
And the 30th edition was no different, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton now on the cusp of earning a fifth world title – having dominated from lights to flag for his fifth Japanese Grand Prix win, his fourth at Suzuka.
… while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had a weekend to forget, his 2018 title ambitions in tatters following a weekend of errors.
At lights out, polesitter Hamilton took the lead, after moving right to cover off his teammate Valtteri Bottas, while Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen slotted into third. Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen fourth.
Vettel, who started eighth, passed Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly into Turn 1 for sixth place, behind Haas’ Romain Grosjean.
At the end of Lap 1… Verstappen locked his brakes into the final chicane, but forced Räikkönen off on his return for a 5-second time penalty – Vettel was through for fourth place.
… while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen earned a left-rear puncture, after contact with Sauber’s Charles Leclerc on the pit straight the following lap; with the resultant debris seeing the safety car emerge.
At the restart on Lap 8, Vettel made an ambitious move around the outside of Verstappen at Spoon with contact seeing the German spin off, dropping down to 19th – with it all to do to keep his title dreams alive.
By Lap 17, Ricciardo was up to fourth from 15th, after Räikkönen stopped, while Vettel was up to 13th place. Hamilton pitted on Lap 24 for mediums, retaining the lead on exit ahead of Bottas.
With 20 laps to go, Verstappen began to close right in on Bottas, with the pair battling hard for second place; while the Virtual Safety Car was deployed to recover Leclerc’s stricken Sauber on Lap 41.
But it was another tour de force from Hamilton - who again demonstrated he’s at his best, and impervious to pressure – a factor that proved Vettel’s undoing as his title charge fell apart, sixth as good as it got.