The 2018 Japanese Grand Prix proved that the land of the Samurais doesn’t like the color red. Not one bit.
In winning a straightforward 2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton extended his lead over Sebastian Vettel to 65 points. In so doing, he’s all but clinched the 2018 title with the remainder of the races, four in totality, now seeming but a formality.
Hamilton now a clear winner waiting to be crowned champion!
In all probability, when one sits down in a few days time for the United States Grand Prix, a track where Hamilton has secured a tremendous run in the recent years, Formula 1 will witness the crowning of a man who is a deserving winner of a fifth title, an incredible achievement by all standards.
But none of the highs of witnessing that enthralling spectacle- which will be a cynosure of eyes of all Mercedes fans- can be enjoyed before visiting Lewis’ phenomenal control at Suzuka where he led every single lap and emerged a clear frontrunner at the end.
Hamilton was followed by Valtteri Bottas, who secured this third second-place finish since Singapore, finishing ahead of Max Verstappen who collected three podiums in as many races at Suzuka (starting 2016).
In the 53-lap contest, Hamilton controlled the proceedings beginning well, defending from Bottas who, in turn, defended well from Verstappen, who didn’t seem to be challenged well enough by Raikkonen who began from fourth, just ahead of Haas’ Grosjean.
As the frontrunners got away well and safely, a must in a rip-roaring track such as Suzuka- among the few hardcore old-school circuits- there were big gains for the likes of Ricciardo, who started fifteenth. He would soon jump into the top ten by the starting of the second lap, making massive gains at the back of his Red Bull’s superior corner and straight-line speed.
Inside the second lap itself, Verstappen approaching the chicane came close enough from an attacking Raikkonen who all but passed him as the Dutchman cornered the Finn outside the track, thus earning a five-second penalty. Vettel benefitted the most from Max’s faulty driving that left Kimi off racing limits on the track.
Skirmish at Suzuka by the backmarkers
Despite the qualifying blunder from Ferrari who put him on the wearier set of rubber (in stark contrast to what the wet qualifying run demanded) on Saturday, Vettel, who made up a couple of places in the opening lap itself, managed to go past Kimi who had to concede the fourth place on the grid.
There were further gains at the back of the track with Sainz and Hulkenberg competing with the Toro Rosso of Gasly and the Sauber of Ericsson for a place inside twelfth.
There was contact between the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc, the former earning a five-second penalty and the collision enforcing a safety car deployment on Lap 4.
Then came the turning point of the race for Sebastian Vettel, and therefore, for Ferrari in their bid to challenge the Merc of Lewis at Suzuka.
Drama on Lap 4 as Vettel loses control
Post Lap 4, Vettel running in fourth, tried to make a desperate move on a tricky left-hander on Max. In the end, he’d collide and spiral out of control, eventually dropping down to fourteenth. A race where he’d brilliantly climbed up the order, moving onto fourth having begun ninth would now see him battle all the way through to contend with whatever he’d manage in the end.
A few laps later, the first to pit was Ferrari’s Raikkonen. Kimi boxed at lap 15 in a straightforward one-stop, the undercut having little impact at the frontrunners- Hamilton and Bottas, the latter being constantly challenged by Max.
At around this time, where Hamilton was driving comfortably and unchallenged at the front, Ricciardo was making steady progress, passing the Renaults, Toro Rosso’ and eventually breaking into ninth easily.
By Lap 35, with the order running by and large unchanged except for Ricciardo’s massive gains at the front, over Kimi, Vettel was back in business. He’d move into seventh and set the fastest lap of the race then.
Three laps later, by the time Lap 38 began, Hamilton was already enjoying a 4.6 second lead over Bottas, who was defending brilliantly from Max, continuing in his attempt for a second, though without much luck.
The gap between Bottas and Max was now around 2.4 seconds. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz Jr. in his Renault made an excellent move on Gasly’s Toro Rosso, diving down into the outside of the Frenchman on the main straights.
Impressive from Hamilton and Verstappen
At all this time, Hamilton kept chipping away well from those playing catch up; his gap to Bottas being 12.5 seconds come Lap 40.
In the final ten laps, Verstappen upped the ante of his pursuit of the Finn, now coming under six-tenths of a second behind the Mercedes running in second.
Vettel, who was tucked in sixth, was still over 27 seconds adrift of his teammate Raikkonen, who’d end ahead of Ferrari’s ‘main-driver.’
In the final lap of the race when it seemed Max had all but passed Bottas, locking up the left front wheel at the chicane as he all but passed the Finnish driver, Hamilton was flying at the very front of the grid.
As Lewis would win his fourth race at Suzuka in last five Grands Prix, he’d take his overall tally of wins to 71, an enormous achievement for a 33-year-old.
In so doing, he’d also extend his lead over Sebastian to 65 points that now looks highly unlikely of being reversed anytime soon.
Not the best day for Ferrari at 2018 Japanese Grand Prix
To put it simply, the biggest losers at Suzuka from the perspective of the world championship were Ferrari, who suffered first thanks to a misjudgment in tyre- compound choice in the qualifying and later, due to Vettel’s desperate attempts at the early stages that changed the context of their race here at Suzuka.
At the end of the day, as Hammertime prevailed at the 2018 Japanese Grand Prix, as Lewis collected his ninth win of the year, Sebastian Vettel had to contend with a stellar lap, clocking a 1:32:318 in the very last, 53rd lap.