Suzuka (Japan), Oct 8 (IANS) An early Sebastian Vettel retirement allowed Lewis Hamilton to cruise to victory at Suzuka circuit here on Sunday, extending his Formula One championship lead to 59 points.
Hamilton had to hold off the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who surged up from fourth into second place on the first lap with moves against teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Vettel, reports Efe news agency.
With just five races left and 125 points to play for, Suzuka had been billed as Vettel’s last realistic chance of denting Hamilton’s lead at the top of the driver’s championship.
The German’s race was run within a matter of minutes after a spark plug problem forced his retirement on lap 5, effectively ending any hopes he had of taking his fifth championship title.
Despite the best efforts of Ferrari’s mechanics, who were seen surrounding Vettel’s car on the grid before the start, Vettel struggled hugely for pace, dropping four places by the end of the first lap.
His teammate Kimi Raikkonen also had car trouble all weekend, but managed to finish fifth after starting down in 11th place.
Ferrari will be hugely frustrated that Vettel’s title aspirations have evaporated largely due to problems of their own making after the double retirement at Singapore was followed by reliability issues in Malaysia last month and again at Suzuka.
A clearly disappointed Vettel said: “We’ve done an incredible job so far. Bitter about the last two races with the reliability issues. Of course, it hurts, and we are all disappointed. We will go flat out for the last 4 races. We still have a chance this year. Obviously, it’s not as much in our control as we would like.”
With his main rival out, all Hamilton needed to do was to stay clear of any incidents and drive a low-risk race.
He did that by quickly opening up a 3-second lead on Verstappen in second place, despite two safety cars in the first 10 laps.
He briefly surrendered his lead when he pitted half-way through, following Verstappen’s move onto fresh tires.
The Briton emerged from the pitlanes just ahead of the Red Bull in third, and retook the lead when Ricciardo pitted, and his slower teammate Bottas moved aside shortly after while keeping the threatening Verstappen at bay in third.
The Dutchman regained second place after Bottas came in, and came within one second of Hamilton on the last two laps, but could not get close enough to pass the Mercedes.
“The team did an incredible job, and it wasn’t an easy one for us at all. The Red Bulls seemed to be rapid. It definitely got close, particularly at the end”, Hamilton said on the podium.
Hamilton’s victory means he has opened up an almost insurmountable 59-point lead ahead of Sebastian Vettel, with just 100 points left to play for.