Normal service resumed as championship leader Lewis Hamilton cruised to a dominant Japanese Grand Prix victory at Suzuka on Sunday, matching his hero Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 wins.
A winning margin of nearly 19 seconds underlined that the Mercedes team’s disastrous showing last time out in Singapore was just a blip.
Nico Rosberg qualified his Mercedes on pole, setting his best time early in Q3. A couple of mistakes cost Hamilton and he recorded a time just 0.076secs slower for second. Hamilton – and most of the rest of the drivers in the top ten shootout – was denied a second run when Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat suffered a huge crash, causing the session to be red flagged. With just 36 seconds of the session remaining, the results were declared.
When the race got underway, the two Mercedes drivers duked it out through the first couple of corners, Hamilton taking the tricky inside line. He just got his nose ahead braking into Turn 2 and held the racing line, pushing Rosberg wide. Jumping off the power, the German was shuffled down to fourth, behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
As Hamilton sprinted away, Rosberg plotted his fightback. His engineers put the kybosh on an attempt to chase down and pass Bottas as engine temperatures soared. With fresh boots on his steed after his first stop, though, he was able to dive through at the chicane.
Rosberg repeated the trick on Vettel after the second round of stops. With the faster medium tyre, Rosberg scorched through the next couple of laps, sweeping by Vettel as he rejoined from the pits.
Hamilton’s race wasn’t completely error-free. A lock-up flat-stopped a tyre badly, which left his machine with a headache-inducing vibration for 15 laps. But he pushed on, building an unassailable lead.
Behind the podium positions, Kimi Raikkonen vaulted past Bottas to secure fourth. Nico Hulkenberg had a strong run to sixth ahead of Lotus pair Romain Grosjean – fresh from signing a deal to join the American Haas team for 2016 – and Pastor Maldonado. On-going financial issues meant the Lotus team had been locked out of its hospitality unit all weekend, but light has appeared at the end of the tunnel for the embattled Enstone squad. Former owner Renault announced on Monday that it has signed a letter of intent with Gravity Motorsports S.a.r.l., an affiliate of Genii Capital SA which owns the Lotus team, setting in motion the process of buying the team out for the 2016 season.
Toro Rosso youngsters Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. closed out the top ten.
Fernando Alonso could only manage 11th in the troublesome McLaren-Honda and had strong words for the team during the race. After being passed on a straight by a Sauber, he said over the radio: “I’m being passed down the straights like a GP2. This is embarrassing, very embarrassing.” It’s though the Honda power unit is around 100bhp down on its rivals.
After the race, McLaren boss Ron Dennis sought to quell rumours that Alonso or Jenson Button – who was thought to be announcing his retirement in Japan – would be leaving the team, confirming that they will both stay for the 2016 season.
Hamilton’s eighth win of the season stretches his lead at the top of the championship standings to 48 points from Rosberg.
Formula 1 makes its second to trip to Russia for the next race at Sochi Autodrom on 11 October.
Japanese Grand Prix results after 53 laps
- Lewis Hamilton — Mercedes — 1:28:06.508
- Nico Robserg — Mercedes — +18.964
- Sebastian Vettel — Ferrari — +20.850
- Kimi Raikkonen — Ferrari — +33.768
- Valtteri Bottas — Williams-Mercedes — +36.746
- Nico Hulkenberg — Force India-Mercedes — +55.559
- Romain Grosjean — Lotus-Mercedes — +1:12.298
- Pastor Maldonado — Lotus-Mercedes — +1:13.575
- Max Verstappen — Toro Rosso-Renault — +1:35.315
- Carlos Sainz Jr. — Toro Rosso-Renault — +1 lap
- Fernando Alonso — McLaren-Honda — +1 lap
- Sergio Perez — Force India-Mercedes — +1 lap
- Daniil Kvyat — Red Bull-Renault — +1 lap
- Marcus Ericsson — Sauber-Ferrari — +1 lap
- Daniel Ricciardo — Red Bull-Renault — +1 lap
- Jenson Button — McLaren-Honda — +1 lap
- Felipe Massa — Williams-Mercedes — +2 laps
- Alexander Rossi — Marussia-Ferrari — +2 laps
- Will Stevens — Marussia-Ferrari — +3 laps
- Felipe Nasr — Sauber-Ferrari — DNF (mechanical)
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By Only Motors