Lewis Hamilton has taken another massive step towards winning this year's World Championship by dominating the Japanese Grand Prix while Bottas completes the Mercedes 1-2. Max Verstappen finished a close third. Championship contender Sebastian Vettel was 6th at the finish line.
Contrary to previous days, the actual race was completed under a sunny sky, with ambient temperature reaching 30°C at the start. This likely created an additional advantage for Mercedes and Grosjean who started on soft. In fact, everybody with a free tyre choice started on soft, except for Hulkenberg, who opted to set off with the medium tyre.
While Hamilton started from pole, Vettel was 8th on the grid, ahead of Perez and Leclerc. All three men moved up a position versus qualifying after a penalty for Ocon. The latter started therefore from 11th.
As the lights went out, Hamilton rapidly moved across the track to go drive in front of Bottas. Positions didn't change at the front, but Vettel managed to gain a considerable number of positions on the first lap. He subsequently passed Grosjean at Spoon for 5th position on lap 2, and went on to pass Raikkonen at the chicane. The Finn had been very unlucky as he was pushed of track by Verstappen who had missed his braking point on the approach to the corner. Verstappen later received a 5s penalty for that incident.
Two laps later, Magnussen ended up with a puncture thanks to weaving to hold Leclerc back on the second lap. Leclerc got caught out, and damaged the nose of his car as he came into contact with the Haas driver. The tyre that was left on track triggered a safety car, enabling Leclerc to pit for a new nose and medium tyres.
Thanks to overtakes and some stops, Ricciardo had moved up to 10th after a start from 13th. Hartley lost out and dropped back to 11th, ahead of Sainz, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Stroll and Vandoorne.
The end of lap 6 was also the end of the safety car, and it was Vettel who was the most aggressive, though not gaining any initial places. Come spoon curve however, Vettel made a dive on the inside of Verstappen, causing a coming together with the Dutchman. Both went off track, but Verstappen managed to retain third place, while Vettel spun, and had to rejoin the pack at the back, in 19th position, ahead only of Magnussen who was further back. Vettel admittedly did enjoy a great draft behind Verstappen, but his move was risky, knowing that Verstappen could just shut the door ahead of him, as he did.
Magnussen retired the next lap with car issues.
By lap 12, Ricciardo moved up into 5th, having just passed Grosjean through the chicane. Sainz passed Hartley to enter the top 10 and Vettel gained some positions again, back to 15th.
Three laps later, Raikkonen is the first to make a regular stop, having complained of balance issues on the laps before due to some damage incurred in the fights with Verstappen. He changed to medium tyres and rejoined in 9th position, soon moving back to 8th by passing Ocon, Perez and Gasly.
By lap 25, both Mercedes and Red Bull had pitted, with the four of them retaining positions. Raikkonen by than was back into 5th position while Vettel broke back into the top 10, though he hadn't stopped yet. The German had his super soft tyres changed to softs on lap 26.
What followed were lots of close battles in the midfield, thanks to small gaps among the entire field. As Vettel progressed, both Force India's were constantly battling with other cars. Hulkenberg, at one point well in the points, rapidly dropped back to 13th.
The McLaren duo meanwhile also suddenly managed past both Williams, with Alonso in particular shoving Stroll a little bit to the side, as if he wanted to show who's in charge. Stroll had earlier pushed the Spaniard off the track and received a 5s time penalty for it.
A short VSC period on lap 40 saw Mercedes pull another dummy with its pitcrew. Neither Mercedes were in a position to enjoy a free pitstop though, with Hamilton 9s ahead of Bottas, and Verstappen repeatedly within DRS range of Bottas. Ricciardo followed another 5s further down as the Australian held a 10s advantage over Raikkonen in the first Ferrari. Vettel was 6th, 40s down the road.
As Bottas continued to struggle, Hamilton's advantage increased more as he set the fastest lap of the race as well, only for Vettel to snatch it away again in the same 52nd lap.
It's unlikely to bother Hamilton too much, as the latter makes another massive step towards his 5th World Championship title by winning today's Japanese Grand Prix from start to finish.
|3||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer||53||+14.295s||15|
|4||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer||53||+19.495s||12|
|7||11||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedes||53||+79.379s||6|
|8||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||53||+87.198s||4|
|9||31||Esteban Ocon||Force India Mercedes||53||+88.055s||2|
|10||55||Carlos Sainz||Renault||52||+1 lap||1|
|11||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||52||+1 lap||0|
|12||9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|13||28||Brendon Hartley||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||52||+1 lap||0|
|14||14||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Renault||52||+1 lap||0|
|15||2||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren Renault||52||+1 lap||0|
|16||35||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Mercedes||52||+1 lap||0|
|17||18||Lance Stroll||Williams Mercedes||52||+1 lap||0|
|NC||16||Charles Leclerc||Sauber Ferrari||38||DNF||0|
|NC||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||8||DNF||0|