Valtteri Bottas has won the Japanese Grand Prix after taking the lead at the start of the race. The Finn controlled the race after that while Vettel and Hamilton battled it out for second place.
Three hours after qualifying, the Japanese Grand Prix was on. Valtteri Bottas certainly made it count from the first second, as he benefited from some wheel spin on Vettel's rear wheels to get into the lead of the pack. Vettel still slotted into second, while behind them, Leclerc and Verstappen came together on the exit of Turn 1.
Ferrari and Vettel were however lucky to get away without penalties, as replays showed the German's car moved before the red lights had gone out. This equals a 5 or 10 second penalty for a jump start, but the stewards gave leeway because the car had not moved out of its grid spot.
Leclerc continued on after rejecting a pit call on lap one. With the front wing scraping on the floor, and his left wing mirror breaking off into the path of Lewis Hamilton's car - thereby also tearing off the right mirror of the Mercedes, Leclerc was eventually called into the pits - it appeared later this pitstop was forced by the race director - for a new front wing and a change to medium tyres. Verstappen didn't pit, but as he spun off during the incident, he ended up pretty far back.
While positions were a bit fixed at the front in the first part of the race, Leclerc made progress through the field. Verstappen meanwhile was no match to the Ferrari driver, and as he got passed by him on lap 8, the Dutchman complained he felt like there was a reduced amount of braking power on his car.
Verstappen complained more in the next laps, also due to the flat spots in his tyres due to the early spin. On lap 15, Verstappen entered the pits to retire.
Two laps later, Albon dove into the pits, and Vettel did the same another lap later. Having seen Hamilton come back to within DRS range, the Ferrari driver hit the brakes hard into the pitlane entry, heavily locking up the front wheels while entering the pits. Vettel took on another set of softs while Bottas changed to mediums one lap later.
Hamilton stayed out for 3 more lap and pitted when Bottas had come up to within 1.5s. Vettel at the time was trailing Bottas by 11s, meaning the Hamilton rejoined the track in third, 10s down the road of Vettel, and 4s ahead of Sainz.
Some drivers went for a single stop strategy, meaning they had to bite through the middle phase of the race where they got easily passed by a number of drivers enjoying much fresher tyres. Ricciardo and Kvyat are two examples. Charles Leclerc meanwhile changed back to soft tyres, opting for a lengthy 24-lap final stint on the softest compound.
Vettel on the other hand changed to softs 20 laps from the end, returning to the track 19s behind Hamilton. The German immediately outpaced Hamilton by a full second, making Mercedes wonder if it would be feasible at all to leave Hamilton out until the end.
For Bottas, that didn't appear like an option as he pitted on lap 36 to take on softs once again.
With 15 laps remaining, Hamilton thus led, 9s ahead of Bottas, and another 8s extra on Vettel. Albon was 4th, followed by Sainz, Leclerc, Gasly, Stroll, Hulkenberg and Perez.
The gaps among the top three stabilized, but Hamilton was still pitted on lap 42, at a moment where it seemed possible to continue. The stop brought Bottas back in the lead, and Hamilton back in third, a little less than 5 seconds behind Vettel in second place. That gap melted away like snow in the sun, and thanks to a new lap record, the Mercedes driver was less than half a second behind Vettel with 5 laps remaining.
Closing the gap seemed like the easy part though, as Vettel's straight-line speed advantage proved difficult to overcome. Hamilton ended up extremely close to an overtake, especially on lap 51, but a backmarker there gave Vettel DRS as well, enabling the German to retain second place until the very end of the race.
On the final lap, Perez managed to crash out in an overly optimistic move along Kvyat at Turn 1, but it didn't change matters, as Valtteri Bottas crossed the finish line in first place, leading a double podium finish for Mercedes to secure the team's 6th consecutive Constructors Champion Title.
|1||77||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG||52||1:21:46.755||25|
|3||44||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG||52||+13.858s||16|
|4||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing Honda||52||+59.537s||12|
|5||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||52||+69.101s||10|
|6||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||51||+1 lap||0|
|7||16||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||51||+1 lap||8|
|8||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||51||+1 lap||6|
|9||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||51||+1 lap||4|
|10||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||51||+1 lap||0|
|11||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||51||+1 lap||2|
|12||26||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||51||+1 lap||1|
|13||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||51||+1 lap||0|
|14||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||51||+1 lap||0|
|15||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||51||+1 lap||0|
|16||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||51||+1 lap||0|
|17||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||51||+1 lap||0|
|18||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||50||+2 laps||0|
|19||88||Robert Kubica||Williams Mercedes||50||+2 laps||0|
|NC||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||14||DNF||0|
Leclerc received a 5-second and a 10-second post-race penalty for causing a collision and then driving his car in an unsafe condition.
Hamilton scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.