Lewis Hamilton takes major step towards fourth world title as Sebastian Vettel falters again

Tom Cary
Lewis Hamilton (C) celebrates winning the Japanese Grand Prix - AFP

Standing on the Suzuka podium after his fourth victory in five races, one which all but guarantees him his fourth world title, Lewis Hamilton looked down at the sea of faces below him and picked one out.

Then he raised both hands over his head, touched them together on his scalp and did the Mobot. Sir Mo Farah, looking back up at him, responded in kind.

It was a strange end to another strange chapter in this season of twists and turns; these two British sporting superstars, neither perhaps as popular as they might be back at home, communing with each other over a sea of people in the middle of Japan.

Perhaps they recognise something in the other; a kindred spirit, a ruthlessness, a battling-against-the-odds mentality. Farah, for all the questions over his coach and his methods, clearly has that in abundance. Hamilton, too, although the Mercedes driver is not having to show it at present. Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel are handing him this title on a plate.

The Scuderia’s latest implosion saw Vettel retire from Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix after just four laps with a spark-plug failure. A three-point deficit has become a 59-point deficit in the space of just three races.

Japanese Grand Prix 2017 | Results

If Hamilton beats Vettel by more than 16 points at the next race in Austin, it will be mathematically over. In truth, it already is.

Hamilton will become Britain’s most successful Formula One driver, pulling clear of Sir Jackie Stewart, when he wins his fourth world title. Whether that happens in the United States, Mexico, Brazil or Abu Dhabi remains to be seen.

He deserves it. But what a shame that it happened like this. It felt as if the oxygen had been sucked out of the season on Sunday.

“Honestly, I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap,” Hamilton admitted. “Ferrari have put on such a great challenge all year long. All I can really say is that I have to put it down to my team. They’ve done a phenomenal job. Reliability has really been on point.” Talk about rubbing it in. Ferrari’s lack of reliability, their inability to hold it together when things get tense, has become a bad joke in F1.

The writing was on the wall from the very start on Sunday; an issue identified with Vettel’s car as he made his way to the grid, where he was starting second. In an echo of Sepang the previous weekend, when Kimi Raikkonen hit trouble even before the race had started, the engine cover to Vettel’s car was removed and a swarm of Ferrari engine boffins crowded around to have a look. But it was to no avail.

How Ferrari have imploded in the space of three races

Vettel got away well enough but was clearly down on power and was swiftly overtaken not just by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen but by Force India’s Esteban Ocon, Verstappen’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas. He lasted just four laps before he was pulled from the fray.

In Vettel’s absence, Hamilton just about managed to hold off Verstappen, although the second half of the race – on the soft Pirellis – was tense, a late virtual safety car almost costing the Mercedes driver the victory as he struggled with cold tyres on the restart. A timely intervention by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who jumped in front of Verstappen just as the Dutchman was closing on Hamilton, helped. Alonso got a reprimand, Hamilton the win, and Ricciardo fended off Bottas for third.

Lewis Hamilton (C) does the Mobot for his friend Mo Farah, who was in the crowd Credit: AP

Poor Maurizio Arrivabene, sitting forlornly on the Ferrari pitwall. All he could do was watch and shake his head. Will it be Arrivederci Arrivabene? Very possibly. 

Vettel sought to defend his team. “It is normal to be critical, especially when things go wrong,” he told reporters before dashing off to catch a train while the race was still on. “I think I need to protect them. It is like that sometimes. Of course it hurts and we are all disappointed. But we go flat out for the last four races and see what happens.”

He can go as fast as he likes. You can stick a fork in this championship. We are done.

8:03AM

Hamilton does the Mobot

7:57AM

Ferrari

You do have to feel sorry for Vettel, after another issue with the cra.

If Hamilton wins in Texas and the German finishes P6 or below and the Brit will have his fourth title - equally Vettel. 

7:52AM

Indy 500, Lewis?

Hamilton tries on Takuma Sato's Indy500 winners ring, saying: "Let me just see if it's worth me going and doing it one day..." 

7:49AM

How it changes the championship

7:48AM

How they ended the day

Japanese Grand Prix 2017 | Results

7:47AM

He knows about Max!

7:44AM

A dry Japan

Not the most exciting race of the season admittedly, but if it had been a couple of laps long Versatappen would've definitely been challenging Hamilton for that win.

Vettel and Ferrari must be devastated, although it wasn't a bad day for Raikkonen who finished in P5 after starting in tenth. 

Another good weekend for the Force Indias with Ocon and Perez in sixth and seventh, respectively.

7:40AM

Note on Ricciardo

This is the Australian's ninth podium of the season - his best ever. 

7:37AM

The top three are waiting to go on the podium

Hamilton tells the red Bulls: "You guys were quick today."

7:36AM

Those all important results

7:34AM

Your top three

Japanese Grand Prix 2017

7:32AM

LEWIS HAMILTON WINS THE JAPANESE GRAND PRIX

Lewis wins from pole ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Raikkonen, Ocon, Perez, Magnussen, Grosjean and Massa.

Alonso is in P11 ahead of Palmer, Gasly, Vandoorne and Wehrlein. 

Stroll, Hulkenberg, Ericsson, Vettel and Sainz all retired. 

7:29AM

Lap 52 of 53

the virtual safety car comes in and Verstappen need to cut a 2.663s gap between him and leader Hamilton. Ricciardo is followed by Bottas, Raikkonen, Ocon, Perez, Magnussen, Grosjean and Massa.

Alonso is P11 ahead of Palmer, Gasly, Vandoornre, Wehrlein and Stroll. 

Ricciardo only has a 1.1s lead over Bottas who is much improved after a few stressful weeks. 

We love Massa but wouldn't it be great to see Alonso get in P10 and take some points. 

7:23AM

Lap 49 of 53

The Williams of Stroll goes onto the gravel and nearly takes out Ricciardo as he sways back onto the track. Luckily the Red Bull driver was alert. It looks like the end of his day and another virtual safety car. 

We are so near the end now and it's looking like another perfect weekend for Hamilton and Mercedes. 

7:19AM

Lap 46 of 53

Bottas is all over Ricciardo and he sets the new fastest lap of the race with a 1:33.810. He'll be looking to get on the podium and possibly give Verstappen something to think about if he gets past the Aussie. 

Raikkonen just being encouraged to push from P5 - although there is a 14s gap between him and Bottas in P4. 

7:16AM

Hey Poldi

He could've kicked Hulkenberg's DRS shut with that left foot. 

7:15AM

Lap 43 of 53

Hulkenberg is out. His DRS was wide open and wouldn't close so he headed back into the pits.

Magnussen must have heard Toro Rossos advice as he moves past Massa and Grosjean, he's now in P8.

7:10AM

Lap 41 of 53

Perez is asking if he can 'attack' Ocon in P7 because he's too slow. As we know, the force Indias have clashed several times this season. 

Hulkneberg has pitted and come out in P13, he'll want to get in the points again and has already moved ahead of Alonso and Palmer. 

7:06AM

Go on Gasly

Toro Rosso garage: "If we can overtake these cars in front, there are points available. Massa is struggling."

The youngster is currently in P13, with Grosjean, Magnussen and Massa ahead. 

7:04AM

Lap 35 standings

Hamilton leads Verstappen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Ocon, Perez, Palmer and Massa. 

Magnussen sets in P11 and is followed by Grosjean, Gasly, Alonso, Stroll, Vandoorne and Wehrlein., 

Ericsson, Vettel and Sainz are out. 

7:00AM

Lap 34 of 53

Just under three seconds between Hamilton and Verstappen but both of them have been querying the state of their tyres. 

Raikkonen up into P5 and the Finn could get on the podium at this rate. 

Bottas has just set a new fastest lap of 1:33.945, but he is 10s behind Ricciardo at the moment. 

6:55AM

Lap 31 of 53

Ooh. Bottas locks up on those old tyres and Verstappen has a look but the Finn has the car under control. 

Mercedes call Bottas in for his pitstop and he's on the supersofts. He comes out in P4 behind Ricciardo and ahead of Raikkonen. 

6:52AM

Lap 29 of 53

Bottas will surely be in to pit yet as he's currently holding up his teammate. He's moved aside but Verstappen is only a couple of car lengths behind him. 

Raikkonen finally pits - onto the supersofts and he comes out just ahead of Ocon into P6

6:49AM

A word from Vettel

"Being critical is part of our job but I have to protect them [the team]. We'll go flat out for the next four races"

6:48AM

Lap 27 of 53

There is roughly a ten second gap between Verstappen in P3 and Raikkonen behind him. Ricciardo has pitted now and dropped into Ps behind the Ferrari. 

Bottas leads but he hasn't come in to pit yet. 

6:44AM

Lap 24 of 53

Verstappen coming into the pits and he manages to just come out ahead of Raikkonen. It was very tight as the Red Bull came out of the pits and if his stop had taken any longer he would be behind the Finn.

Hamilton coming in to pit now. The Mercedes comes out behind Ricciardo and Bottas who are yet to stop. Everyone is on the softs except Grosjean, Ricciardo and Alonso at the moment.

Palmer is up to P7 and he's battling to hold onto his place with Ocon swarming all over him. The force India uses the DRS at Turn and now he has Perez to contend with.

6:39AM

Lap 21 of 53

Kimi giving the Ferrari team a little bit to smile about as he slips past Perez into P6. There could be another Finnish battle ahead as Ocon pits.

The leader is now 5.769s ahead of Verstappen.

6:37AM

That US Grand Prix could be interesting

If Hamilton wins today and next round. Vettel must finish top 5 in US or the Brit will will the championship.

6:33AM

Lap 17 of 53

Hamilton's lead is now 4.038 and it's a perfect weekend so far for the Brit. 

Verstappen has blisters on his left front tyre, but you'd imagine he will find his way into the pits soon enough if Red Bull are going for the undercut.

Hamilton leads Verstappen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Ocon, Perez, Raikkonen, Massa, Hulkenberg and Magnussen.

Grosjean is in P11 ahead of Gasly, Palmer, Alonso, Stroll, Vandoorne and Wehrlein.

Ericsson, Vettel and Sainz have retired. 

6:28AM

Lap 14 of 53

Bottas copies Ricciardo's leads and sails past Ocon at Turn 1.

Hamilton is 3.160s ahead of Verstappen. 

Vettel is out of the car and it's another retirement for the driver and puts a huge dent for his championship challenge. If Hamilton wins today that would be a 59 point gap. not impossible to catch him but very hard. 

Raikkonen into seventh as he uses the slipstream and DRS at Turn 1 to move ahead of Massa in the Williams. 

6:23AM

Lap 11 of 53

Vandoorne is in the pits and we're hearing that Vettel did have a spark plug problem. the German driver is still in the car and there are suggestions that they may try to get him out again...

Ricciardo is all over the back of Ocon who is costing the Aussie a lot of time. And he does get passed in the DRS zone at Turn 1 - typical Honey Badger overtake. the Force India couldn't fight the master.

6:19AM

Virtual safety car

We only get the virtual which is better for drivers. 

Prior to the crash Raikkonen found himself in P8 after a great move on Hulkenberg. Massa will be his next prey. 

6:18AM

Lap 7 of 53

Verstappen is doing his best to ge5t close to Hamilton who currently has a 1.373s lead on the winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Ocon is a further 5.765 behind the Force India whoch is just putting more space between the front two and the rest. Will we see the undercut from Ricciardo?

Raikkonen has calmly made his way into P9 while all that has been going on. 

We have another car in the gravel as Ericsson is in the barrier, so we may see another safety car. 

6:12AM

VETTEL IS OUT OF THE RACE!

He has just been told to come in as they are retiring the car. Another terrible weekend for the German driver.

And sadly no top two battle for us today.

6:11AM

Lap 5 of 53

The safety car is in and Sergio Perez is straight past Vettel. what is going on with the Ferraris? We're hearing that it may be a spark plug issue but this is awful for the Italian team.

Hamilton leads Verstappen, Ocon, Ricciardo, Bottas, Perez, Vettel, Hulkenberg and Magnussen.

6:08AM

Lap 3 of 53

Hamilton leads Verstappen and Vettel has a problem. They were working on the Ferrari prior to the start and the German is down into P6 after Ocon, Ricciardo and Bottas just go past him. 

Ocon is having to defend against Ricciardo and the Force India manages to keep hold of his third place.

We have a safety car - presumably for Sainz, whose race day will end here. 

Somewhere in that opening drama, Raikkonen found himself in P14. 

6:05AM

LIGHTS OUT

They are off. Hamilton comes across from the outside of the track to cover Vettel. Verstappen gets ahead of his teammate at the first corner. Carlos Sainz is in the gravel and is at the back of the track.

Verstappen comes out of nowhere and sails past Vettel, who is clearly as tired as the rest of us. 

6:01AM

Formation lap

Everyone gets away safely and we are moments away from the start of the Japanese Grand Prix.

5:59AM

Are you ready?

The Japanese fans definitely are.

5:55AM

Five minutes to go

It's time to get yourself comfortable and get ready for the 16th race of the season. 

  • Can Jolyon Palmer score some points in his final race for renault?
  • Will Sebastian Vettel cut Lewis Hamilton's championship lead of 34 points?
  • What role will the Red Bulls play in today's result?
  • Will Fernando Alonso finish the race in McLaren's final Japanese GP of their partnership with Honda?

5:53AM

Where your favourites will start today and their qualifying time

1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1min 27.319secs

2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:27.791

3 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:28.306

4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:28.332

5 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:29.111

6 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:27.651

7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:29.260

8 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1:29.480

9 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:29.778

10 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:28.498

11 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:29.879

12 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:29.972

13 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:30.849

14 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:31.317

15 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1:31.409

16 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.597

17 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.885

18 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault 1:30.022

19 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:30.413

20 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:30.687

NOTE: Sainz 20 places, Alonso 35 places, Palmer 20 places for use of additional power units and Bottas and Raikkonen penalised 5 places for unscheduled gearbox changes.

5:47AM

National anthem time

It's a very stirring rendition, I think you would say....

5:46AM

Hey Fernando

"We - the Spainards - are all together at the back of the grid and hopefully we can all help each other to make up some places. Although I don't know how yet. 

"Our optimal plan is a one-stop."

5:43AM

Mo Farah is at the Grand Prix

Apparently its his first one. I think it is common knowledge that he and Hamilton are friends. 

He was just chilling with the legend that is Niki Lauda and he is really excited. Like REALLY excited! It's great to see sportsmen supporting each other like that and embracing the surroundings. 

5:38AM

Rosberg on Vettel

These are some interesting comments, maybe he is talking from personal experience.

"He can be just too hot-headed and too self-confident which in the long run is a strength of his but in some moments it can be a weakness because it boils over."

5:36AM

Weather update

It is sunny and dry in Japan and it appears that it will stay that way. 

Regardless of the weather, it's an opportunity for us to watch a great race with Hamilton and Vettel starting on that front row alongside each other for the sixth time this season. 

5:27AM

The pit lane will be open shortly

Now would be the perfect time to go and get those snacks in, get comfortable and relax with lights out in just over 30 mins. 

5:24AM

Everyone loves Suzuka

The Japanese Grand Prix is definitely one of the favourite on the calendar as David Coulthard explained here

The track allows 'proper' racing with and that straight down to the first corner always leads to fun. 

We've only got four races after today; in United States, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Will the championship go down to the wire and will today's result help to decide it?

5:15AM

45 minutes until lights out

A quick reminder of how everyone will line up today:

1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1min 27.319secs

2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:27.791

3 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:28.306

4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:28.332

5 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:29.111

6 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:27.651

7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:29.260

8 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1:29.480

9 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:29.778

10 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:28.498

11 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:29.879

12 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:29.972

13 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:30.849

14 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:31.317

15 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1:31.409

16 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.597

17 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.885

18 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault 1:30.022

19 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:30.413

20 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:30.687

NOTE: Sainz 20 places, Alonso 35 places, Palmer 20 places for use of additional power units and Bottas and Raikkonen penalised 5 places for unscheduled gearbox changes.

5:12AM

That wonderful circuit

Suzuka International Racing Course Credit: formula1.com

5:09AM

Last year's champion

Nico Rosberg has been working with Sky Sports F1 all weekend and has Hamilton "immense" following yesterday's amazing pole.

Rosberg is now on the administrative side of the sport and his company currently represent Robert Kubica, who could make a return to F1 next year. 

5:05AM

Who do you think will win today?

5:03AM

Where will today's polesitter finish?

4:57AM

Nearly an hour to go

The driver parade is underway and as usual, they are all in those gorgeous cars.

4:51AM

In case you missed qualifying

You can catch up on Hamilton recording his first ever pole in Suzuka here.

4:49AM

Some pre-race reading 

Exclusive interview - Christian Horner: Formula One is at a crossroads... the new owners have to get the next move right 

Jenson Button 'itching' to get back behind the wheel after rediscovering his love for motorsport at Suzuka 

4:46AM

Here is how they will start in Japan and lap times

1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1min 27.319secs

2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:27.791

3 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:28.306

4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:28.332

5 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:29.111

6 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:27.651 

7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:29.260

8 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1:29.480

9 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:29.778

10 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:28.498

11 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:29.879

12 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:29.972

13 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:30.849

14 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:31.317

15 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1:31.409

16 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.597

17 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.885

18 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault 1:30.022

19 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:30.413

20 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:30.687 

NOTE: Sainz 20 places, Alonso 35 places, Palmer 20 places for use of additional power units and . Bottas and Raikkonen penalised 5 places for unscheduled gearbox changes.

4:39AM

How they stand

4:36AM

Some news

So the biggest news overnight was that today will be Jolyon Palmer last race for Renault. 

Carlos Sainz will join the team for the United States Grand Prix and Daniil Kvyat will rejoin Toro Rosso. Remember that Pierre Gasly had taken his spot at the team for last weeks Malaysian Grand Prix. 

It will be interesting to see who else will be moving before next season. 

4:33AM

Good morning

Hello and welcome.

It's race in Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.

4:26AM

Lewis Hamilton aims to extend world championship lead

What is it?

It's the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix, the 16th race of the season.

When is it?

It's this weekend - Sunday October 8, with qualifying the day before.

What time will it start?

Set your alarm if you would like to watch it live in Britain - it's a 6am BST start.

What TV channel is it on?

Full coverage is available on Sky Sports' dedicated F1 channel, while highlights of qualifying and the race will be on Channel 4. Alternatively, you can follow all the action this weekend right here.

Malaysian Grand Prix 2017 team ratings: Who fired and who flopped in Sepang?

How does the title race stand?

Despite being unable to seal an eighth win of the season in Malaysia last weekend, Lewis Hamilton extended his world championship lead over nearest rival Sebastian Vettel to 34 points with five races remaining.

Vettel was forced to hitch a ride back to the pit lane after the race following a collision with Lance Stroll. If Ferrari need to change the gear box on his battered car, he faces a grid penalty this weekend.

What happened at Suzuka last year?

This from last season's race report:

Nico Rosberg tightened his grip on the Formula One title race with a dominant victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, the German's first win at Suzuka also helping Mercedes claim a third consecutive constructors' crown.

Rosberg, who started on pole, was never seriously threatened and crossed the line 4.9 seconds clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who fended off a late-charging Lewis Hamilton after the Briton recovered from a woeful start to finish third.

Rosberg extended his lead over Hamilton to 33 points in the overall standings following his ninth win of the season and with four rounds remaining, the 31-year-old can claim a maiden title without needing to win another race.

What are they saying?

Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne:

"We are addressing the entire chain to impose different standards," he said.

"It's one thing breaking an engine on the (test) bench at home but it really looks bad when you have to be pushed off the grid (before the formation lap) from second place, it's enough to make you pull your hair out."

Lewis Hamilton on Mercedes' lack of pace last weekend: 

"There are some real big problems that I can’t really explain to you," he explained.

"I don’t know which one of these next races is going to be good for us, which races are not, but we’ll do everything we can to try and stay ahead." 

What are the odds?

  • Lewis Hamilton - 11/8
  • Sebastian Vettel - 5/2
  • Max Verstappen - 7/2
  • Daniel Ricciardo - 11/2
  • Kimi Raikkonen 10/1

What's our prediction?

Lewis Hamilton should overcome worries about Mercedes' lack of pace with victory here, a race he has won three times before.

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