At the start of the 53-lap race, Hamilton edged Vettel for the lead as the field charged for the first chicane. Moments later, Verstappen, on the inside, picked off Vettel for second on the very first lap. Vettel quickly slowed to a crawl as a Force India, a Red Bull and a Mercedes overtook the Ferrari for positions. The safety car next came out to clear a Toro Rosso on track. “The start was okay, although the initial getaway was not spectacularly good, I had a bit of wheel spin. But from then on I had a good start and it was pretty much under control from there,” Hamilton said.
Lap 4, the race went green and Hamilton had the jump on Verstappen for the race lead. Vettel continued to drop positions, and was finally called to box-in for a retirement on lap 6. A post-race evaluation suggested that Vettel’s car had a faulty spark plug. The second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, was way down in fourteenth in the early going.
The order was Hamilton, Verstappen, Esteban Ocon, Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas on lap 10. Ocon would get picked out by Ricciardo first, then Bottas. The Force India driver was fifth by lap 12. Meanwhile, Raikkonen had made up positions, up to seventh as he picked off Felipe Massa on lap 14.
Up front, Hamilton had a comfortable gap to his chaser as the race approached lap 20. Raikkonen successfully out-braked the second Force India car of Sergio Perez for sixth at turn 1. The order was Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Ocon and Raikkonen, prior to the first stop. The Ferrari would gain another position when the lead Force India pitted. Hamilton would box on lap 23 and resumed the race in front of Verstappen. Following Verstappen’s stop, the race lead was Ricciardo, followed by Bottas.
On lap 28, Hamilton began to ease off a bit behind his team mate as Verstappen closed in. A lap later, Bottas gave way to Hamilton, who assumed the race lead, and managed to shield his team mate from the hard charging Verstappen. Bottas would soon pit to let the Red Bull through, and the order was Hamilton leading Verstappen, again.
Past the mid-distance, Raikkonen snatched fifth from Nico Hulkenberg, who had yet to pit. Hulkenberg’s race would come to an end on lap 43 when his car suffered a terminal issue. At the front, Bottas took up the fastest lap of the race and closed in on Ricciardo by 5.5 seconds. The Finn cut another 0.5 secs by lap 45.
Eight laps to go, Hamilton had a smooth sailing lead from Verstappen. It looked like the Red Bull had settled for second. On the penultimate lap and a Virtual Safety car (VSC) stint, Hamilton led Verstappen by just 1.1s and Ricciardo led Bottas by just a second. Too bad, the race would end on the next lap…
“With the VSC towards the end, I lost a lot of temperatures in the tyres and waking them up was not so easy. I got stuck behind traffic, I was losing so much time and Max’ car was so big in my mirror. It was very close for a couple laps, but I was able to keep it together. It was not an easy walk in the park today, it was a win that I had to work very hard for,” commented Hamilton.
Hamilton wouldn’t be denied as he captured his third win at Suzuka, Verstappen finished a strong second, then Ricciardo who held off Bottas. Raikkonen secured some pride for Ferrari with a fifth place, followed by the two Force India cars, the two Haas of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, and Massa, who rounded off the top ten.
The next GP is set for the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, from 20 – 22 October.
2017 F1 Japanese Grand Prix results
1 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:27:31.194
2 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING +1.211s
3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING +9.679s
4 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES +10.580s
5 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI +32.622s
6 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA +67.788s
7 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA +71.424s
8 Kevin Magnussen HAAS +88.953s
9 Romain Grosjean HAAS +89.883s
10 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS +1 lap
1 Lewis Hamilton 306
2 Sebastian Vettel 247
3 Valtteri Bottas 234
4 Daniel Ricciardo 192
5 Kimi Räikkönen 148
6 Max Verstappen 111
7 Sergio Perez 82
8 Esteban Ocon 65
9 Carlos Sainz 48
10 Nico Hulkenberg 34
11 Felipe Massa 34
12 Lance Stroll 32
13 Romain Grosjean 28
14 Kevin Magnussen 15
15 Stoffel Vandoorne 13
16 Fernando Alonso 10
17 Jolyon Palmer 8
18 Pascal Wehrlein 5
19 Daniil Kvyat 4
1 MERCEDES 540
2 FERRARI 395
3 RED BULL RACING 303
4 FORCE INDIA 147
5 WILLIAMS 66
6 TORO ROSSO 52
7 HAAS 43
8 RENAULT 42
9 MCLAREN 23
10 SAUBER 5