Lewis Hamilton has won the Japanese Grand Prix 18 seconds ahead of his team-mate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The win sees Hamilton equal Ayrton Senna’s record of 41 race victories.
Hamilton made a solid getaway off the line starting in second and was able to squeeze past Rosberg through the first corner, where he remained at the front of the field for the remainder of the race.
The Mercedes team enjoyed a faultless race despite Rosberg dropping back to fourth after he was edged out by Hamilton, to finish in the top two positions after a disappointing outing last week in Singapore.
Rosberg was then forced to fight back to regain second place after both Vettel and Valtteri Bottas took advantage of his scrap with Hamilton. While Bottas pitted on lap 14, Rosberg stayed out to put in extra laps in an attempt to pass the Finn in the pits, although the strategy didn’t work when Rosberg emerged from the pits a second behind Bottas on lap 16.
The team then suggested to Rosberg he put pressure on Bottas to get the Williams to use up the life of their tyre, but Rosberg took it upon himself to make a lunge on a sleeping Bottas into the final chicane on lap 18 and take third position.
Mercedes wasn’t the only team trying to use the undercut strategy to make passes on track, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg started the race in 13th position after incurring a grid penalty last race in Singapore, and was fighting for ninth with Romain Grosjean when he pitted a lap earlier than the Frenchman and took ninth position. He then quickly took eighth from Marcus Ericsson who was yet to pit.
Away from the front, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa had a slight coming together at the beginning of the race. Ricciardo got a better start in seventh and was making a pass on Massa who started in fifth when he was squeezed between the Williams and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
It only took a touch between the pair for the punctures to occur. Ricciardo’s left rear tyre was forced to do a lap of the Suzuka circuit as it was coming off the rim while Massa’s front right deflated rapidly, ruining both of their races.
Sergio Perez was another driver to suffer from a puncture at the beginning of the race when he had a small coming together with the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz. Perez lost control of the car and veered off into the gravel, managing to keep it going and eventually wrestled his way back to finish a respectable 12th position.
Vettel was doing his best to keep in touch with Hamilton at the front, although was slowly falling away from the Briton who was on the medium tyre, and was pulling a lead of almost a second per lap on the German who opted for the hard tyre at the first pit stop.
The Ferrari driver then fell into the clutches of a resurgent Rosberg and was eventually passed on lap 30 exiting the pit lane. Rosberg had pitted earlier to make the undercut work, Bottas tried to do the same but returned to the track behind Kimi Raikkonen and Pastor Maldonado, who was still yet to pit.
Both Lotus drivers placed well at the end of the Grand Prix and enjoyed a competitive race despite the troubles the team went through this weekend. Romain Grosjean took the chequered flag in seventhposition while Maldonado finished in eighth.
Further back in the pack and the fight for 12th place lasted a few laps before Perez finally managed to pass Marcus Ericsson who made a slight mistake at Spoon corner. Daniil Kvyat got the job done a lap later as Ericsson found himself about to impede Raikkonen who was about to lap him. Trying to do the right thing Ericsson let the Finn past in the final chicane where Kvyat also took advantage of the Swede’s kindness.
Max Verstappen again displayed his overtaking brilliance by starting from 17th on the grid and finish in ninth position ahead of his team-mate Sainz in 10th.
In the battle between the two Manor drivers, Alexander Rossi again came out on top for the second weekend in succession, after Will Stevens incurred a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Stevens didn’t help his cause when he spun at 130R towards the end of the race, and made a brilliant recovery by keeping his Manor out of the wall and on the track.
Images via Mercedes AMG F1 Petronas