Lewis Hamilton moved within reach of a fourth Formula One world championship on Sunday after winning a Japanese Grand Prix that saw Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel retire with engine problems.
The Mercedes driver crossed the line 1.2 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, after picking up vibrations on his tyres in the dying stages of an otherwise trouble-free race.
Verstappen’s Australian team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finished third.
Hamilton started on pole position and now leads Vettel, who retired on the fourth lap, by 59 points in the standings with four races remaining. He could clinch the title as early as the next US Grand Prix.
Vettel retires after engine problem
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel of Germany attends a drivers’ parade before the start of the Japanese Grand Prix race. (Reuters)
But all was clearly not well, with Ferrari mechanics swarming around the car as the seconds ticked away.
“I think it was a small problem causing a big issue. We didn’t have power already on the formation lap, no power at the start and then the first couple of laps already,” he said.
“We tried to reset everything to try and get the power back but we couldn’t. It looks like there was a problem with the spark plug.
“Not much we could have done. Unfortunately not our day.”
The German made a clean start, hanging on to second off the line, but it soon became apparent the problem ran much deeper as Vettel, clearly lacking power, plummeted down the order.
He was finally called in to the pits: “Box, Sebastian, box. We retire the car,” he was told.
It was the third race in a row that Vettel’s hopes had been dealt a battering.