Hamilton Wins Japanese GP as Vettel Retires Once Again
Sebastian Vettel has more wins at the Japanese Grand Prix than any other current driver and he arrived at the 2017 race with great hopes to add another first-place trophy to his collection, as anything less—any points lost to Lewis Hamilton—would diminish the already fading hopes of turning the championship battle around in his favor. Instead, he retired on the fourth lap.
The hints of trouble had once more arisen at the very last and worst possible moment. Only a few minutes before the warmup lap, Ferrari mechanics were suddenly seen at work on Vettel’s Formula One car. The engine cover was off. It looked like another DNS for Ferrari, but as it turned out they were simply effecting a spark plug change. As it also turned out, it didn’t solve the problem. Vettel’s car was down on power from the start and when it became clear no amount of fiddling with the on-board software settings would help, the engineers made the call to retire the car, which had already been on the verge of dropping out of the top 10.
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This allowed Hamilton to win his 61st Grand Prix almost unchallenged, though to be fair to the Brit and to his Mercedes, they had both looked untouchable that weekend. Vettel had only managed to qualify third, a whole half-second behind Hamilton, which suggests that even had he been able to race on Sunday, he still would have been even further behind after the Japanese Grand Prix than before.
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo once more took home a double podium for Red Bull. They didn’t quite have the pace they had at the Malaysian Grand Prix, though it was enough to keep Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen well behind them, both of whom had to start further back than normal because of grid penalties. Still, Verstappen almost troubled Hamilton in the final laps as they caught Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, who were both reluctant to let the leaders by as they fought over the last available championship point.
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Hamilton is now a whopping 59 points ahead of Vettel in the championship with only four races to go, which will allow him to finish fourth at every subsequent Grand Prix—even if Vettel wins them all—and still grab the championship victory. At this stage even a retirement would not be too great a blow to his chances at securing his fourth title, which would put him in an exclusive club alongside Alain Prost and Vettel himself. Only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have more (five and seven, respectively).
A comeback is, however, still possible. Several weeks ago, when Vettel and Hamilton were nearly tied in points, we wouldn’t have guessed the Ferrari driver was in for such a string of bad results. Could the same happen to Hamilton? Technically, yes, but it’s doubtful. Not only are the odds low to begin with, they’re even lower now because Hamilton has such a substantial lead that he won’t need to take unnecessary risks or push his car into the realm of uncertain reliability—and Hamilton and Mercedes are both mature enough to understand this and take full advantage.
Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.