F1: Vatteri Bottas wins in Japan, Mercedes clinch constructors' crown
The Finn crossed the line 11.3 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, whose pole-sitting Ferrari proved no match for Mercedes in race trim, leaving the German to fend off a charging Lewis Hamilton in third
Suzuka: Valtteri Bottas roared to victory in yesterday's Japanese Grand Prix to clinch the Formula One constructors' crown for Mercedes, with the German marque now also guaranteed an unprecedented sixth title double.
The Finn crossed the line 11.3 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, whose pole-sitting Ferrari proved no match for Mercedes in race trim, leaving the German to fend off a charging Lewis Hamilton in third.
The result moved Mercedes 179 points clear of Ferrari. With 176 points still up for grabs from the four races left after thriller in Suzuka, the result allowed them to clinch the constructors' title for a record-equalling sixth year in a row.
It also assures Mercedes of the drivers' title, with only Bottas capable of challenging Hamilton, who saw his lead narrow to 64 points, in the overall standings.
The Briton does not need to win another race this season to win the title and could even wrap up his sixth title with three races to spare at the next round in Mexico.
Mercedes have now equalled Ferrari, who won six constructors' titles between 1999-2004.
But they will become the first team to clinch both the drivers' and constructors' titles six years in a row.
"Starting third is never easy here but there's no point giving up," said Bottas after scoring his third win of the season and first since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
"I had a nice car and Sebastian had an issue, so it was good to get the lead. Really proud of the team, sixth title in a row is so impressive."
Ferrari looked like they might delay Mercedes’ title celebrations after locking out the front row in a qualifying session held on Sunday morning, after being postponed from its traditional Saturday slot due to Typhoon Hagibis.
But both pole-sitter Vettel and team mate Charles Leclerc ran into trouble at the start. Vettel made a hesitant start, moving before the lights went out before stopping and getting going again. He was investigated for a false start but let off without sanction.
His stop-start getaway, though, was enough to allow Bottas to sweep around the outside and vault into the lead. “The lights were on but it was my mistake (at the start),” said Vettel, a four-time winner at Suzuka.
“The Mercedes were difficult, they had more pace than us and Valtteri was flying. I’m not happy with the start of the race, but everything else was fine, just lacked a bit of pace,” he added.
Leclerc collided with Max Verstappen at the first corner as the Dutchman tried to pass around the outside, pushing the Red Bull into a spin and damaging his Ferrari.
He nevertheless carried on, crucially holding up Hamilton, as his car shed bodywork in shower of debris that also took off the pursuing Hamilton's wing mirror, before eventually pitting for repairs at the end of the third lap. Verstappen retired from the race.
Leclerc finished sixth but he dropped to seventh after being handed two separate time penalties totalling 15 seconds for the Verstappen incident and for carrying on with a damaged and therefore unsafe car.
Ferrari were also fined 25,000 euros for the latter offence. That elevated Daniel Ricciardo to sixth for Renault but the French manufacturer are under investigation for an alleged brake-bias related offence after being protested to the stewards by the rival Racing Point team.
Hamilton took the fastest lap but his joy at Mercedes’ success was muted. The Brackley-based squad gambled on a one-stop strategy for the Briton, even as Bottas and Vettel opted for two stops. But with degradation higher than expected the 34-year-old was forced to pit a second time and lost track position to Vettel.
“Firstly congratulations to the team,” said Hamilton, who can still clinch the drivers’ title at the next race in Mexico. “That’s the main point. I just wanted to bring home good points for the team,” he added.
The race also officially only ran for 52 of the scheduled 53 laps, after the chequered flag was shown a lap early on the digital displays around the track. Drivers, who didn’t see the chequered flag display on their steering wheel dashboards, continued to race around for the extra lap but the order at the end of the 52nd lap was declared as the result. As a result, Sergio Perez retained his ninth place finish, despite crashing out after being tapped by Pierre Gasly at the start of the final lap.
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