Bottas charges to Japanese GP win as Mercedes clinch F1 team title
SUZUKA – Valtteri Bottas enjoyed a controlled victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday as Mercedes wrapped up a sixth consecutive constructors' championship.
Bottas took the chequered flag at Suzuka ahead of Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari and Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who can now capture his sixth world championship title at the Mexican GP in two weeks.
Ferrari had taken a one-two in the day's earlier qualifying - put back a day to Sunday as a result of Typhoon Hagibis - but the Italian team's race was compromised within seconds of the start.
Bottas was able to jump both Ferraris from third on the grid to take the lead, and the Finn went on to win his third race this season, his first in Japan and the sixth of his Formula One career.
"I had a really nice start and Sebastian had an issue so I got the lead and the pace was super good. I enjoyed it and had fun," Bottas said.
"I'm really proud to be part of the team; sixth title in a row is so impressive and proud of every team member here at the race well done guys and girls."
The results - with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc sixth - means only a Mercedes driver can now win the drivers' title, making it a record sixth constructors' and drivers' title double for the team.
Mercedes have matched Ferrari's record of six straight constructors' titles from 1999-2004 and have also continued their domination at Suzuka, where they have now won the last six races.
Pole-sitter Vettel lost his lead from the start when he nudged forward and then stopped before accelerating, but was cleared by stewards of making a false start.
"The lights were on a long time, so it was my mistake. I lost the momentum. It was a really poor start," Vettel said.
Team-mate Leclerc then collided with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen on the first turn. The Dutchman span off and later vented his anger over team radio after hearing there would be no investigation.
Stewards reviewed the incident again and said the incident would be investigated after the race.
Both drivers could continue but Leclerc's front wing was damaged and a piece late flew off, knocking the wing mirror off Hamilton's car behind him. Verstappen eventually had to retire on lap 15 of the 53 laps.
Conditions were dry but blustery after the typhoon had moved further north, and after the early drama Bottas was able to build up a lead from the front.
It became a question of tyre strategies and Hamilton at one stage appeared unhappy with his team's tactics.
After second stops by Vettel and Bottas, Hamilton was able to lead from lap 37. Bottas on the faster softs to Hamilton's mediums was some 10 seconds behind with 15 laps to go and told his team-mate would have to pit again.
That turned out to be the case with 10 laps remaining, putting Bottas back in front more than 10 seconds ahead of Vettel and 15 seconds up on his team-mate.
Hamilton on the fresher tyres was able to attack Vettel towards the end, but he was unable to get into a position to overtake and had to settle a close third - with a bonus point for fastest lap - as Bottas took the chequered flag.
"Firstly it's congratulations to the team to win it six times in a row," Hamilton said. "I really just wanted to get the best points for the team today."
Red Bull's Alexander Albon was a career-best fourth, ahead of Carlos Sainz in a McLaren, Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo in a Renault, Pierre Gasly in a Toro Rosso, Nico Huelkenberg in a Renault and Lance Stroll in a Racing Point.
Hamilton has a 64-point lead over Bottas in the drivers' standings with four races left - with a possible 104 points remaining for one driver if he wins all races and gains four bonus points for fastest laps.
Hamilton will take the championship if he is 78 points in front after the Mexican GP. A victory and bonus point for Hamilton in Mexico would be enough if Bottas fails to get on the podium.dpa