Lewis Hamilton Triumphs at 2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Vettel Finishes P6

With ideal conditions, Hamilton is now potentially one win away from clinching his fifth World Drivers’ Championship.

F1 Grand Prix of Japan
Mark Thompson—Getty Images

With his win at the Japanese Grand Prix, Mercedes-AMG's Lewis Hamilton is now within striking distance of securing the 2018 Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship early.

The race started with title rival Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari making up for an appalling qualifying performance with a stellar launch, propelling him three positions forward into fifth by the time he soared through the Suzuka’s famed Spoon turn. His teammate Kimi Räikkönen watched Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen sail off in the final chicane, but had to dodge off-track as the Dutchman rejoined, letting Vettel by. Verstappen earned a five-second time penalty for his haphazard return to the track.

Haas' Kevin Magnussen weaved about in front of Alfa Romeo Sauber's Charles Leclerc on the main straight at the start of Lap 2, causing front wing damage to Leclerc's car and later cutting across again to puncture his own left rear tire. Debris would be spit everywhere by the flailing carcass of the tire, forcing a safety car appearance while marshals swept shards of carbon fiber off the track.

When the safety car at last took its leave, a desperate Vettel attempted to push past Verstappen with a dive into Spoon. Vettel carried too much speed and understeered into Verstappen, who didn't expect the move, but nevertheless straightened his steering to try to dodge the German. The two collided, each sustaining damage, Vettel spinning his Ferrari around while Verstappen stepped back onto the track. At the end of the same lap, Magnussen retired, his car too damaged to make continuation of the Grand Prix worthwhile.

Räikkönen made the first pit stop of the front-running teams, switching to medium tires after 17 laps. Verstappen followed four laps afterward, Red Bull opting to put him on softs, his gap to Kimi large enough that he came out ahead of the undercutting Finn who was still stuck behind Romain Grosjean. As Kimi finally picked his way around Grosjean on Lap 23, his fellow countryman Valtteri Bottas stopped for medium tires, as did rival Daniel Ricciardo. Despite starting a lowly 15th, Ricciardo's blistering pace in the early race and ideal pit timing meant that despite starting behind Räikkönen and running a longer stint, he came out ahead of Kimi on track, where he would remain for the rest of the Grand Prix.

Vettel stopped for soft tires after 26 laps and was back in the points with a pass on Force India driver Esteban Ocon four laps later, where he also took Leclerc. Four more laps later, Vettel would take Grosjean for P8. Renault's Nico Hülkenberg disappeared into the garage after 38 laps with a terminal issue, and Leclerc too would quit the race on lap, a front-end failure nearly sending the Monegasque rookie into the walls outside the Degner corners. This called for a Virtual Safety Car for two laps while marshals cleared the car, but the race was almost frozen from there on out, the only overtake of note being Carlos Sainz Jr. swiping a points finish from Toro Rosso-Honda driver Pierre Gasly in front of Honda's home crowd.

Hamilton was joined by Bottas and Verstappen on the podium, and Ricciardo was voted driver of the day.

With a 67-point lead on Vettel, Hamilton can clinch the championship at the United States Grand Prix later this month if he wins and Vettel finishes fourth or below. If No. 44 can hold himself together for another few weeks, he may end the season a five-time world champion.