Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to move a step closer to claiming his second straight Formula One title.
Hamilton, who was forced to retire at last weekend’s Singapore GP, capitalized on a strong start and surged ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg at the first corner. He led the rest of the way, crossing the finish line a comfortable 18.9 seconds ahead of Rosberg. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel was third, 1.8 seconds behind Rosberg, who started from pole.
With five races left, Hamilton has a 48-point lead over Rosberg.
Hamilton claimed his eighth win of the season. It was his 41st career win, tying him with his childhood hero Ayrton Senna.
“I’m not a teary guy, but I’m full of joy and happiness today,” Hamilton said.
Rosberg and Hamilton went through the first two bends side by side. Hamilton appeared to give Rosberg little room at the second turn, forcing the German partially off the track.
“The inside line is the inside line, so it was my corner,” Hamilton said.
Rosberg was reserving judgment until he saw the incident on replay, but said “for sure it was close, I had to avoid a collision.”
With Hamilton comfortably ahead throughout the grand prix, the focus shifted to the tight battle for second place between Rosberg and Vettel.
Ferrari elected to wait until Rosberg pitted before bringing in Vettel, and that proved critical. Even though Vettel’s stop was four tenths of a second faster than Rosberg’s, the Mercedes driver’s lap on fresh rubber was enough to get him just ahead of Vettel, and that’s how it stayed.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was fourth followed by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
The podium positions were exactly the same as last year’s race at Suzuka which was marred by a crash involving Jules Bianchi, who died in July, having never regained consciousness.
The next race is the Russian GP in Sochi on October 11.