Olli Meek reflects on the FA Cup third round fixtures, with Arsenal crashing out to add to Arsene Wenger's woes.Written by Olli Meek on 13th January 2018
Hamilton in the Driving Seat
Sport writer David Garbutt reviews another win for Lewis Hamilton at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka
Lewis Hamilton placed one hand firmly on the 2017 Driver’s World Championship with his victory at Suzuka, holding off resurgent Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who finished second and third respectively. Hamilton’s victory, and Vettel’s non-finish, ensured that he extended his lead in the Driver’s World Championship to 59 points with just four races remaining.
In what looked like a strange case of déjá vu, Hamilton saw a Ferrari he shared the front row with suffer engine problems before the race began. This time instead of Kimi Raikkonen having issues, it was Hamilton’s nearest title challenger Sebastian Vettel, who had a faulty spark plug. Although Vettel was able to start the race, his lack of power quickly became evident as he dropped to sixth after the first lap. The safety car was deployed at the end of the first lap to recover Carlos Sainz’ stricken Toro Rosso, which gave Vettel a momentary reprieve. Upon the race’s restart on lap 3, however, Perez, in the Force India, quickly overtook him, and shortly afterwards the Ferrari mechanics made the executive decision to retire the car. This latest setback for Vettel will likely prove to be the final nail in the coffin in his championship bid.
“This latest setback for Vettel will likely prove to be the final nail in the coffin in his championship bid
As Vettel’s day fell apart, it looked like things were all falling into place for Verstappen again- his terrific start, and Vettel’s engine woes, ensured that by lap 2 he had moved up from fourth to second. From this position, Verstappen was able to keep Hamilton honest, staying within five seconds of the Brit by the time that the first pitstop phase began, with Verstappen pitting on lap 22 and Hamilton responding the following lap.
Verstappen then began to increase the pressure on the Mercedes car, helped by the fact that Hamilton’s pace was compromised having to follow his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who at this stage was leading the race having not stopped yet due to running a different tyre strategy. Verstappen had reduced the gap to Hamilton to just a second before Mercedes decided to act, telling Bottas to let Hamilton through. This he duly did on lap 28, which allowed Hamilton to pull away at the front whilst Verstappen was stuck behind Bottas until lap 31, when the Finn finally pitted.
As the race began to reach its conclusion, Bottas was able to close the gap on Ricciardo, who was in third, due to the Finn having much fresher tyres. However, despite reducing the gap to just one second Bottas was unable to pass, ensuring that Ricciardo could extend his run of finishing on the podium to three races. Meanwhile, aided by traffic and the need for Hamilton to manage his tyres, Verstappen had closed the gap to the Brit to under a second with just over a lap to go. However, Verstappen was then held up trying to lap Fernando Alonso, which meant that he was not close enough to challenge for the lead, thus Hamilton was able to claim his 61st career victory.
It appeared somewhat fitting, upon the race’s conclusion, that car number 44 won the 44th Japanese Grand Prix. Having extended his lead to Vettel to 59 points, Hamilton now knows that he can afford to not finish two of the last four races and still retain his lead in the championship. After the race, Vettel refused to say that his title challenge was finished, and likewise Hamilton downplayed the significance of his large points lead. Nevertheless, privately he must know that the 2017 Driver’s World Championship is his to lose.
In regards to the Constructor’s Championship, Mercedes’ first and fourth place, and the fact that Raikkonen could only finish fifth, ensured that the Silver Arrows opened up a 145 point lead over the Prancing Horses, meaning that Mercedes could sew up a fourth consecutive Constructor's trophy next time out in Austin, Texas.