Nico Rosberg drove a superb race to comfortably take victory in the Japanese Grand Prix and extend his lead in the championship to 33 points.
But Lewis Hamilton was dealt an enormous blow after faltering at the start and immediately dropping back to eighth place. The Englishman managed to fight his way through the field to take third with the assistance of excellent pit strategy but he faces a daunting task to claim the championship.
Finishing in second was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who spent the closing stages of the race defending against Hamilton and will need to answer a complaint from Mercedes over a penultimate lap incident.
The Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen ended in fourth and fifth while Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth. The Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Niko Hulkenberg came seventh and eighth to extend their lead over Williams in the constructor’s standings.
Poor start for Hamilton
Hamilton had less than an ideal start to the Japanese Grand Prix following extraordinary behaviour during a pre-race news conference, and then walking out of a post-qualifying new conference on Saturday labelling the media as ‘disrespectful’.
If Hamilton sought to make a point on the track then he was quickly on the back foot with another terrible start.
The reigning world champion got away slowly and became swamped by the surrounding pack to enter the first corner in eighth place.
From there, he set about moving through the pack overtaking Niko Hulkenberg on lap 7 and using a pit stop on lap 13 to get past Raikkonen’s Ferrari, Sergio Perez’s Force India and then Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull.
On fresher tyres, Hamilton then overtook Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas – both of whom hadn’t stopped – to be in fourth place behind Rosberg, Verstappen and Vettel.
Hamilton continued to push hard and again used strategy to undercut Vettel. The German put on the quicker soft tyres to threaten Hamilton but he stepped up the pace to draw nearer to Verstappen in third.
It set up an enticing final few laps with Hamilton looking for an overtaking opportunity. A window opened on the penultimate lap but Verstappen defended firmly pushing Hamilton off the track through a slip road.
Hamilton said straight away on team radio that “Verstappen moved under braking” – something that is within the rules but is against a gentleman’s agreement.
After the race, Mercedes lodged a formal complaint to the FIA that will be heard at the next race at Austin, Texas, on 21 October. In it, Mercedes claim that Verstappen drove “erratically and in a dangerous manner” in contravention of rules.
“We know now Max moves under braking but it is not for me to judge,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
Rosberg In Control
Comfortably ahead of the scrap was Rosberg who dominated all weekend and led the race from start to finish.
He is now in a commanding position in the championship with a massive 33 point gap to Hamilton with four races remaining. A lot can happen in Formula 1 in a short space of time, but it now seems that only a series of retirements or unexpectedly poor results will stop Rosberg from collecting his maiden championship.
“The whole weekend went really well,” said Rosberg.
“I’m well aware of the 33 points of course but it’s not something I’m focused on, as you know. Just want to take it race by race. That’s what I did this weekend. So focused on trying to win the race and very happy it worked out. Still many races to go, so just keeping my head down.”
In taking the win at Japan, Rosberg also helped Mercedes to claim the constructor’s title for the third consecutive year.