SUZUKA • Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday to equal the late Ayrton Senna's tally of 41 Formula One victories and move 48 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg with five races left.
Stung by his flop in Singapore, Hamilton seized the lead from pole-sitter Rosberg at the start and never looked back.
The triumph was his eighth of the season, with Rosberg anchoring the eighth one-two finish for dominant Mercedes as the champions returned to form after a mysterious dip at the Marina Bay Street Circuit a week ago.
"For me to come here to a race where I used to love watching Ayrton drive, to match his wins... I can't really describe it. It doesn't feel real at the moment," said Hamilton of his idol, who won twice at Suzuka in 1988 and 1993.
What is evident, however, is the double world champion's dominance over his team-mate.
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1:28:06.508
2 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes +18.964sec
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +20.850
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +33.768
5 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams +36.746
1 Hamilton 277
2 Rosberg 229
3 Vettel 218
1 Mercedes 506
2 Ferrari 337
3 Williams 208
A year ago here, Rosberg won pole and was beaten by Hamilton in wet conditions. Yesterday, the sun shone all day but it was the same result, with the German quickly losing his grid-place advantage to the more aggressive British driver.
The only moment of worry for Hamilton came when he reported "big vibrations" before coming in for his second stop. But, by then, his lead was up to 10 seconds.
From the moment the lights went out, Hamilton was straight on Rosberg's case, harrying him on the inside before squeezing him wide on Turn 2.
Behind the Mercedes, a number of drivers made contact as they got away, with both Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo suffering punctures while Sergio Perez went into the gravel.
Rosberg dropped down to fourth after being passed by Hamilton, with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel second and Williams' Valtteri Bottas third.
But no one made a serious challenge to Hamilton's position and his winning margin over Rosberg was 18.9 seconds.
That Hamilton's fastest race lap was one second quicker than Rosberg's, with both of them on the same hard tyres, further illustrates the gulf between the duo.
Vettel, the winner in Singapore, finished third in an exact repeat of last year's top three at Suzuka.
Hamilton now has 277 points to Rosberg's 229, with Vettel dropping back on 218.
ALL-TIME F1 WINS
Michael Schumacher: 91
Win rate: 29.7 per cent
Seasons active: 1991-2006, 2010-2012
Alain Prost: 51
Win rate: 25.6 per cent
Seasons active: 1980-1991, 1993
Sebastian Vettel: 42
Win rate: 27.4 per cent
Seasons active: 2007-present
Ayrton Senna: 41
Win rate: 25.4 per cent
Seasons active: 1984-1994
Lewis Hamilton: 41
Win rate: 25.3 per cent
Seasons active: 2007-present
"It is going the wrong way, definitely," conceded Rosberg. "I had to win today - that was important."
The German appeared to be unhappy about Hamilton's pass on the first lap.
"It got really close on the exit of Turn 2 and I had to back out of it there and that lost me the race," he said. "I haven't seen it on TV.
"For sure, it was close. I had to avoid a collision. But it is difficult to comment now."
The two drivers were warned last year not to risk taking each other out in racing situations following an incident at the Belgian Grand Prix when they collided leading to Hamilton's eventual retirement.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff saw nothing wrong with Hamilton's move in Japan though.
Hamilton denied he had acted unsportingly, pointing out he had the right of way.
He even took a dig at Rosberg, saying: "I can imagine Nico was running out of road but that's what happens when you're on the outside."
Rosberg later played down yesterday's incident.
"Lewis just got a better start, fair play and it was a good battle into Turn 2," he said.
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was fourth with fellow Finn Bottas fifth.
Germany's Nico Huelkenberg was sixth for Force India, with the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado seventh and eighth in a boost for the financially-troubled team.
Dutch hotshot Max Verstappen, who turns 18 next week, completed his last race as a 17-year-old in the points, taking ninth place for Toro Rosso ahead of Spanish team-mate Carlos Sainz.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,