(THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS) - Valtteri Bottas won the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday (Oct 13), taking a controlled victory from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel second.
With the Finn's Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton third, it ensures the team secured the constructors' championship. Red Bull's Alexander Albon was fourth, with Carlos Sainz fifth for McLaren and Daniel Ricciardo was an impressive sixth from 16th on the grid for Renault.
Bottas' win has just kept his championship hopes alive, although Hamilton is still on course to take his sixth title. The British driver leads the Finn by 64 points and will take the championship if he is 78 in front after the Mexican Grand Prix.
“Starting third is never easy here but there’s no point giving up,” said Bottas, after his third win of the season and first since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April.
“I had a really nice car and Sebastian had an issue, so it was good to get the lead. Really proud of the team, a sixth title in a row is so impressive.”
The result means Mercedes now have their sixth consecutive constructors' championship with four races remaining, another remarkable display of dominance from the team. It equals the record set by Ferrari between 1999 and 2004 and now that only Hamilton and Bottas can take the drivers' title they are assured of becoming the first team to secure six consecutive drivers' and constructors' doubles.
Bottas has been bullish of late that he had to start taking his opportunities if he was to end the season strongly and backed his intent with a confident and controlled drive to deny his teammate and Ferrari the win.
This is Bottas' sixth career victory, his third this season and his first win at the Japanese Grand Prix. The victory also continues the Mercedes hegemony at Suzuka, the team remain unbeaten here since the turbo-hybrid era began in 2014. Bottas delivered a strong performance during the weekend when he has looked quick in every session.
Bottas took the win having started from third on the grid after qualifying was postponed until Sunday morning because of typhoon Hagibis.
In a tight session run just four hours before the race it was Vettel who took pole with a fine lap. In Ferrari's fifth consecutive pole Vettel was just under two tenths clear of Leclerc as the Scuderia locked out the front row for the third time this season. They had looked superb through every sector, finding time that they had not shown in practice, while Hamilton was fourth.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff dedicated the team’s feat to the late non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.
“Niki would have said congratulations for the sixth ones, you have a problem for next year,” he told Sky Sports television.
“We want to dedicate this to Niki because he has been such an important part from the beginning of the journey and his sheer presence was always so important in the mixture between support and pressure. He was just a very special person.
“I miss him every day and I think about him every day...he was a larger than life person and I say to myself what would he say and what would he think? But it doesn’t compensate for the loss, he’s simply not here any more,” added the Austrian.
Mercedes had come into the race hoping to be at the front on a circuit at which they have good form. They had brought minor upgrades to the race which appeared to be working well. Their car, strong through the corners all season and working its tyres well, was again in its element here.
Ferrari however, who have enjoyed a resurgence as they found performance over the last five meetings, once again could not convert their clear qualifying pace with Vettel making a mistake at the start and Charles Leclerc hitting Red Bull's Max Verstappen on the opening lap.
Bottas made a blistering start from third to take the lead, while Vettel only crept away having moved before the lights went out but then checked the car. The German was investigated for a jump start, no action was taken but the damage was done.
Leclerc from second then hit Verstappen through turn one. The Ferrari driver took wing damage and was forced to pit for a replacement after his wing shed debris into the path of Hamilton who had remained fourth. Verstappen, who had been blameless, had to retire because of the damage on lap 15.
Bottas promptly opened up a two-second gap on Vettel, who was however comfortably matching the Finn's lap times, while Hamilton was edging up in third. Ferrari pitted Vettel first on lap 17 to take the soft tyres, committing to a two-stop race. Mercedes reacted and pitted Bottas a lap later as the team confirmed he would be also be two-stopping with Hamilton initially on a one-stop strategy.
Hamilton stayed out while Bottas threw down quick times on his new rubber. Mercedes brought the world champion in on lap 22 for the mediums - able to one-stop - and emerged in third but he was immediately concerned at the time he had lost staying out and whether he could make it to the end on his tyres. The team switched him to two-stop and told him to push.
Vettel made his second stop on lap 32, followed by Bottas on lap 37, leaving Hamilton leading until he too came in on lap 43. Emerging in third he set off chasing down Vettel on fresher rubber but although he caught the German could find no way past with the Ferrari's straightline speed. Bottas however had maintained his composure out front from the moment he took the lead and held it to the flag for a well-deserved victory.
Leclerc was demoted to seventh owing to the incident with Verstappen. Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly was eighth, with Racing Point's Sergio Perez ninth and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg 10th.