SUZUKA (Japan) • Sebastian Vettel's title challenge is all but over after Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday to stand on the brink of a fifth Formula One crown yesterday.
The German could only manage sixth place after colliding with Red Bull's Max Verstappen, whom he tried to pass for third place on the eighth lap at Turn 13, which resulted in his Ferrari spinning.
Stewards reviewed the incident and decided to take no further action but Vettel, also a four-time world champion, made clear where he felt the blame rested with his championship hopes practically extinguished.
"I was obviously pushing to get past but I wasn't desperate," he said. "As soon as he (Verstappen) realises somebody is close or next to him, he tries to push when you shouldn't push any more.
"It's normal that it sometimes gets close, but you need to always give the space and in that case, I couldn't go anywhere and then we touched."
Verstappen, who finished third, saw the incident differently and said: "In that corner, you can't overtake. I even gave him space but he understeered into my car."
Red Bull boss Christian Horner bluntly assessed Vettel's lunge on the Dutchman as "the end of his championship".
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1hr 27min 17.062sec
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +12.919sec
3 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull +14.295
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +19.495
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +50.998
6 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +1:09.873
7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India +1:19.379
8 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas +1:27.198
1 Hamilton 331 pts 2 Vettel 264
3 Bottas 207 4 Raikkonen 196
5 Verstappen 173
1 Mercedes 538 pts 2 Ferrari 460 3 Red Bull 319 4 Renault 92
5 Haas 84
The spat, however, took nothing away from Hamilton's controlled and untroubled run at the front of the field, crossing the line 12.9 seconds ahead of Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas in a second successive Mercedes one-two.
Hamilton now has a 67-point lead over Vettel with four races remaining and can sew up the championship next week with victory in Austin, Texas should the German finish lower than second.
And the 33-year-old Briton will fancy his chances of doing just that given his record at the US Grand Prix, where he has won every race but one since 2012.
"We've gone from strength to strength as a team this year. Austin is generally a good track for us and I can't wait to unleash this beast there," he said after leading every lap at Suzuka for his 71st career win and fifth victory in Japan.
"It's a great one-two for Mercedes and a true showing of the strength in depth we have. I hope you guys are not getting bored of this, because I'm definitely not," added Hamilton, who has now won six of the last seven races and four in a row. "I loved it."
Despite the bleak situation, hope springs eternal for Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene. "I know the situation looks impossible but our job is to challenge the impossible, this is what we are going to do in the next four races," the Italian told Sky Sports TV.
Hamilton, who has nine grand prix wins this season, now has 331 points to Vettel's 264, while Mercedes lead Ferrari in the constructors' standings with 538 points to 460 for the Italian team.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN