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Hamilton clinches win in Suzuka after early exit for Vettel

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen - Japanese Grand prix
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton held on to win the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, despite being pushed hard in the final laps by Red Bull's Max Verstappen, whose team mate Daniel Ricciardo warded off Valtteri Bottas for the final podium place.

Sebastian Vettel's title hopes crumbled after his Ferrari was forced into an early retirement as a result of more engine issues.

Japanese Grand Prix - Race results

Pos Driver Team Gap Stops
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 laps - 1:27:31.193s 1
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull + 1.211s 1
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull + 9.679s 1
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes + 10.580s 1
5 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari + 32.622s 1
6 Esteban Ocon Force India + 1:07.788s 1
7 Sergio Pérez Force India + 1:11.424s 1
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas + 1:28.953s 1
9 Romain Grosjean Haas + 1:29.883s 1
10 Felipe Massa Williams + 1 lap 1
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren + 1 lap 1
12 Jolyon Palmer Renault + 1 lap 1
13 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso + 1 lap 2
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren + 1 lap 2
15 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber + 2 laps 3
16 Lance Stroll Williams DNF 2
17 Nico Hülkenberg Renault DNF 2
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber DNF 0
19 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari DNF 1
20 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso DNF 0

When the lights went out Lewis Hamilton had been able to put his hard-won pole position to nominal use. The Mercedes swept across the track to protect the lead of the race from Sebastian Vettel.

The Ferrari had already been the centre of attention from the engineers before the start, with worries over a faulty park plug. It turned out that these concerns were well founded. Vettel was soon visibly struggling for pace. He was quickly dispatched by Max Verstappen, who had already muscled his way past Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo at turn 1.

Carlos Sainz was also having a bad day. In his final appearance for Toro Rosso he oversteered into a spin and went off into the gravel, triggering a safety car while the car was recovered. Kimi Raikkonen had also been off-roading following wheel-to-wheel contact with Renault's Nico Hulkenberg on the opening lap. In this case the Ferrari was able to resume, albeit down in 14th place.

When the race resumed, it was clear that Vettel's issues were going from bad to worse. He was now easy prey for pretty much everyone on track. The call from the Ferrari pit wall to bring the car in and retire was all-too inevitable.

Hamilton commanded the restart and soon moved out of DRS range of Verstappen. Force India's Esteban Ocon had also found his way past Ricciardo. That put the Australian down to fifth ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa. Hulkenberg was up to eighth, but he was in the sights of the recovering Raikkonen who was seeking reparations for their earlier clash. Rounding out the top ten was Kevin Magnussen, who was being shadowed by his Haas team mate Romain Grosjean in 11th.

Raikkonen had just blasted his way past Hulkenberg when a virtual safety car was triggered on lap 8. The cause was Marcus Ericsson's Sauber, which had planted its nose into the barrier after running off at the second Degner corner. The restart allowed Ricciardo to find his way around Ocon through turn 1 to recover third place. Moments later Ocon was also passed by Bottas, the highest-placed driver to have started the race on soft tyres.

Hamilton soon built up a four-second lead at the front. He continued to ease away from Verstappen, while the Dutch driver reported early blistering on his left front tyre on lap 17. Even so, Verstappen held a comfortable eight second lead over his team mate who was more concerned with the threat from Bottas behind.

Massa was the first of the frontrunners to make his pit stop for a fresh set of soft tyres on lap 18. Ocon was next to blink. However, a slow stop saw him exit the pits in 12th place just behind McLaren's Fernando Alonso. Verstappen was in next time around, which triggered an immediate response from the race leader on lap 22. Hamilton came back out in third, with Ricciardo and Bottas ahead of him opting for longer first stints.

Ricciardo finally came in for his stop on lap 26. That temporarily handed the lead to Bottas, who inadvertently started backing his team mate into the clutches of Verstappen before Bottas finally let Hamilton past on lap 29. The Finn then did his best to frustrate the Red Bull until his own pit stop two laps later. By this point, Hamilton's lead was back up to over three seconds.

Bottas returned to the fray in fourth ahead of the yet-to-pit Hulkenberg. The German had just survived a scary run-off into the gravel at Degner. Raikkonen had recovered to sixth ahead of the two Force India cars, with Jolyon Palmer ten seconds back at the head of a train of cars that included Massa, Magnussen, Grosjean and Pierre Gasly fighting hard over tenth place.

Hulkenberg finally pitted on lap 39 and came out right behind this train. He quickly picked off Gasly, who flat-spotted his tyres into the hairpin. But within minutes his day was done, the Renault's DRS stuck in the open position. Engineers tried to beat it into submission, but the fault meant they had no option but to retire the car.

Hamilton continued to lead but his advantage over Verstappen was down to under three seconds. Meanwhile his team mate - who was now on supersofts - was the man setting new fastest laps as he hunted down Ricciardo for the final podium position.

With seven laps remaining, battle was suspended by another virtual safety car period. Lance Stroll's Williams had suffered a mechanical failure at the Esses, coming close to taking out Ricciardo as he struggled for control before parking by the side of the track.

When the race resumed, Hamilton was suffering from tyre vibration as he tried to deal with lapped traffic. It allowed Verstappen to cut the gap between them. However there wasn't enough time for Verstappen to press the attack. Hamilton was able to hold on to take the chequered flag ahead of the two Red Bulls, with Bottas having to settle for fourth.

It's Hamilton's eighth win of the season and his 61st career Grand Prix victory. With Vettel's retirement it means he has a 59 point lead in the world championship with just four races remaining in the 2017 season.

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