Valtteri Bottas jumped from third to first with an electric start to win the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and the Finn’s Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Charles Leclerc finished sixth in the second Ferrari, and with only Bottas now able to overtake Hamilton in the standings, that means Mercedes clinched an unprecedented sixth successive drivers’-constructors’ world championship double.
“I’m happy, very happy,” said the flying Finn Bottas, who ended a six-month wait for his third victory of 2019 after winning the season-opener in Australia and the Azerbaijan race in April.
“Starting third isn’t easy. I had a really nice start, managed to get the lead and then the pace was super good, I could really control the race,” he added. “I’m really proud to be part of the team. A sixth title is really impressive. Firstly congratulations to the team,” said Hamilton, who now leads the drivers’ standings by 64 points from Bottas. “That’s the main point. I just wanted to bring home good points for the team.”
Ferrari had enjoyed a front-row lock-out in a rare morning qualifying session caused by Typhoon Hagibis but their race unraveled right at the start.
Vettel twitched before the lights went out and his hesitation enabled the fast starting Bottas to leapfrog from third into the lead.
“It was my mistake,” admitted Vettel. “It was worse than a poor start, it was a really poor start. With the lack of pace today, second place today was probably the maximum.”
Max Verstappen enjoyed a bullet start from fifth in the Red Bull and was overtaking Leclerc on the outside of turn two when the Monegasque drove into the flying Dutchman, causing him to spin.
“He just drove into the side of my car,” complained an unhappy Verstappen, who retired on lap 15.
Leclerc’s front wing was damaged and he was forced to pit for a new nose at the start of lap four.
‘What do I have to do’
Vettel was left sandwiched between the two Mercedes and made the first strategic move when he dived in the pits for a new set of soft tyres on lap 17. Bottas followed on the next lap.
Hamilton was now in the lead and Mercedes tried to leave him out on a one-stop strategy. But on lap 22 Hamilton reported his front tyres were “dead” and was brought in.
Hamilton began to close on Vettel who pitted for his final change to medium tyres on lap 32, rejoining in third.
Bottas took on fresh soft tyres five laps later leaving Hamilton again in the lead.
“Tell me what I have to do to win this race,” pleaded Hamilton over team radio, convinced his tyres would not last the distance.
He came in again on lap 43, allowing Vettel back into second, but proceeded to close the gap by setting a new lap record on lap 45.
Hamilton swarmed all over Vettel towards the end but was unable to get past and make it a Mercedes one-two.
Earlier Vettel had produced a perfect lap in the delayed qualifying session to outqualify his teammate for the first time in 10 races.
The day had been dubbed “Super Sunday” with qualifying and the race taking place back-to-back because of the track having been safely locked down Saturday as Typhoon Hagibis roared past.