Lewis Hamilton can almost taste his fourth F1 world title after opening up a 59-point lead in the drivers' championship, thanks to his commanding victory in this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport star drove a faultless race after starting on pole position while his nearest championship rival, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, retired after only five laps.
The result at Suzuka, marking his 61st F1 career win and 40th victory with the Silver Arrows, now means that Lewis can secure the title at the United States Grand Prix in Austin in two weeks' time; providing he wins the race and Vettel finishes outside the top-five. It is an incredible reversal of fortunes, as Lewis has enjoyed a 56-point swing in the championship in just three races. The turn around is owing in part to Lewis' blistering and consistent pace, but also Vettel's poor luck, as well as the revival of Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who were second and third in Suzuka respectively, further displacing Ferrari in the standings.
Lewis said: "I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap. The Ferraris have put on such a great challenge all year long. What I can say is that it is down to my team, they've done a phenomenal job, reliability has really been on point, they're just so meticulous and really that's why we have the reliability we have, and the results that we're having. The team did a fantastic job, Max drove an incredible race and honestly it wasn't an easy one for us at all.
"Today the Red Bulls just seemed to be rapid in race trim. Obviously we were quick in qualifying, but still I was able to only just hold them behind. It definitely got very close a couple of times. Definitely at the end with the virtual safety car. When we restarted, tyres were cold; he [Max] had a little ride up so it was very, very close. So a big thank you to the guys I owe it to everyone here and everyone all the way back at the factory."
Lewis has every reason to be all-smiles ahead of the next race in the USA; for he loves the Circuit of the Americas; having won there four times in the last five years.
Meanwhile, it was also a solid result for his Silver Arrows team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who crossed the line in fourth after starting down in seventh. The Finnish ace picked up a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change before lights-out in Japan, but made a good start before a revised strategy call left him fighting Ricciardo late on for the final sport on the podium.
Unfortunately it proved in vain for Valtteri, as his tyres were worn; yet he picked up some valuable points and is now looking to overtake Vettel into second place in the drivers' championship.
Valtteri said: "The strategy choice was good and it gave us opportunities in the race, especially at the end but I just could not quite get past the Red Bull at the end. I was getting close but we did not have enough laps left.
“The target is now to fight Sebastian for second place. It is not like fighting for the championship win, I think things are looking good for Lewis. I will do everything I can to get second. I have learned a lot this year and again something from this weekend as well, but I am not thinking about it too much, I am just going to focus on the last four races and make the most of them."
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team 1h27m31.194s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1.211s
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 9.679s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team 10.580s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Scuderia Ferrari 32.622s
6 Esteban Ocon Sahara Force India F1 Team 1m07.788s
7 Sergio Perez Sahara Force India F1 Team 1m11.424s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team 1m28.953s
9 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team 1m29.883s
10 Felipe Massa Williams Martini Racing 1 Lap
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1 Lap
12 Jolyon Palmer Renault Sport F1 Team 1 Lap
13 Pierre Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso 1 Lap
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda 1 Lap
15 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber F1 Team 2 Laps
- Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Retirement
- Nico Hulkenberg Renault Sport F1 Team Retirement
- Marcus Ericsson Sauber F1 Team Spun off
- Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari Power Unit
- Carlos Sainz Scuderia Toro Rosso Spun off