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 Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
With only Bottas now able to overtake Hamilton in the standings, Mercedes clinched an unprecedented sixth successive drivers’-constructors’ world championship double.
“I’m happy, very happy,” said 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 Grand Prix 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.”
Emotional Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff dedicated his team’s achievement to Formula One legend Niki Lauda, who died earlier this year.
“We want to dedicate this to Niki because he’s just been such an important part from the beginning of the journey,” said Wolff.
“I miss him every day,” said Wolff, who like Lauda hails from Austria. “When we talk in our group of friends, it’s surreal that he’s not here.”
Ferrari had enjoyed a front row lock-out in the morning qualifying session caused by Typhoon Hagibis but that was as good as “Super Sunday” got for them as their race unravelled right from 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 who escaped a penalty for his false start. “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 launch off the grid from fifth in the Red Bull and was overtaking the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc on the outside of turn two when the Monegasque drove into the 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 but he soldiered on with sparks and debris flying dangerously before he was forced to pit for a new nose at the start of lap four.
He was subsequently summoned to face the stewards and penalised five seconds for causing the collision and given a further 10 seconds penalty for continuing to drive his car in an unsafe condition.
That meant Leclerc’s miserable day was completed by being relegated from sixth place to seventh behind Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault.
‘What do I have to do’
After the drama at the start, Vettel was left sandwiched between the two Mercedes and took the first strategic move when he dived into the pits for a new set of soft tyres on lap 17.
Bottas mirrored him on the next lap and stayed in front of Vettel.
Hamilton was left in the lead and Mercedes tried to keep him out on a one-stop strategy, but by lap 22 Hamilton was moaning that his tyres were “dead” and he too was brought in.
Hamilton, on fresher rubber, 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 back in the lead but worried he would have to stop again.
“Tell me what I have to do to win this race,” pleaded Hamilton over team radio.
Mercedes gambled on bringing him in again on lap 43 for the quickest compound. It allowed Vettel back into second, but Hamilton was now energised and closed the gap with a new lap record.
Hamilton continued to swarm all over Vettel in the closing stages but was unable to get past as Vettel held firm in a captivating duel.
Hamilton can still clinch the drivers’ championship at the next race in Mexico in a fortnight’s time as he holds a 64-point lead over Bottas.