Mercedes driver Bottas wins Japanese Grand Prix
SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — A blistering start from Valtteri Bottas from third on the grid helped the Finnish driver win the typhoon-hit Japanese Grand Prix as Mercedes wrapped up a sixth-consecutive Formula One constructors championship on Sunday.
Bottas surged into the lead almost immediately, passing the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel, who started from pole, and Charles Leclerc to take the early lead at the Suzuka Circuit.
Seeking his third win of the season and first since Azerbaijan in April, Bottas managed a two-stop pit strategy to perfection to finish more than 10 seconds ahead of Vettel with Mercedes teammate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton taking third place.
“Starting third is never easy here but there’s no point giving up,” Bottas said. “I had a really nice car and Sebastian had an issue, so it was good to get the lead. Really proud of the team, sixth title in a row is so impressive.”
With Bottas holding a comfortable lead over the closing laps, there was a fierce battle for second place between Vettel and Hamilton.
Hamilton made a desperate attempt to pass Vettel over the final two laps but was unable to pull ahead. But the podium finishes for Bottas and Hamilton ensured Mercedes won their sixth-consecutive constructors’ championship.
Vettel started from pole position but got off to a bad start. Race stewards investigated the German driver over a potential jump-start but ruled that he didn’t.
“The lights were on but it was my mistake,” Vettel said. “The Mercedes were difficult, they had more pace than us and Valtteri was flying.”
There was contact between Leclerc and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen at Turn 2 and Verstappen was sent into a spin before being forced to retire early in the race.
Bottas made his first pit stop from the lead on the 18th lap to switch to medium tires as Hamilton took the lead for the first time.
With Hamilton on soft tires, Bottas had better pace on fresher rubber when he returned. Hamilton made his first pit stop on lap 22 and Bottas retook the lead.
When he came back out, Hamilton was 20 seconds behind Bottas and questioned his team’s tire strategy over the radio.
Bottas went in for his final pit stop on lap 37 and emerged into some traffic in second place behind Hamilton, who pitted with 10 laps remaining.
Bottas then held on for his first victory in Japan to slightly narrow Hamilton’s commanding championship lead to 64 points with four races left.
Organizers canceled Saturday’s qualifying session with Typhoon Hagibis set to hit Japan’s main island. Vettel led Ferrari teammate Leclerc in morning qualifying to secure the front row for Ferrari.
Qualifying at Suzuka was also moved to Sunday morning as a result of bad weather in 2004 and 2010.
Red Bull driver Alexander Albon, who has impressed since his promotion from Toro Rosso to the senior team in August, finished a season-high fourth while McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. was fifth — initially ahead of Leclerc.
Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo was a lowly 16th in the morning qualifying but the Australian converted that to an impressive seventh-place finish ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly. Sergio Perez of Racing Point was ninth while the second Renault of Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten.
But Leclerc was later demoted to seventh — and Ricciardo moved up to sixth — following the post-race investigation into his first-lap crash with Verstappen. The stewards initially decided to take no action against the Ferrari driver before changing their minds.