Valtteri Bottas overtook pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel at the start and won the Japanese Grand Prix to help Mercedes clinch a record-tying sixth straight constructors’ championship, a day after Typhoon Hagibis battered parts of the country.
Bottas picked up his third win of the season and first since Azerbaijan in April to close the gap on Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings but the latter still holds a hefty 64-point advantage with only four races remaining as he bids for a fifth individual title in six years.
Mercedes matched Ferrari’s constructors’ winning streak from 1999-2004 during the days of Michael Schumacher but with Hamilton or Bottas now the only two racers who can win the drivers’ title, is assured of a sixth straight double to pass the legendary Italian team.
“I had a really nice start and Sebastian had an issue so I got the lead and the pace was super good,” Bottas, who finished more than 13 seconds ahead of Vettel, told reporters. “I enjoyed it and had fun.
“I’m really proud to be part of the team, sixth title in a row is so impressive and proud of every team member here at the race. Well done, guys and girls.”
It all could have been so different for Vettel had he hung on to his spot at the front of the queue as Ferrari grabbed a fifth straight pole.
The German won qualifying earlier Sunday in sunny skies ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc and Bottas — all race activities were canceled Saturday due to the impending arrival of Hagibis — on the Suzuka track he enjoys racing on.
He’d won in Japan four times previously.
Ultimately, Vettel had to hang on to finish second, a mere 0.4 seconds faster than Hamilton.
The top three all employed a two-stop strategy, with Hamilton the last to take his second stop on lap 43 of the scheduled 53.
“I lost the momentum,” said Vettel. “It was a really poor start. With the lack of pace, second is probably the maximum but I’m not happy with the very first start of the race. To get pole and second is a reasonable day.”
Leclerc finished sixth despite colliding with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the first lap. It left Verstappen with significant damage to the back of his car and he eventually had to stop on lap 15.
Leclerc seemed to cut across Verstappen and the Dutchman was left fuming.
“Suddenly into turn two Charles just drove into the side of my car,” he said. “From my side I don’t think I could have done anything differently.
“The weird thing for me is that, initially, they don’t even investigate it. My whole car is destroyed. What more should he do to get a penalty?
“I like hard racing but I don’t think this was hard racing. This was just irresponsible driving into turn two.”
Leclerc responded: “I don’t know what happened from the full situation from the outside, and this I need to look at.”
Vettel, meanwhile, escaped any penalties for a possible jump start.