SUZUKA (Japan): Valtteri Bottas jumped from third to first with an electric start to win the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and the Finn’s Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Charles Leclerc could only finish sixth in the second Ferrari, meaning Mercedes clinched a record sixth successive constructors’ world championship with their double podium finish.
“I’m happy, very happy,” said Bottas. “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.”
Ferrari had enjoyed a front row lock-out in a rare morning qualifying session caused by Typhoon Hagibis but their race unravelled 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. “I lost momentum there. Mercedes had more pace than us, was a tough afternoon to maintain second.”
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.
Leclerc’s front wing was damaged and with bits flying off in all directions — one demolishing the wing mirror of Hamilton just behind — he was forced to pit for a new nose at the start of lap four.
He rejoined in 18th position, fittingly a place behind Verstappen who appeared to be the helpless victim of their collision.
Vettel, who escaped sanction for his false start, 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 from the lead on the next lap to take a new set
of mediums emerging ahead of Vettel, meaning both the Finn and the German would need to stop again before the end of the 53 lap race.
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 for a fresh set of medium tyres, rejoining in third.
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. – AFP