Hammo ex­tends his lead

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LEWIS Hamil­ton cruised to vic­tory at the Ja­panese Grand Prix to take an­other ma­jor step to­wards his fifth For­mula One ti­tle.

The Mercedes driver was helped by a rash over­tak­ing move by Fer­rari ti­tle ri­val Se­bas­tian Vet­tel who col­lided with Max Ver­stap­pen while try­ing to pass the Red Bull driver on the in­side of the Spoon curve.

The ac­ci­dent on the eighth lap, af­ter Vet­tel had moved from eighth on the grid to fourth, saw the Fer­rari driver spin off the track, putting him back to 19th, be­fore he even­tu­ally fin­ished sixth.

Hamil­ton was un­trou­bled from pole po­si­tion and took the che­quered flag at the end of the 53 laps on the Suzuka cir­cuit ahead of team­mate Valt­teri Bot­tas.

“I loved it. The whole week­end’s been in­cred­i­bly strong from the team. A great one-two shows the team’s strength in depth,” said Hamil­ton, who has a fifth win in Suzuka, nine this sea­son and 71 in all.

It was also a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Ja­panese GP win for the 33-year-old Bri­ton, who now has a lead of 67 points over Vet­tel with four races of the sea­son re­main­ing.

Next up is the US Grand Prix in two weeks when Hamil­ton could seal the cham­pi­onship. The ti­tle will be his again if he wins in Austin and Vet­tel fin­ishes third or be­low.

“Each week you have a positive week­end and go to an­other grand prix and don’t know how you’re go­ing to per­form. But Austin’s a good track for us and I can’t wait to un­leash this beast there,” Hamil­ton said.

Hamil­ton now has four con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries and six of the last seven to dom­i­nate the sec­ond half of the F1 sea­son, while a mis­er­able run for Vet­tel and Fer­rari con­tin­ues.

The race be­gan well for Vet­tel when he moved quickly up four places from the grid.

How­ever af­ter a safety-car pe­riod fol­low­ing a shunt be­tween Kevin Mag­nussen in a Haas and Sauber’s Charles Le­clerc, he tried to over­take Ver­stap­pen.

Vet­tel could have waited for the Dutch­man to serve a five-sec­ond penalty for pushing Fer­rari’s Kimi Raikko­nen off the track, but de­cided to at­tack at the first op­por­tu­nity.

Un­for­tu­nately for the Ger­man he came off worse in the col­li­sion and found him­self hav­ing to play catch-up from the back, while Ver­stap­pen was able to con­tinue in third place. The stew­ards de­cided to take no action.

“I was pushing to get past. I wasn’t des­per­ate to get past,” Vet­tel told Sky Sports.

“I knew he had a five-sec­ond penalty. The gap was there, but as soon as he saw me, he de­fended, but I had the in­side. In my opin­ion, he tries to push when he shouldn’t.”

Ver­stap­pen saw the in­ci­dent dif­fer­ently, say­ing: “You can’t over­take on that cor­ner. I gave him enough space.”

The Red Bull driver was also un­happy with his time penalty for the in­ci­dent with Raikko­nen, claim­ing the Fer­rari driver “chose the wrong line”.

“It’s ridicu­lous, the five sec­onds, but we man­aged to sur­vive that,” he said af­ter fin­ished third ahead of team­mate Daniel Ric­cia­rdo, who had started 15th on the grid.

Raikko­nen ended ahead of Vet­tel, while Ser­gio Perez (Force In­dia), Ro­main Gros­jean (Haas), Es­re­ban Ocon (Force In­dia) and Car­los Sainz (Re­nault) com­pleted the lead­ing 10. | dpa

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamil­ton cel­e­brates on the podium af­ter winning the race. Pic­ture: REUTERS/Is­sei Kato

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