Japanese GP: Race notes - Pirelli

Vettel's gearbox given all-clear for Japanese GP

Vettel's gearbox given all-clear for Japanese GP

Sebastian Vettel's early retirement in the Japanese GP, his second in the last three races, has given Suzuka race victor Hamilton an unexpected early opportunity to wrap up his fourth world crown with three races to spare at the next Grand Prix.

Vettel led the drivers' championship for Ferrari all the way up to the Italian Grand Prix at the end of September, when Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton moved three points ahead.

That follows an engine issue a week ago in Malaysia which saw him start from the back of the grid and recover to fourth, and a first-corner crash in Singapore that left both Ferraris out of the race, but Vettel refused to point the finger of blame at his team and insists he will continue his fight until the last.

The German's absence was understandable given the commotion around his vehicle on the starting grid as the Italian team's mechanics hurried to fix a spark plug problem with the clock ticking.

Hamilton admitted that the virtual safety vehicle saw him lose some temperature in his tyres and made his final laps more hard than he wanted them to be, but he was still able to take the victory despite the close attention of Red Bull Racing racer Verstappen.

Should Mr. Hamilton win the US Grand Prix in 2 weeks he will cinch the drivers championship for 2017.

"It is very much approached, conceded Hamilton".

With Vettel sidelined and Mercedes back up to speed after two lacklustre weekends, Hamilton's afternoon should have consisted of a straightforward drive to victory but late tyre vibrations allowed Verstappen to reel him in.

"It is great to have a handsome day here - the track was fantastic and the team did an incredible job".

"There's still 100 points available, so I'm still going to keep the pedal to the metal", said the Briton.

A clearly disappointed Vettel said: "We've done an incredible job so far". "I owe everything to the team".

Is Hamilton's 59-point lead now unassailable?

Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was third. It is good to get some rest and then we know we have the package to do well in the last four races.

"Once I got past Seb I could do my own thing", he said. For the majority of the race, Hamilton was able to manage the gap, but a late puncture for Lance Stroll's Williams caused a Virtual Safety Car with just a handful of laps remaining. But also you try to look after your auto.

"I think I need to protect them (Ferrari)".

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes' Bottas took the third and fourth places respectively.

"It's a circuit I've always enjoyed, and with this year's auto it's a lot of fun".

Fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen, also struck by a gearbox-related grid penalty, was the sole-surviving Ferrari in fifth. Verstappen smelt blood and when in search of a second consecutive win, but his charge was hampered as the leaders came to lap Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa and he got stuck in traffic.