Lewis Hamilton took a big step towards winning a third Formula 1 drivers’ championship in 2015 by dominating proceedings en route to victory in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
After seizing the advantage from pole-sitting Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the start, Hamilton never looked back as he led all 53 laps of the race to claim his eighth win of the season.
Rosberg was forced to focus on damage limitation after dropping to fourth at the start, but eventually battled his way up to second place to only lose seven points on Hamilton in the title race. Sebastian Vettel completed the podium as Ferrari failed to replicate its race-winning Singapore pace at Suzuka.
The start saw Hamilton dive down the inside of Rosberg at the first corner, causing the two drivers to run side by side through the first complex of corners. Remarkably, the Mercedes duo made no contact, but Rosberg was forced wide and subsequently dropped down to fourth behind Vettel and Valtteri Bottas.
Further back, contact between Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa left both drivers with a puncture, forcing them to crawl back to the pits for repairs off the line. Fernando Alonso made a great start to jump up to ninth on the first lap, but the Honda power unit’s issues became clear yet again as he quickly began to drop back, prompting the Spaniard to tell McLaren that it was “embarrassing” how he was getting passed.
As Rosberg struggled to keep with Bottas for third place, Hamilton was told to open up his lead at the front of the field to ten seconds across the course of his first stint. Second-placed Vettel was unable to stay with the Briton, leaving him to cover the trailing cars during the first round of pit stops.
Rosberg’s decision to go longer than Bottas during his first stint did not pay off at first as he emerged from the pit lane behind the Williams driver. However, as the German driver pushed on his fresh tires, he pulled off a brave move at the chicane to gain the position, leaving him third with Vettel the next target up the road.
Hamilton had duly delivered the pace that Mercedes had asked for in his first stint, with his lead standing at over eight seconds once he had made his stop.
With Bottas now falling back into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen, Rosberg set his sights on Vettel in second place through the second stint of the race. Ferrari informed Vettel that the German was coming, and told him to try to maintain a gap of two seconds to protect himself from the undercut.
When Rosberg blinked first and made his final pit stop on lap 29, Ferrari moved quickly to bring Vettel in and try to see off the threat from the Mercedes driver. However, a rapid in-lap allowed Rosberg to get the jump on his compatriot, moving himself up to second place.
Hamilton made his final stop of the race on lap 31, and once again returned to the track with a comfortable lead. With Rosberg almost ten seconds down the road, the Briton had the race in the palm of his hand with 20 laps remaining.
Williams’ hopes of getting ahead of Ferrari at Suzuka were dashed when Raikkonen managed to get the jump on Bottas through the second round of stops. The first lap puncture had left Massa at the very back of the field, turning his race into a glorified test session.
Hamilton was able to monitor the gap to Rosberg in the closing stages of the race with relative ease, eking out more and more time before crossing the line to clinch his second Suzuka victory by 18.9 seconds.
Despite coming under pressure from Vettel in the final few laps as he contended with traffic, Rosberg held on for second place to complete a Mercedes one-two and ensure that he left Japan only 48 points behind Hamilton with five races remaining.
In third, Vettel maintained his 100% podium record at Suzuka dating back to 2009, and remains just 11 points shy of Rosberg in the championship standings. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a good day for Ferrari by finishing fourth ahead of Bottas.
Nico Hulkenberg had a quietly impressive race en route to sixth as he led home the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado in P7 and P8. Max Verstappen bounced back from his qualifying stoppage to end the day ninth, leaving Toro Rosso teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. to round out the points in tenth.
Alonso led McLaren’s charge in Japan by finishing 11th, albeit after complaining about his “GP2 engine” as he was easily passed by Verstappen earlier in the race. Teammate Jenson Button had even bigger issues, though, as he ended the day down in P16 ahead of Felipe Massa.
Sergio Perez trailed Alonso home in 12th after making a three-stop strategy work well, edging out Daniil Kvyat, Marcus Ericsson and Daniel Ricciardo in a breathless late battle.
Alexander Rossi won Manor’s intra-team battle once again after teammate Will Stevens suffered a high-speed spin in the closing stages of the race. The American driver will next get behind the wheel of an F1 car for his home grand prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas next month.
After Mercedes slipped up in Singapore, Hamilton led its fightback in style at Suzuka with a peerless display worthy of his two world titles. With 48 points in hand and just five races to go, the Briton will know that it is is championship to lose ahead of the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.
John Force may be 69 years old, but Sunday he proved he is still a major force to reckon with in NHRA Funny Car competition.
The winningest driver in NHRA history, the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion won his 149th national event Sunday, capturing the Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado (suburban Denver).
Force (4.075 seconds at 315.42 mph) defeated 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps (4.067 seconds at 308.71 mph) in the final round to earn his first win in over a year.
Force has now won at least one race in each of the last 31 seasons and qualifies for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“The fire is back in me, I’m fighting,” Force said. “I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself. My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. … I don’t know why I won this race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”
Admittedly, before Sunday, he has struggled for much of the last year since his last win.
“I found myself with all the crashes and everything that happened probably at the lowest point in my career,” Force said. “It has been worse than when I crashed in 2007 (in the worst wreck of his career).
“I have been fighting to get back. I never let on to anyone but it showed that I just looked like a mess. I am fighting to get back. I had four crashes (this season) and after my last one I had John Bandimere (owner of Bandimere Speedway) call me and say, ‘We have to talk.’ I said ‘I know you love God and I know where you want to go.’ He told me to listen to him and he set me straight.
“I didn’t know if I would ever get back in position to win a race. Bandimere told me I could and I won’t stand here and preach the Gospel but he said when I get to Denver I will be fixed. He didn’t say I was going to win but that I would be fixed. He told me to go out there and show me who John Force is.”
It was Force’s eighth win (and first there since 2016) and 13th final round appearance at Denver in his career, making him the winningest Funny Car driver ever at Bandimere Speedway.
Force defeated daughter and No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in the semifinals to set up the deciding run vs. Capps. Prior to defeating Courtney, Force beat Matt Hagan and Cruz Pedregon in the first two rounds of eliminations earlier in the day.
“I had to beat a lot of great racers today, Hagan, Cruz, Capps, I love them all,” Force said.
Here are more tidbits about Force’s day, which leaves him one win away from 150 career wins:
Force now has 1,303 round wins in his career. He has beaten 137 different drivers en route to that mark.
376 of those round wins came against 15 world champions including two-time champ Matt Hagan, against whom he improved his record to 21-17 with today’s first round victory.
Force claimed 152 round wins at the expense of the Pedregon brothers: Cruz, Tony and Frank.
He has beaten fathers and sons (Jim and Mike Dunn, Paul and Mike Smith, Tim and Dan Wilkerson) and brothers (Cruz, Tony and Frank Pedregon along with Ron and Jon Capps)
He has beaten Cruz Pedregon 70 times, more often than any other driver
He earned 21 round wins against daughters Ashley Force Hood and Courtney Force and 22 against Robert Hight, his protégé and the father of granddaughter Autumn Hight.
He has won rounds on 27 different tracks in 18 states and Canada
He has won 128 rounds in three different events at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the most at any single track
He has won 76 rounds in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, the most in any single event
Other winners in the first of the NHRA’s annual three-race “Western Swing” (Denver; Sonoma, California; and Seattle) included Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, Greg Anderson won his first race of the season in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. earned his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win since 2015.
The race was the 14th of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
In Top Fuel, Pritchett (3.831 seconds at 316.45 mph) earned her second win of 2018 and seventh of her career. She was No. 1 qualifier for the event (also for the second race in a row and 10th No. 1 of her career) and defeated Doug Kalitta (3.852 seconds at 319.82 mph) for the win.
Prior to facing Kalitta, Pritchett defeated Terry Totten, Scott Palmer and Clay Millican in the first three rounds.
“Our crew has really impressed, attitude of gratitude, as high as the altitude here,” Pritchett said. “They chipped away at it and didn’t let themselves get down earlier this year when we were in a slump and they didn’t let me get myself down in a slump either. I always have my confidence in them and they have their confidence in me and this weekend we pulled it all together.”
In Pro Stock, Anderson earned his first win of the season, his third at Bandimere and 91st triumph of his career.
Anderson (6.943 seconds at 196.53 mph) defeated Summit Racing Equipment teammate Jason Line (6.947 seconds at 196.19 mph). Also, the victory put Anderson back atop the Pro Stock points standings.
“We have had a heck of a battle this year, we have had great running cars but we have made mistakes on Sunday and haven’t been able to close the deal,” Anderson said. “The class is so tough right now, it is so hard to win. The bottom line is we haven’t put forth our best effort on Sunday, we haven’t lost giving it our best shot and today we did.”
Anderson defeated Joey Grose, Vincent Nobile, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to advance to the finals showdown with Line.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. earned his first win since St. Louis in 2015 and his 12th career NHRA triumph.
In his first final round of the season, Arana (7.170 seconds at 185.89 mph), who earlier this year became the first rider to crack the 200 mph barrier, won easily when 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie fouled at the starting line.
“We have had a fast bike all the time, just been working on consistency and then when the bike was good I was making little errors,” Arana Jr. said. “Dedication, hard work, and practicing to bring it all together. Finally got over some hurdles over here and now we should be back on track.”
The Western Swing continues July 27-29 with the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
FINAL FINISHING ORDER:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Clay Millican; 4. Blake Alexander; 5. Scott Palmer; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Jim Maroney; 8. Richie Crampton; 9. Tony Schumacher; 10. Antron Brown; 11. Greg Carrillo; 12. Terry Totten; 13. Bill Litton; 14. Brittany Force; 15. Mike Salinas; 16. Terry McMillen.
FUNNY CAR: 1. John Force; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Courtney Force; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Tim Wilkerson; 8. Jack Beckman; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Jonnie Lindberg; 11. Matt Hagan; 12. Jeff Diehl; 13. Terry Haddock; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Shawn Langdon; 16. Todd Simpson.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jason Line; 3. Chris McGaha; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Deric Kramer; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Tanner Gray; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Drew Skillman; 11. Matt Hartford; 12. Fernando Cuadra; 13. Erica Enders; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Joey Grose; 16. Will Hatcher.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Hector Arana Jr.; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Scotty Pollacheck; 6. LE Tonglet; 7. Steve Johnson; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Angie Smith; 11. Jim Underdahl; 12. Angelle Sampey; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Joey Gladstone; 15. Cory Reed; 16. Eddie Krawiec.
TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,132; 2. Clay Millican, 959; 3. Leah Pritchett, 949; 4. Tony Schumacher, 930; 5. Doug Kalitta, 893; 6. Antron Brown, 750; 7. Terry McMillen, 696; 8. Brittany Force, 658; 9. Richie Crampton, 576; 10. Scott Palmer, 544.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 1,156; 2. Matt Hagan, 946; 3. Ron Capps, 930; 4. Robert Hight, 911; 5. Jack Beckman, 906; 6. J.R. Todd, 832; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 746; 8. John Force, 735; 9. Shawn Langdon, 647; 10. Bob Tasca III, 596.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 1,044; 2. Tanner Gray, 976; 3. Erica Enders, 969; 4. Vincent Nobile, 947; 5. Chris McGaha, 875; 6. Drew Skillman, 842; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 838; 8. Bo Butner, 782; 9. Jason Line, 778; 10. Deric Kramer, 725.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 591; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 564; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 501; 4. LE Tonglet, 493; 5. Jerry Savoie, 481; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 417; 7. Matt Smith, 411; 8. Angie Smith, 304; 9. (tie) Hector Arana, 289; Angelle Sampey, 289.