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F1: Lewis Hamilton cruises to win at Japanese GP, closes in on title

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SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — Lewis Hamilton stormed to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, claiming his fourth straight Formula One win and moving a step closer to a fifth world championship.

Starting from pole, the Mercedes driver was never seriously challenged and crossed the finish line 12.919 seconds ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, 14.295 seconds back.

“The whole weekend has been incredibly strong for the team,” Hamilton said. “It’s a great 1-2 for Mercedes and shows you the strength and depth of our team.”

Hamilton has won six of the last seven races and now leads Sebastian Vettel by 67 points with four races left. He only needs to outscore Vettel by eight points at the next race in the United States to clinch a fifth world championship.

“We’ve gone from strength to strength as a team,” Hamilton said. “And Austin is usually a good track for us so I can’t wait to unleash this beast there.”

Vettel started eighth and quickly moved up to fourth place, overtaking both Toro Rosso cars that started ahead of him.

But the Ferrari driver attempted to pass Max Verstappen on the ninth lap and the two cars collided with the Ferrari spinning off into the runoff. The move dropped Vettel back to 18th place.

“I’m not the one who makes the rules,” Verstappen said. “It was a similar situation to what happened in China with him. He could have been more careful.”

Vettel worked his way back up to sixth but couldn’t move higher than that.

It was an impressive day for Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo who started 15th but finished fourth ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Force India’s Sergio Perez was seventh ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean. Force India’s Esteban Ocan was ninth while Renault’s Carlos Sainz rounded out the top 10.

There was an early collision with Sauber driver Charles Leclerc hitting the rear tire of Kevin Magnussen resulting in a puncture and bringing out the safety car.

Verstappen was given a five second penalty for an incident with Raikkonen where he clashed with the Ferrari as he rejoined after running off at the chicane.

“Kimi chose the wrong line in the chicane, he could have also just waited for me to come back on the track,” Verstappen said. “We touched a little bit but I really think it’s ridiculous those five seconds.”

IMSA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration: Why Sebring is so special to Bobby Rahal

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Bobby Rahal has driven in some of the biggest races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 Hours and, of course, winning the Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1986 and in 2004 as a team owner.

But winning the 12 Hours of Sebring two years in a row (1987 and 1988), Rahal feels, is right up there in terms of his greatest accomplishments as a race car driver.

As IMSA celebrates its 50th anniversary, Rahal reflected on what racing at Sebring International Raceway has meant to him:

“To me, Sebring is the ultimate endurance race. Not as long as Daytona or Le Mans, but the demands put on a car and driver at Sebring are highly unusual.

“My father raced at Sebring in the late 60’s. To win that race two years in a row really meant something to me.

“While we’ve won a lot of other races, we’ve won just about everywhere, you name it. But for me personally, winning at Sebring those two years in a row was very special.”

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