Lewis Hamilton wins Japanese GP & closes on fifth world title

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Asked whether he might think twice in future when alongside Verstappen in future, Vettel bridled at the suggestion.

Vettel, eighth on the grid after a combination of driver and team errors in Saturday's dry-wet qualifying, executed an impressive opening lap to climb four places.

Indeed, the move smelt of desperation, and it marked Vettel's second mistake of the weekend, after he ran off track in qualifying, and his seventh of an error-prone campaign. "When we got to midseason we got that win going into the break and then again, really pushing to make sure that we come back even stronger so again, set the bar high. I gave Sebastian space, but he under-steered into my auto".

Ricciardo finished fourth for Red Bull after starting way back in 15th.

F1's points are awarded to the top ten finishers - 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1 - meaning he effectively needs to out-score Vettel by eight points in Austin to secure the championship.

"Austin is generally a good track for us and I can't wait to unleash this beast there", said Hamilton after leading every lap from pole position.

Verstappen had already incurred a five-second penalty after nudging Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari off the track.

The German was trying to pass Verstappen, who still had to serve a five-second penalty, for third place at the fast left-handed sweep of Suzuka's Spoon corner when they made contact, with Vettel spinning around. Hamilton was supreme, driving superbly and overshadowing Bottas in what has become in recent races a dominant vehicle.

Ferrari's decline in performance since Monza and Sebastian Vettel's dwindling title hopes have puzzled the F1 paddock, but in Italy the Scuderia's tumble is being linked to the passing of Sergio Marchionne.

The incident was investigated by the stewards, with no further action taken, but Verstappen felt it was clear Vettel had been at fault.

A brilliant first half to the season a year ago saw Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes under serious threat from Ferrari.

"But it doesn't help when we finish sixth and they win the race".

With a consistent vehicle, Ricciardo is always unsafe - he sees the overtaking opportunities so soon and reacts swiftly, and he fully deserved his fourth-place finish after yet another qualifying session marred by technical issues.

Bottas hadn't demonstrated as much pace as last weekend but was still backing up Hamilton in second.

The Spaniard, who infamously embarrassed McLaren's former engine supplier Honda at its home circuit three years ago by yelling "GP2 engine, GP2 engine" over the team radio, called the penalty "random" and said it proved "how bad Formula One is".

"The gap was there, I had the inside", he fumed. "But the gap was there - I had more speed, I would have made the corner".

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was in the wrong against Max Verstappen. It's not always right the other guy has to move.