Japanese GP: Mercedes closes in on record sixth drivers-constructors titles double

With Bottas winning the Japanese Grand Prix and championship leader Hamilton finishing third, the Silver Arrows are set to rewrite the record books.

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas led most of the race to take his third win of the season, his first in 13 races.   -  Getty Images

Mercedes are all but assured of an unprecedented sixth drivers-constructors titles double as Valtteri Bottas won the Japanese Grand Prix after a stunner of a start from third and teammate Lewis Hamilton finished third on Sunday.

The Silver Arrows bettered Ferrari’s five doubles between 2000 and 2004.

The British team took the constructors’ title at Suzuka, with 612 points to Ferrari’s 435. With four races left, the maximum points available to a team are 172.

Ferrari won six world constructors’ titles in a row starting in 1999, but McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen won the drivers’ title that year ahead of the prancing horse’s Eddie Irvine. Michael Schumacher, who was sidelined for most of 1999 with a broken leg suffered at the British Grand Prix, won the next five drivers’ titles.

Mercedes have dominated the F1 hybrid era that began in 2014, which saw the field switch from 2.4 litre V8 engines to 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines that feature energy recovery systems.

The British outfit – which returned to the sport in 2010 after two championship-winning seasons in 1954-55 with five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio – has won 86 races since its comeback, which include 61 for Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton himself is on course for a sixth world drivers’ championship, moving himself one above the five that Fangio won in the 1950s and one behind Schumacher’s seven. The Brit has won four of the last five titles, coming up second in 2016 to teammate Nico Rosberg, who promptly retired. With 83 wins, Hamilton – who already holds the record for pole positions with 87, ahead of Schumacher’s 68 – is only eight short of the German.

Hamilton in 2008 broke the record for the youngest world drivers’ championship winner at 23 years and 300 days, after almost taking it the previous year in his debut season with McLaren. The record was later broken by rival Sebastian Vettel in 2010, who won four titles on the trot but has flattered to deceive since his move to Ferrari in 2015.

 

Suzuka spared by super typhoon

Super typhoon Hagibis forced millions to evacuate across Japan over the weekend, but race day at Suzuka was spared, though qualifying was postponed to Sunday for only the fifth time in 70 years of F1.

Ferrari locked out the front row, Vettel taking only his second pole position of the season. The German has been out-qualified – and out-raced – by his much younger teammate Charles Leclerc for most of the season.

READ : Leclerc is 'clearly better' than Vettel so Ferrari should get tough, says Irvine

Vettel appeared to have made a false start in the race and lost the lead immediately to Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen dropped down the field from fifth after contact with Leclerc on the opening lap. The Monegasque driver continued for a few laps with a disintegrating front wing before pitting, and the Dutch youngster retired on lap 15. Leclerc finished sixth but was classified seventh after getting a 15-second time penalty - five for the crash with Verstappen and 10 for carrying on driving under unsafe conditions.

Vettel continued with soft tyres after his first pit stops, while Bottas switched to mediums and set the lap record at Suzuka, which his teammate later took along with the extra point for fastest lap. Championship leader Hamilton was changed to the medium compound, a decision he questioned his team about, though he was clearly made up considerable time on Vettel in second.

Bottas led most of the race to take his third win of the season, his first in 13 races. The Finn – whose contract Mercedes extended for 2020 at the end of August – has had a resurgent season after failing to win a race and finishing fifth in the drivers’ standings in 2018.

Race over

Hamilton on 338 points is all but assured of a sixth title, leading teammate Bottas by 64 points. Leclerc and Verstappen, the other two drivers with a mathematical – though unrealistic – chance of winning the title, dropped out of the race. A maximum of 100 points are available for a driver for the rest of the season