A weekend full of mistakes brings discouragement in Maranello as Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel get further away from the title. The disastrous Saturday, which saw Vettel and Raikkonen qualifying in P6 and P4 respectively because of bad tyre strategy, is followed by a dull Sunday, with the Prancing Horse getting P5 (Kimi) and P6 (Seb) at the chequered flag.
The start of the race seems pretty positive for the guys in Red, Kimi maintaining his position and Sebastian being able to easily overtake Romain Grosjean. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas immediately set a fantastic pace on a track which has always been very favourable to Mercedes in the hybrid era. The first few laps cause a bit of frenzy and various contacts and collisions, including Leclerc and Magnussen (the latter retiring), Verstappen and Raikkonen (the first getting a 5-second time penalty), Alonso and Stroll (both getting time penalties). The incident between Leclerc and Magnussen triggers the deployment of the Safety Car at lap 5, returning to the pits in lap 8. Just a lap later, the race changes completely.
Despite Max Verstappen (still ahead of Vettel) has already been awarded a time penalty, Sebastian decides to go all in and attack him: the Dutchman, defending the position, closes the space. The two cars collide and Vettel pays the highest toll, spinning (luckily, with no damage) and falling back to P19. From this moment on, the race is easy for Mercedes, being far ahead of everyone else on the grid even after pit stops (as expected, the top teams played it safe with a one-stop strategy, switching for mediums). Lewis Hamilton leads every single lap of the race, and only one final fastest lap from Vettel stops him from getting a poker of records in Suzuka. An honourable mention goes to Daniel Ricciardo, the master of overtaking, who finishes the race in P4 after starting P15.
The title fight
“It’s not over till it’s over”, they say. However, at this point in the championship, with four races to go and a 57-point difference between Hamilton and Vettel, things are looking extremely tricky for the Prancing Horse. Of course, the fight is still mathematically open: there are still 100 points to be distributed, but the Brit might actually close the game in Austin already, if Vettel fails to score points and he finishes sixth or higher. Grid penalties, accidents and DNFs are to be considered in the equation, but it appears that the tifosi might have to wait yet another year to cheer.