Valtteri Bottas seized the lead at the start before dominating Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix to score his first victory in almost six months as Mercedes clinched a record-equalling sixth successive Formula 1 constructors’ championship.

Bottas jumped from third to first on the run to Turn 1, capitalising on a disastrous start for Ferrari before building a lead that sent him on his way to victory.

It ended a win drought dating back to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the end of April, and gave Bottas’ fading drivers’ championship hopes some extra life as he took 10 points out of Hamilton’s points advantage, with the reigning champion only taking third place behind Sebastian Vettel.

The result was enough to clinch Mercedes the constructors’ championship with four races to spare, marking its sixth straight title victory to match the feat achieved by Ferrari from 1999 to 2004.

The joy Ferrari felt after locking out the front row of the grid turned to despair within 10 seconds of the race starting. A hesitation from pole-sitter Vettel saw him creep forward moments before the lights went out, allowing the fast-starting Bottas to sweep around into the lead for third on the grid.

After starting second, Charles Leclerc went side-by-side with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at Turn 1, resulting in contact between the pair at the exit of the corner. Verstappen was sent into a spin, while Leclerc picked up damage that forced him into pitting at the end of Lap 3 for a new front wing. While Verstappen was able to continue at first, he would ultimately retire from the race 15 laps in due to the damage picked up in the clash. The incident will be investigated by the FIA stewards after the race.

While Vettel managed to escape a penalty for his suspected jump start, he was powerless to stop Bottas forging a healthy lead through the opening stint. The Ferrari driver sat over five seconds off the lead and had Hamilton close behind by the time he pitted on Lap 16, taking another set of Soft tyres that committed him to a two-stop strategy.

Mercedes followed suit with Bottas one lap later, opting for a set of Medium tyres, and informed the Finn that they planned a two-stop strategy against Hamilton’s one-stop, meaning he would have to pass his teammate on-track.

But it soon became clear that tyre degradation was worse than expected. Hamilton’s pace began to nosedive compared to that of his rivals on fresh tyres, forcing Mercedes to bring him in just four laps after Bottas. Hamilton took a set of Mediums and emerged from the pits 10 seconds behind Vettel on-track, prompting the Briton call the strategy a “f**k up”.

Hamilton quickly put his fresh tyres to good use, carving into Vettel’s advantage ahead, with a further 12 seconds to make up to Bottas at the very front of the pack. Bottas was able to keep the gap stable before Vettel dived into the pits for his final stop on Lap 31, taking a set of Medium tyres that would see him to the end of the race. Bottas came in for his final stop five laps later, releasing Hamilton into the lead of the race.

The original one-stop plan may have seemed ambitious for Hamilton initially, but his tyres were holding up well despite dealing with traffic. He was able to match Bottas’ pace on the fresh Softs, prompting the Finn to ask the Mercedes pit wall if it was confident Hamilton would be making a second stop. He was assured there would be a second stop, meaning he would not have to make up the eight-second gap all on his own.

Mercedes stayed true to its word, bringing Hamilton in for a second time with 22 laps to go. The stop dropped Hamilton back to third, but with fresh Soft tyres, he was quickly able to make up the time and latch onto the rear of Vettel’s car heading into the closing stages of the race.

While Vettel and Hamilton squabbled over second place, Bottas was able to cruise home and pick up his third win of the season, finishing 11 seconds clear of the field.

Vettel held on to second place despite Hamilton’s best efforts to find a way past, but was powerless to stop Mercedes wrapping up the constructors’ championship for a sixth straight year as it outscored Ferrari by 41 points to 26, securing the 14-plus point swing it required.

Following Verstappen’s early retirement, Alexander Albon was left to fight alone for Red Bull, taking fourth place after overhauling both McLarens following a slow start. Albon made contact with Lando Norris that left the McLaren driver frustrated before jumping Carlos Sainz through the pit stops. Sainz managed to finish as the leading midfield driver once again, taking fifth place.

Charles Leclerc recovered from his start drama to finish sixth for Ferrari, missing out on the bonus point for the fastest lap despite a late push.

Daniel Ricciardo bounced back from his Q1 exit to take seventh for Renault, having been allowed past teammate Nico Hulkenberg in order to go on a late charge. Ricciardo picked off Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly en route to seventh.

Gasly finished eighth despite a last-lap clash with Perez that sent the Racing Point driver into the wall and provisionally out of the points, only for a timing system glitch to backdate the race to 52 laps. As a result, Perez kept P9, with Hulkenberg rounding out the points for Renault.

Lance Stroll finished 11th ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Lando Norris, the latter suffering from a brake issue and heavy tyre wear. Kimi Raikkonen took 14th for Alfa Romeo ahead of Romain Grosjean and Antonio Giovinazzi, with Kevin Magnussen finishing 17th for Haas.

Williams drivers George Russell and Robert Kubica propped up the running order in 18th and 19th, with Russell almost lapping his teammate in the closing stages.

 

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