Hamilton home and dry as Vettel's bid loses spark
When the Formula One circus struck camp and set sail for Singapore a few weeks ago, the last thing it expected was for the drivers' championship to be all over by Japan.
Yet that is effectively the situation after Lewis Hamilton's lights-to-chequered flag victory stretched his lead over Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel - who was forced to retire early on with a spark-plug issue - to a massive 59 points with just four races remaining.
Hamilton will become Britain's most successful Formula One driver, pulling clear of Jackie Stewart, when he wins his fourth world title - whether that happens in the USA, Mexico, Brazil or Abu Dhabi.
Vettel's engine cover was removed, ominously, on the pre-race grid - just as Kimi Raikkonen's had been the week before - and a swarm of specialists crowded around to have a look.
However, it was to no avail. Vettel lasted just four laps before he was pulled from the fray.
It has been an extraordinary turnaround since the summer break, which Hamilton entered with a 14-point deficit.
But Ferrari have only themselves to blame.
Their drivers took each other out in Singapore, their engines self-combusted in Malaysia and Vettel was sparked out in Japan yesterday.
Having qualified on pole, Hamilton got a bit of wheel-spin at the start but held on to his lead into the first turn.
Behind him, Max Verstappen managed to slip up the inside of Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, and soon the Dutchman had passed Vettel as well as it became obvious the German was in trouble.
After Vettel retired, Hamilton stayed in control, keeping Verstappen at arm's length, although a couple of virtual safety cars - the first when Marcus Ericsson went off at Degner 2 on lap eight and then again right at the end after Williams' Lance Stroll crashed - allowed the Red Bull driver to close right up.
Hamilton, who had Mo Farah here as a guest and was snapped doing the 'Mobot' on the podium, was in understandably perky mood afterwards, joking with Takuma Sato, who was conducting the post-race interviews, that he liked his "bling" and asking to try on his Indy500 winners' ring.
"Jeez. I could have only dreamed of having this kind of gap," Hamilton said when asked about his 59-point lead.
"The Ferraris have put up such a good challenge all year. I can only really put it down to the team. The reliability is down to them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)