Lewis Hamilton took a huge step towards a fourth Formula One championship on Sunday, winning the Japanese Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel's woes continued.
Hamilton enjoyed a dominant weekend at Suzuka and the Briton turned that into a 61st grand prix win, holding off Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
The Mercedes star had opened up a healthy lead amid struggles for Ferrari in Singapore and Malaysia, and he will take a 59-point advantage into the final four races of the season after converting his first Suzuka pole into victory.
Troubled by reliability issues in recent races, Vettel's bad luck continued as he was forced into retiring after just four laps due to mechanical problems.
The German appeared at risk of not starting as his car was worked on before the race, but the issues remained and he quickly fell from second before his retirement.
Verstappen produced a fine early move to get past the struggling Vettel and the Dutchman, coming off a win in Malaysia, held onto second as most drivers opted for one-stop strategies.
Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen's team-mate, completed the podium.
MORE WOES FOR VETTEL
Vettel's season continued its recent downward spiral. What was expected to be a thrilling finale to the campaign is all but over with four races left after Vettel's latest mechanical woes.
The German crashed in Singapore, where Hamilton was victorious, and then started last in Malaysia due to mechanical issues, although he salvaged a fourth-place finish.
But the four-time champion's latest problems in Japan appear to have ended his title dreams.
Verstappen backed up his Malaysia win with another fine drive.
The 20-year-old put huge pressure on Hamilton, battling tyre vibrations, in the closing stages. It marked a third podium finish this season for Verstappen and ninth top-10 result, having retired from the seven other races.
SAINZ FAILS TO COMPLETE LAP
Carlos Sainz Jr was unable to complete a lap on what was his final Toro Rosso start as the Spaniard crashed out.
Sainz signed with Renault for next season but will make the move immediately, with Jolyon Palmer leaving with four races left.
Palmer managed 12th spot on his final start for Renault.
IN THE POINTS
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.211seconds
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +9.679s
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +10.580s
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +32.622s
6. Esteban Ocon (Force India) +67.788s
7. Sergio Perez (Force India) +71.424s
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +88.953s
9. Romain Grosjean (Haas) +89.883s
10. Felipe Massa (Williams) +1lap
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 306
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 247 (-59)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 234 (-72)
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) – 192 (-114)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 148 (-158)
6. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 111 (-195)
1. Mercedes – 540
2. Ferrari – 395 (-145)
3. Red Bull – 303 (-237)
4. Force India – 147 (-393)
5. Williams – 66 (-474)
6. Toro Rosso – 52 (-488)
Hamilton can seal the title at the United States Grand Prix in Austin on October 22. A win and Vettel finishing outside the top five would wrap up the championship.
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