LEWIS Hamilton was so bored in the Japanese Grand Prix that he radioed his engineer, asking if he’d taken a break.
‘I haven’t had an update for a while,’ the Mercedes driver said as he swept to victory at the 5.8km Suzuka circuit.
But while he had a Sunday cruise on his way to extend his driver’s championship lead to 67 points, there was a great deal of action among the rest of the field.
And while it was a day Sebastien Vettel would want to forget, it turned out better than expected for Daniel Ricciardo, who started from 15th on the 20-car grid after an engine problem in qualifying, to finish a strong fourth, behind teammate Max Verstappen.
Vettel, who started from ninth after a botched qualifying session in the rain, tore through the field at a rapid rate and was fourth by lap 10, then he tried to get past Verstappen on the approach to a corner – and ran into the rear of the Red Bull.
Surprisingly, he was not penalised.
But Verstappen collected a five-second penalty for pushing Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari off the track on lap 3. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) and Lance Stroll (Williams) also got penalties for infringements.
Valtteri Bottas swatted a hard-charging Verstappen away in the closing stages of the 53-lap race to retain second place for Mercedes, while Ricciardo put in a blinder to take fourth, way ahead of the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Vettel, with Sergio Perez claiming seventh for Force India.
Next was Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who qualified fifth on the grid, followed by the Force India of Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz in the Renault.
Grosjean is on a roll, his qualifying performance this year the best of his long career with 10 consecutive Q3 achievements for the young American team.
Teammate Kevin Magnussen had a very short race after his Haas was hit by Charles Leclerc’s Alfa-Sauber in the opening laps. It punctured the Haas’s rear tyre, which disintegrated and wrecked the car’s floor and bodywork.
Leclerc continued and was in 10th spot on lap 40 when something broke and the young Monegasque, who takes over Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari next season, parked the car off track.
Whatever broke was apparently caused by his earlier contact with Magnussen and Leclerc was less than delighted.
‘Magnussen is and will always be stupid,’ he said. ‘It’s a fact. A shame.’
It was Hamilton’s 71st career win and his 50th for Mercedes and the race seemed to be one of the highlights of his career.
‘I loved it,’ he said at the finish.
‘I have been racing a long, long time, but the happiness I have is as high as ever.’
Vettel told his team he was ‘sorry for the result,’ referring to his crash with Verstappen.
‘But if I don’t go for the gap, I might as well stay at home.’
However, he refused to take the blame.
‘We were side by side and he didn’t give me enough space,’ he said.
Verstappen’s view: In that corner you can’t overtake. I gave him space but he understeered into my car.’
Red Bull principal Christian Horner was chuffed with the points haul for his team.
‘Both drivers did a great job today,’ he said.
‘Particularly Daniel Ricciardo.’
Next circuit on the calendar is at Austin, Texas, on Oct 21.