IT’S not pretentious at all to declare that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are assured of being champions, again, in 2018.
Victory in Japan makes it six wins in the last seven races for Hamilton and with a 63-point lead, he looks every bit the champion.
A faultless weekend from Mercedes ensured a front-row lock out on Saturday while an unnerved Ferrari was left scrambling.
On Saturday Ferrari’s senseless decision-making reared its head again as both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were sent out onto a dry track with intermediate tyres.
Though there was enough time for both drivers to switch to dry tyres, it left them with only one lap in the final part of qualifying. While Raikkonen secured fourth Vettel ran off track and was relegated to the fourth row of the grid.
All wasn’t lost for the would-be championship contender as a good start to Sunday’s race saw him quickly into fourth. But while Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas pulled away up front Vettel’s impatience got the better of him. Max Verstappen, who started third, was correctly given a five second time penalty for rejoining the circuit in an unsafe manner at the final chicane.
The Red Bull driver had driven into the side of Raikkonen allowing Vettel to pass his teammate and settle on to Verstappen’s gearbox.
Vettel threw caution to the wind and attempted an overtake on Verstappen in Spoon corner.
Not only did he fail to make the move stick but he also sent himself into a spin that left him plumb last. He eventually recovered to finish sixth.
From an operational standpoint Ferrari has had some embarrassing blunders on strategy.
But the mistakes in the races lay firmly at Vettel’s feet; the lock-up in Baku, the crash with Bottas in France, the bizarre crash while leading in Germany, the crash with Hamilton in Italy, the mistake on the Q3 lap in Japan, and finally the crash with Verstappen in the race.
Together all of these moments have ensured that unless something truly miraculous happens in the last four races, Vettel will not be the 2018 champion.
It’s clear too that Vettel, in 2018, is a far cry from the driver that won four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013.
The reason could very well be the cockpit he’s currently sitting in. The pressure of being a Ferrari driver and the constant demand and expectation to win is unlike any other and it’s evident that Vettel has cracked under that pressure.
Meanwhile, it could hardly be any better for Hamilton. There’s a mental switch that happens with Hamilton in the second half of the season that means he raises his game to a level no one, with the exception of Nico Rosberg, has been able to match.
Plainly put, Hamilton and Mercedes have wiped the floor with Vettel and Ferrari.
Bottas followed Hamilton home in second while Verstappen snapped up the final step on the podium.
Victory in Japan indicates that Hamilton’s fifth world championship crown is a mere formality. With a 63-point lead and four races remaining in 2018 it’s not if Hamilton will win the big prize but rather when.