Verstappen: Suzuka is great to me

Taking mximum points in Monaco helped boost Vettel’s title hopes. Image Octane

Already 34 points behind Hamilton before the start, the setback was the third in as many races for the German, whose hopes now rest on Hamilton suffering similar misfortune in the last four grands prix.

Ferrari had detected a spark plug issue on the way to the grid and removed the engine cover from vehicle No.5 in an attempt to rectify the problem before the start.

Hamilton admitted that the virtual safety auto saw him lose some temperature in his tyres and made his final laps more hard than he wanted them to be, but he was still able to take the victory despite the close attention of Red Bull Racing racer Verstappen.

Vettel tried to point to Ferrari's level of competitiveness as a positive aspect of its season while saying he would not give up on the title despite Hamilton being able to wrap up the championship at the next race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

Hamilton started from pole position, and with title rival Sebastian Vettel retiring early on, looked to have the race in his pocket.

Jolyon Palmer, who after qualifying announced that the Japanese race would be his last with the Briton agreeing a split with Renault, also collected penalties. Max has made things worse, he delivered an excellent race.

"The team did an incredible job, and it wasn't an easy one for us at all".

For Verstappen who drove a phenomenal race from start to finish, a final attempt to overtake Hamilton was thwarted by McLaren's Fernando Alonso, who blocked him while the blue flags were being waved.

He was near Hamilton, and pressured him, but to be honest, this was just a lesson for the young driver, with rude behavior, and what he did before came back at him now like a boomerang. But obviously it was good for us as a team.

"It's nearly unbelievable to think we are where we are in the championship", said Hamilton.

It means that Vettel must avoid getting a reprimand for any driving offence over the remaining four races of the campaign. "I think it's kind of unbelievable really, to think that we are where we are", he said. Bitter the past two races with the reliability issues - but you know, it's like that sometimes.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says he feels sympathetic towards former driver Sebastian Vettel and Formula 1 fans having seen the Ferrari driver's title challenge take a critical blow in Japan which he fears will dampen the title climax. "We have a lot of positives but today is not a day to look at positives".

"I think the vehicle should be a bit better in the race".

"It's a circuit I've always enjoyed, and with this year's vehicle it's a lot of fun".

Further back, Kimi Raikkonen recovered to finish fifth in his Ferrari, after that unscheduled gearbox change on Saturday - following his crash in FP3 - left him saddled with a five-place penalty and 10th place on the grid. Esteban Ocon was seventh-quickest for Force India ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez and Williams driver Felipe Massa.

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