Verstappen narrowly misses out on victory in Japan

Japanese GP: Watch Nico Rosberg analyse Lewis Hamilton's pole lap on Sky F1

Lewis Hamilton is within touching distance of a fourth Formula One world title after he raced to a crucial victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, with championship rival Sebastian Vettel failing to finish.

After an impressive weekend in practice, Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire on lap 5 due to a spark plug failure.

Verstappen pitted a lap earlier than Hamilton, then produced some good laps to cut the lead to 1.7 seconds midway through the race.

Lewis Hamilton has been left pinching himself after victory in the Japanese Grand Prix put him within reach of a historic fourth world title.

But Sunday's setback could be the most decisive yet, opening the possibility that Hamilton could wrap up his fourth title as early as the next race in Austin, Texas, if not Mexico a week later.

"When I let Lewis by and went between him and Max, for sure I lost a bit of race time and that compromised my race a little bit".

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Hamilton pointed to his team's consistency on and off the track as the reason why he is in such an enviable position.

"I don't honestly think there is anything wrong with the engine, I just felt a couple of things", he said. "Jeez he looked so big in my mirrors, but I'm really grateful the auto stuck in and I didn't make any mistakes, so I'm really proud of that", he said. Hamilton's victory means he has opened up an nearly insurmountable 59-point lead ahead of Sebastian Vettel, with just 100 points left to play for. Max Verstappen was quick to pass Daniel Ricciardo for P3 and was now trying to close in on Vettel to take P2. "Of course it hurts and we're all disappointed but I think now we need to get back, get some rest and go flat-out for the last four races and see what happens".

"I think I need to protect them. From there on I could basically do my own race", he said.

With Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel having issues with his vehicle, and eventually needing to retire, the coast was clear for Hamilton - but Red Bull's Max Verstappen was not going to just hand the victory to the Brit. The race after the start spread out and it wasn't that exciting from my point of view. Vettel said to Sky Sports F1 after his retirement. It feels great. It is a circuit I have always enjoyed, and with this year's cars, it is a lot of fun.

Kimi Raikkonen, who will also drop five places on the grid for an unscheduled gearbox change after a crash in Saturday morning's final practice session, set the sixth fastest time.

Force India's Esteban Ocon, who ran as high as third at one stage, was sixth ahead of Mexican teammate Sergio Perez, as the Silverstone-based team came away with another strong haul of points. Felipe Massa of Williams completed the top 10 taking the last point, ahead of Alonso.

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