Lewis Hamilton says he could only have dreamed of opening up such a sizeable lead in the Formula One championship after capitalising on Sebastian Vettel's woe to win a pulsating Japanese Grand Prix.
The Briton converted pole into an eighth victory of a campaign that has dramatically swung in his favour in recent races to open up a 59-point advantage over Ferrari rival Vettel.
It was a desperately disappointing day for the German, who retired after just four laps with an engine problem, as Hamilton held off a great fight from Max Verstappen to take the chequered flag at Suzuka.
Victory means the Mercedes man can clinch a fourth world title with victory in the United States Grand Prix if he wins and Vettel places lower than fifth and it is a position Hamilton did not foresee.
"Honestly, I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap. The Ferraris have put on such a great challenge all year long but I have to put it down to my team," an elated Hamilton said.
"They've done a phenomenal job, reliability has been on point. They're just so meticulous and that's really why we're having the reliability and results we're having."
Verstappen was rarely more than three seconds adrift of Hamilton and, when the Briton complained of vibrating tyres in the closing laps, that gap was cut to just over a second.
"Max drove an outstanding race and honestly it wasn't an easy one for us at all," Hamilton added.
"The Red Bulls just seem to be rapid in the race trim. Obviously, we're quick in qualifying but it got very close at the end with the VSC [virtual safety car] and the restart. The tyres were cold and had a bit of traffic and he caught right up, so it was very close."
Verstappen beat Hamilton at the previous grand prix in Malaysia and reflected on another fine outing in the Red Bull.
"It was a great day again. Suzuka is really great to me, I loved the track last year. The pace today was really promising," he said.
"The first stint on the supersoft I was struggling a bit with the left-front but as soon as we switched to the soft tyre it was very competitive and I was always with Lewis, especially in the last few laps.
"We had great pace it's just really hard to pass. I gave it my all to try and close the gap but the car is really improving race by race so I'm really happy about that."
24 de junio 2018
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