Lewis Hamilton was keen to stress that he was referring to God when he claimed “something or someone doesn’t want me to win”, but he now requires a divine intervention if he is to retain the world championship he has dominated since 2014 after Nico Rosberg won the Japanese Grand Prix.
Rosberg blitzed Hamilton all weekend, having topped practice on Friday, claiming pole position on Saturday and leading every single lap on Sunday to extend his lead to 33 points over Hamilton, who for once only had himself to blame for making his afternoon much more difficult than it needed to be.
As the celebrations began in the pit lane for Mercedes, Hamilton was keen to praise the team before turning attentions to his own title hopes.
"A big congratulations to the team and I am proud to be a part of it," Hamilton said. "I did the best I could from where I was in the race. I am happy to be in the points.
"I will give it everything I have got as I did in the race and we will see what happens."
Rosberg added: "What an awesome weekend, for sure. It felt great from the word go, especially on this legendary track. Congratulations to the team."
If Hamilton is to fight back in this championship battle, he can simply not afford any more of the atrocious starts he has suffered throughout 2016. The curse struck the reigning world champion again at Suzuka, and by the time Hamilton reached the first corner, he was eighth.
The build-up to the race has been dominated by one man and one man alone. Despite Rosberg taking pole position, all the talk was of Hamilton’s media blackout following the “disappointing” and “disrespectful” criticism of him using Snapchat during the driver press conference on Thursday.
It was Hamilton, too, who was at the centre of a pre-race conflict when marshals were spotted attempting to dry out the second-place grid spot following heavy overnight rain. Ferrari saw the efforts, were clearly unimpressed with what was going on and made their feelings known, but in the end it wouldn’t matter a single bit.
With his engine bogging down and forcing Hamilton to pull in the clutch, the Mercedes went nowhere fast. Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen having to take evasive action in order to pass him. A charging Force India of Nico Hulkenberg also came charging through, while Max Verstappen was able to take second and follow Rosberg into turn one.
The action came thick and fast, mainly through the medium of Vettel. Having been told to “earn” a new contract with Ferrari by team principal Maurizio Arrivabene, Vettel went about proving why he remains a four-time world champion. It took the German just three-quarters of a lap to pass Ricciardo at the scarily fast 130R, and a lap later he flew past the Force India of Sergio Perez to take third.
Hamilton’s progress was slow initially, he a listen to his radio communication left it abundantly clear who was at fault for the slow start. “Sorry guys,” the 31-year-old said. “Don’t worry Lewis,” came the calm reply.
Not for the first time this season, it would be Mercedes’s superior strategy that would get Hamilton back in contention. Hamilton had enough time to pass Hulkenberg before the first round of pit stops, but while Ricciardo dived into the pits for the undercut on Raikkonen, the clear air meant Hamilton could get to work on setting some clean laps. It worked, and when Hamilton pitted a lap after Raikkonen and Perez, he emerged ahead of the pair.
The three-time world champion suddenly came alive, and within the space of a lap and a half, he had added the scalps of Ricciardo, Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas – the two Williams’s yet to pit. By the time Hamilton emerged from the pits for the second time, he was in contention for a podium finish, and as Vettel stopped from third place, he came out behind the Mercedes much to his dismay.
On the softer tyres, Vettel launched a half-hearted attack on Hamilton, but it didn’t last long. Hamilton was off into the distance, and would catch second-placed Verstappen before the end of the grand prix. The earlier struggles meant that the Briton would have just one chance to pass the teenage Dutchman, and it came at the final chicane – the scene of such drama in the past.
Hamilton showed to dive up the inside, only for Verstappen to move to cover the corner during the braking zone. Hamilton flicked to the outside, but missed his braking point and ran straight on. The chance was gone.
For Rosberg though, it proved to be one of the most straight-forward races of his career. He took the victory having led every single lap, and with it clinch the Constructors’ Championship for the third consecutive year for Mercedes.
The German takes a sizeable 33-point lead into the United States Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, and with just four races remaining this season, Hamilton knows not even winning all remaining races this season will win him a fourth world title should Rosberg finish in second.
Final Positions after Race (53 Laps):
1 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1hr 26mins 43.333secs
2 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:26:48.311
3 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:26:49.109
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:27:03.602
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:27:11.703
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:27:17.274
7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:27:40.828
8 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:27:42.510
9 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1:28:20.409
10 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams 1:28:21.656
11 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:28:16.587
12 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault at 1 Lap
13 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap
14 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Renault at 1 Lap
15 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 Lap
16 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren at 1 Lap
17 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap
18 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren at 1 Lap
19 Felipe Nasr (Bra) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 Lap
20 Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Haas F1 at 1 Lap
21 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Manor Racing at 1 Lap
22 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Manor Racing at 1 LapReuse content