If a fifth Lewis Hamilton world championship wasn’t inevitable before his unstoppable march to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, surely now it’s a mere formality.
There wasn’t a moment across the entire weekend in which Hamilton, at the very peak of his powers in a car that has finally found its competitive sweet spot, looked likely to be beaten to the chequered flag. Even during Friday practice, a day that offers little to get drivers pumping with adrenaline, he could barely contain his enthusiasm as surfed a wave of confidence.
“This track is awesome!” he whooped mid-lap over team radio. “I’m having the best day!”
One might cynically suggest ulterior motives in Hamilton’s public enthusiasm as the Briton sought to apply the blowtorch to the fumbling Ferrari team, but the championship campaign of sole title rival Sebastian Vettel was already freely unravelling on its own.
A lack of practice pace proved a portent, but the real damage was done in qualifying when an inexplicable tyre strategy deprived both Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen of a chance to set a competitive time.
Both were sent out on wet-weather tyres in anticipation of rain but were greeted by a dry track, and by the time they switched back to slicks, the rain began to fall, leaving Raikkonen fourth and Vettel ninth
Title leader Hamilton, on the other hand, led an uncontested Mercedes front-row lockout, and he didn’t spare Ferrari any blushes.
“It’s so difficult out there to make the right call,” remarked the Briton. “When it comes to being under pressure, making the right decisions, the right calls, that’s why we are the best team in the world.”
Ferrari principal Maurizio Arrivabene, feeling the weight of another lost championship, was furious.
“I am very angry. It is not the first time that these mistakes have occurred,” he told Autosport. “Sometimes it is more useful to take your eyes off computers and watch the track, using common sense.”
But the worst was still to come for the Scuderia.
Vettel crashed into Max Verstappen as he attempted to make up for ground lost in qualifying, sending himself spinning from fourth to last on lap eight, wiping out his podium chances. Ferrari then botched Kimi Raikkonen’s strategy, dropping him to fifth behind Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
With the Italians imploding behind them, Mercedes engaged cruise mode, and Hamilton finished the race more than 12 seconds ahead of his teammate in second place after leading every lap.
It had been a masterclass not only in executing a clean race weekend but also in breaking down your opponent.
“I think together we can claim credit for applying the pressure, and ultimately that’s what happens in head-to-head battles with top competitors,” Hamilton said. “It’s the psychological war that we’re in.
“To go head to head with the guy you’re competing with and to see who breaks earliest and who falters is always the ultimate challenge of your mental stability under that pressure.”
It was Hamilton’s fourth win in succession and seventh victory in the last 10 races, bringing his championship advantage to a whopping 67 points — significant enough for him to wrap up his fifth world championship at the upcoming United States Grand Prix if he wins the race with Vettel third or lower.
“I think we have gone from strength to strength this year as a team,” Hamilton said, reflecting on his impending milestone. “Austin is usually a good track for us, so I can’t wait to unleash the beast there.”
A warning, then, that Hamilton and Mercedes are in no mood to stop the pummeling.