Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton struck a decisive blow in his championship battle with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on Sunday (Sep 17), as he took the honours in Formula One’s first wet night race.
The Briton, starting in fifth, was left thanking his lucky stars after a wet and wild start that saw the exit of three of the top four starters on the opening lap – Ferrari’s Vettel (pole) and Kimi Raikkonen (4th), and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (2nd) – for only the fourth time in Formula One history.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who finished second, was the only top four driver to see out the opening lap.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third.
Raikkonen got off to a great start, coming up to the left of Verstappen, who was himself trying to overtake Vettel on his right. Vettel moved to cut Verstappen off, appearing not to have realised the start his team-mate had, with the luckless Verstappen ending up as the meat between a Ferrari sandwich before the two Ferraris also collided.
Vettel attempted to keep going for a while after the collision but a second incident, when he spun out upon hitting some fluid, ended his race for good.
Asked about what happened, the German replied: “I don’t know. I didn’t see that much. I saw Max and then the next thing I see is Kimi hitting the side of me and Max somewhere there.
“It is what it is and we move on. It doesn’t change much. Obviously we are not in the race, that’s a pity, we can’t show the pace that we have but I am sure there will be more opportunities.”
Verstappen, who suffered a seventh retirement in 14 races this season, offered a different interpretation: “I think mainly Sebastian starting squeezing me and maybe he didn’t see Kimi on the left but that’s no excuse. If you are fighting for the title you shouldn’t take those risks.”
The result sees Hamilton extend his lead at the top of the standings to 28 points over Vettel heading into the Malaysian Grand Prix in October, as the season enters its final six races.
After his seventh win of the year, Hamilton is top with 263 points. Vettel is second on 235 and Bottas is third on 215.