LEWIS Hamilton admitted he “enjoyed the ride” as he won and extended his championship lead at a wet Suzuka – but it was a serious injury to Marussia’s Jules Bianchi which overshadowed the Japanese Grand Prix.
Rain had long-threatened the running of a grand prix which could yet prove pivotal in Hamilton’s title battle with Mercedes team-mate and pole sitter Nico Rosberg, as the British driver outpaced his nearest rival to finish the shortened race in front.
A red flag had stopped the action after just two laps as – despite starting the race behind the safety car – the heavy rain being pushed over Suzuka by Typhoon Phanfone continued to fall.
Once the race had restarted there followed a prolonged dry spell during which time Hamilton caught and passed Rosberg on lap 29 before disappearing into the distance.
The race would not be completed, however, as the rain returned and saw driving conditions deteriorate, with Bianchi crashing out late on to see the red flags return.
The 25-year-old Frenchman aquaplaned and left the track in the same place where Sauber’s Adrian Sutil had suffered a similar fate on the previous lap.
Bianchi is understood to have crashed into the recovery vehicle that was in the process of removing Sutil’s car and, with an ambulance deployed, the race was halted after 44 laps and Hamilton declared the winner.
The victory moves the 2008 champion ten points ahead of Rosberg with four races remaining but Hamilton, as well as all of his fellow drivers, was subdued in the aftermath of Bianchi’s incident which saw the Marussia driver knocked unconscious and taken to hospital where he underwent surgery on a severe head injury. “It’s been an interesting weekend,” said Hamilton. “Our first thoughts go to Jules – it overshadows everything else when one of our colleagues is injured and we are praying for him. Next to this, the race result doesn’t seem significant at all.
“Generally the car was absolutely fantastic through the race and once I passed Nico I was able to really manage the gap and enjoy the ride.
“Obviously it didn’t finish the way we would have hoped but really, my prayers are with Bianchi and his family.”
Rosberg, who could not convert an eighth pole position of the season into the win which would have put him top of the standings, conceded Hamilton had been better than him on the day.
“Congratulations to Lewis for winning today,” he said.
“Of course my thoughts at the moment are with our colleague Jules because it seems quite serious, so I really wish him all the best.
“All in all, Lewis just did a better job than me today and deserves to win. Second place is damage limitation and taking everything into consideration, it was very difficult conditions...so seven points lost to Lewis, there is worse than that.”
Sebastian Vettel completed the podium on the weekend the four-time world champion revealed he would be leaving Red Bull for Ferrari at the end of the season. He edged out team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who finished fourth ahead of the McLaren of Jenson Button, who had profited from an early pit-stop onto the quicker intermediate tyre.
The Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished sixth and seventh respectively, whilst Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez also scored points – with the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne sandwiched between the Force India duo in ninth, despite having taken a ten-place grid penalty for a new power unit. Daniil Kvyat has been announced as Vettel’s replacement for 2015 and the sister Toro Rosso came home 11th ahead of the sole-remaining Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen as Fernando Alonso retired early on with an electrical fault.
Esteban Gutierrez came home a respectable 13th for Sauber, with the second McLaren of Kevin Magnussen also finishing ahead of the Lotus’ of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado.
Marcus Ericsson took 17th place for Caterham, with Bianchi’s team-mate Max Chilton 18th and home favourite Kamui Kobayashi bringing up the rear.