Hamilton appeared to have his work cut out after he qualified behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg for yesterday’s race at a sun-drenched Suzuka.
But, despite starting on the dirtier side of the track, Hamilton blasted out of his blocks, and when he drew level with Rosberg heading into the long, sweeping, opening right-hander there was only going to be one winner.
Hamilton muscled his way past Rosberg, who ran out of room, fell off the track and slipped back to fourth. There was nothing wrong with Hamilton’s move and it summed up a season which the Briton, despite his setback in Singapore a week before, has utterly dominated.
While Rosberg battled back to finish second, he trails Hamilton by 48 points in the championship with only 125 left to race for.
Hamilton, it seems, is destined to join Senna, Sir Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda in the pantheon of all-time Formula 1 greats with a hat-trick of championship triumphs. And, after equalling Senna’s tally of 41 career victories, the Briton said: “I am so happy and for me to come to a race where I use to love watching Ayrton drive and to match his wins – I can’t really describe it. It does not feel real at the moment.
“This has been a circuit that I have struggled at through all the years that I have come here. When you go through the corners here it is flowing, it’s like sailing.
“Knowing that this would be the race that I would equal Ayrton, who had quite an interesting time here, made for quite an emotional day. I am not a teary guy, so I am just full of joy, happiness and light.”
Mercedes returned to their emphatic best in Suzuka and sealed their eighth one-two of the campaign. Hamilton led every lap in Suzuka and it is now not beyond the realms of possibility that he could clinch his third world championship with races to spare.
Rosberg looks like a beaten man. He did well to pass the Williams of Valtteri Bottas at the chicane and jump ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who completed the podium places, at the final round of pit stops. But the German, winner of just three races this year in comparison to Hamilton’s eight, knows this may have been his last opportunity.
It did not work out for struggling McLaren either. Fernando Alonso, who finished 11th, aimed several public swipes at Honda with a number of derogatory radio messages, while Jenson Button – who had not previously finished outside the top ten – crossed the line in 16th.
Alonso tweeted afterwards: “When we are fighting in group is difficult, we all want to win, and sometimes transmit the team radios, but it should be private chats. No one should have any doubt that I have three years with McLaren and my career in F1 will end with this team, hopefully winning everything.”
Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth for Ferrari with Valtteri Bottas fifth for Williams. Nico Hulkenberg crossed the line in sixth for Force India. Romain Grosjean was seventh with his Lotus team-mate Pastor Maldonado eighth. The Toro Rosso duo of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz completed the points-paying positions.