Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead to 33 points after winning his first ever Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.
Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of securing a third straight F1 title were seemingly left in tatters after a mistake saw him plunge from second to eighth place, before staging a late charge to finish third, just behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
This was just the latest of bad starts from Hamilton after similar early slip-ups in Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Italy.
After the Brit’s woeful start in Suzuka, it was relatively comfortable for the German who scored his ninth victory in a season that now has to be in the bag.
With Rosberg on 313 points and Hamilton 280, the German only needs three seconds and a third to clinch his first title over the remaining four races - even if Hamilton wins all of them.
Meanwhile, Mercedes secured a third straight constructor title after Rosberg’s victory made them uncatchable at the top of the constructors' championship with 593 points, well ahead of Red Bull’s 385.
It was a frustrating outing for Ferrari with lead runner Sebastian Vettel coming fourth, just ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Red Bull’s Daniel Riccardo would have been disappointed with sixth too after starting the race in front of both Ferraris.
Seventh and eighth place went to Force India Mercedes’ Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg respectively, ahead of their Williams rivals Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas who completed the top ten.
Complaints came from Verstappen, Vettel and Raikkonen over their apparent lack of blue flags, and there was further bitterness from Mercedes who accused Verstappen of driving “erratically and in a dangerous manner, forcing [Hamilton] to take evasive action”.
However, the complaint was withdrawn after Hamilton said he didn’t want to force the matter.
Hospitality packages for 2016’s remaining Grand Prix races in the US and Abu Dhabi are still available. 2017’s British Grand Prix in July may seem some time away but enquiries for hospitality packages can be made already.
By Alex Brundell