Lewis Hamilton took another step towards this year’s Formula 1 title with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, narrowly beating Max Verstappen, while Sebastian Vettel’s championship hopes suffered a blow.

The Mercedes ace converted pole into an early lead while second-placed Vettel began to drop back immediately, minutes after his Ferrari team had taken the engine cover off the car on the grid to check a spark plug problem.

Verstappen, who passed Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo off the line, picked off Vettel at the hairpin on the opening lap, before the Ferrari dropped another three places along the start/finish straight at the start of the second tour.

After a brief safety car period, caused by Carlos Sainz crashing his Toro Rosso at Turn 6, Vettel slumped to eighth before getting the call on the radio to pit and retire the car on lap 4.

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