Lewis Hamilton took a well-deserved victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, in a race which was overshadowed by a serious accident involving Marussia’s Jules Bianchi.
Bianchi suffered a “severe” head injury in a crash that stopped the race early. The 25-year-old has since undergone surgery and is being treated in intensive care, whilst the world motorsports governing body the FIA has confirmed his condition to be “critical but stable”.
Despite having lost out in a straight fight for pole between the Silver Arrows team-mates, Hamilton claimed his third consecutive win after taking the lead from his title rival Nico Rosberg with a brilliant pass around the outside of Turn One.
Rosberg completed Mercedes’ eighth one-two finish of 2014, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in third place ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who took fourth.
Jenson Button drove a superb race to finish fifth in his McLaren but the race result seemed of little importance following the extent of Bianchi’s injuries.
Hamilton extends his Championship lead to 10 points over Rosberg following a performance that despite being soured by the day’s events, will be remembered as one of the greatest drives of his career.
The 29-year-old’s first ever win at Suzuka and eighth victory of the season took place amid treacherous wet conditions as the approaching typhoon Phanfone’s effects were felt as storms hit Japan’s coast.
As torrential rain hit the circuit at the scheduled local start time of 3pm, the race began behind the safety car and took just two laps before the red flag came out.
Following a delay, conditions improved to the point where the race could finally get underway after another eight laps under the safety car.
It was not long before drivers were in the pits to switch from the full wets to the intermediate tyre, as Rosberg and Hamilton stopped within a lap of one another on laps three and four respectively.
Hamilton trailed by 2.2 seconds after the first round of stops but soon began closing in on Rosberg, piling on the pressure as he moved to within a second by lap 24.
With DRS operational following improvements in the weather; Hamilton took advantage when Rosberg struggled coming out of the final corner to line up a pass along the start/finish straight, before diving around the outside to take the lead at the start of lap 29.
Hamilton’s pace was realised as he pulled away by around two seconds a lap, creating a 16 second cushion when the race was red flagged for a second time and declared over, after 44 laps.
This came as a result of Bianchi’s crash which occurred as conditions worsened once more with intensifying rain as the light began to fade.
Bianchi aquaplaned off the track after his car hit water at the fast uphill section of Dunlop corner, before colliding with a recovery vehicle which had been removing Adrian Sutil’s stricken Sauber – who himself had gone off into the barriers at the same spot on the previous lap.
Following the incident, the FIA said the Frenchman was unconscious and had been taken to hospital by ambulance.
Due to the timing of the red flag Vettel was classified third on countback. Following Saturday’s announcement that the German would be leaving Red Bull at the end of 2014, the quadruple world champion gained position by overtaking Button and the sister Red Bull car of Ricciardo with an earlier second pit stop.
An inspired early call to stop for intermediates as the safety car came in on lap 10 allowed Button to became entangled in a fight with the Red Bull’s for the final podium position, but eventually had to settle for a solid fifth.
Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa registered sixth and seventh, whilst the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg took eighth ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso and Sergio Perez, who collected the final point.
Despite qualifying fifth and excelling in the wet, Fernando Alonso did not get a chance to race as his Ferrari came to a stop on lap five, with the field still behind the safety car. The Spaniard, who is set to leave Ferrari at the end of the season compounded another disappointing day for the Scuderia.
With a subdued atmosphere and appropriate lack of celebration, the F1 paddock united in their concern for Bianchi’s wellbeing. Race winner Hamilton said: “It’s a real anti-climax to hear that one of our fellow colleagues is seriously injured, that’s really the main worry.”
The 2008 world champion’s words were echoed by fellow drivers up and down the field, with many, including Massa questioning the timing of the race considering the difficult conditions they faced.
“First of all we need to understand what happened with Jules. I’m very worried to hear that he hit the truck. In my opinion they started the race too early because it was not drivable at the beginning and it finished too late.
“I was already screaming on the radio five laps before that there was too much water on the track but then they just took a little bit too long and it was dangerous.”
With attention focused on any developments in Bianchi’s condition, F1 heads to Russia for its inaugural Grand Prix on October 12th.