He held on to second place in Suzuka from start to finish, and protected race victor Lewis Hamilton from the late pressure applied by Red Bull'sMax Verstappen. After cruising to a lights-to-flag victory in Japan, on a day when chief rival Sebastian Vettel was left to rue coming off worse in another on-track tussle, the Mercedes star now leads the German by 67 points in the championship race with just 100 still to play for. The scenario has been set up because Vettel finished sixth at Suzuka after a collision with Max Verstappen, and Hamilton says he was expecting a much tougher challenge from Ferrari and Vettel heading into the summer break. But in the final laps, with help from a late Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen was able to close up to the back of Bottas and get within DRS range.
He added: "So the way we've approached things is to take it race weekend by race weekend and to try to maximise the vehicle for every weekend and then really take it as an ambitious target to perform at all tracks and in all conditions and to take every single race weekend as a new championship from Friday and this has worked so far, apart from Spa".
Valtteri Bottas held off Verstappen to take second nearly 13 seconds behind Hamilton in a breathless 53-lap race at the fast-flowing Japanese circuit. "It is a great one-two for Mercedes. Austin is generally a good track for us and I can't wait to unleash this beast there", said Hamilton after leading every lap at Suzuka for his 71st career win.
"Since then we've continued to try to optimise our package and do the best possible job on the auto and in the vehicle with the drivers and that has proven to be the right tactic".
"I even gave him space but he under-steered into my auto".
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who started 15th after an engine failure in qualifying, finished fourth for Red Bull and ahead of Raikkonen after making the jump during the pitstops.
The German recovered to finish sixth after spinning to the back of the field when he collided with Red Bull's Max Verstappen trying an ambitious move for third place into the hard Spoon Curve.
2018 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix
He added: "I don't believe you have your hands on the trophy until you have it in your hands".
"It's normal that it sometimes gets close but you need to always give the space and in that case I couldn't go anywhere and then we touched". But I think we have gone from strength to strength this year as a team, so I really hope that we can [win].
"At the end of the second stint I had some blistering, which made it a bit more tricky", he confirmed.
"Of course we didn't spin off the track [like in China], but he drove into the side of my auto".
"I locked up and I could easily have cut the track, [but] I made my best effort to get back on track", Verstappen argued.
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