Vettel sets early pace in Suzuka first practice

No gearbox penalty for Vettel in Japan

Championship rival Sebastian Vettel retired from the race with a spark plug failure, and it has emerged that Mercedes had to change a faulty spark plug on Hamilton's vehicle after qualifying because it had discovered a problem with it.

Amid the commotion as Ferrari mechanics hurried to fix his spark plug problem on the starting grid before the race, Vettel missed the national anthem, earning himself a reprimand from the race stewards to add to the one imposed on him at the Monaco Grand Prix in May.

Hamilton admitted that the virtual safety auto saw him lose some temperature in his tyres and made his final laps more hard than he wanted them to be, but he was still able to take the victory despite the close attention of Red Bull Racing racer Verstappen.

Britain's Jolyon Palmer completed his last race for Renault in 12th place.

With Verstappen staying close to Hamilton all race, he finished second, just 1.2 seconds behind the victor.

"The track was fantastic today and the team did an unbelievable job", Hamilton said. I think our starts lately have been quite good.

"I don't think there is anything, I think it was just low. short shifting which the engine doesn't like so much". He said: "Of course it hurts and we're all disappointed". We've done an incredible job so far.

"I was trying to manage the pace and the tyres; it was a long way to go, it was the hottest the track had been all weekend, so that was really crucial".

However, with four races still remaining, Hamilton denied he already has one hand on what would be his fourth drivers' crown and his third with his current team. Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was third. "Something is wrong with the auto, I don't know if I can make it back." he said. The race was restarted on lap 3/53. Bitter about the last two races with the reliability issues.

SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel suffered the agony of another retirement on Sunday as his Formula One title hopes disappeared nearly over the horizon. "So for sure we will look into everything if it could have been done better, but I understood the situation".

"I tried not to bother anyone".

"It is a circuit I have always enjoyed and now with this year's cars it is a lot of fun".

Kimi Raikkonen, who will also drop five places on the grid for an unscheduled gearbox change after a crash in Saturday morning's final practice session, set the sixth fastest time. Esteban Ocon ended the race in sixth spot ahead of his Force India teammate Sergio Perez to win a closely fought encounter, with the latter finishing seventh.



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