Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton landed a near-knockout blow in the Formula One driver's championship fight by cruising to a Japanese Grand Prix win on Sunday after engine trouble forced Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel into early retirement.
In his fourth career win in Japan and eighth of 2017, Hamilton headed home the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, the former pushing past his teammate in the first corner before passing Vettel to move into second by the end of the first lap at the Suzuka circuit.
The flawless win for Hamilton gives him a massive 59-point lead over Vettel in the driver's title race, with the German's two DNFs in the past three races -- an accident in Singapore and in Japan a spark-plug issue his team identified before the start -- likely spelling the end of his 2017 tilt.
"I think it's kind of unbelievable, really, to think we are where we are," said Hamilton. "I was excited to have a good race with Sebastian here, as I was in the last race, but it was incredibly unfortunate (for him)."
"In the world of Formula One today, it is a lot about reliability, the team's whole performance, it is not just about speed on the track."
"It was not an easy walk in the park today, it was very much one I had to work very hard for."
Despite the crushing result, Vettel has not yet given up hope of challenging Hamilton for the driver's title.
"It's like that sometimes, of course it hurts, of course we are disappointed," the four-time world champion said after returning to the pits.
"We still have a chance this year...For sure we don't look at the positives because today is not the day to look at positives."
Verstappen backed up from his win last weekend in Malaysia with another excellent drive, putting a strong move on Ricciardo early and setting a rapid pace on the way to his third podium finish of the season, even putting some pressure on Hamilton in the closing laps.
"I closed up (on Hamilton), but when you get really close you lose a lot of downforce so I could not really attack him. But at least I tried," said the 20-year-old Dutch star.
"I am happy to be on the podium here, I think Suzuka is pretty good to me."
Ricciardo's result, his ninth in the top three this year, allowed him to cut into his championship deficit with Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas, who recovered from a grid penalty to take fourth.
The Australian described his race as "boring" after he lost touch with the two leaders in the race's opening stages.
"The race itself was not very exciting, but for sure I am happy to get a podium here. I said from the start of the week that I wanted a first Suzuka podium and I got it."
Like fellow Finn Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen worked his way through the field after being pushed down the grid by a penalty. The Ferrari No. 2 finished fifth, but more than half a minute behind Hamilton.
The Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh, respectively, ahead of Haas teammates Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Hamilton now has a points lead of more than two race wins over Vettel with a maximum 100 on offer from the last four rounds of the season. The Briton can wrap up the title at the next race -- the Oct. 20-22 U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas -- if he can outscore Vettel by 16 points.
Hamilton, though, was not about to take his fourth driver's championship for granted.
"There's still a long way to go, 100 points is still a lot of points. Anything can happen in life and I just have to keep my head down continue to perform like this. I feel very fortunate and blessed and I am enjoying the experience."