SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton showed the young pretender who was boss on Sunday by fending off Max Verstappen in the closing laps of the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Formula One championship leader, whose Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel retired with an engine issue on the fourth lap, had enjoyed a straightforward Sunday afternoon from pole position.
But just when the 32-year-old seemed set for a trouble-free run to the 61st win of his career, his pace suddenly dropped and he complained of tyre vibrations following a period under a virtual safety car.
For a moment it seemed as if Verstappen, the Dutch driver who turned 20 last week and won for Red Bull in Malaysia a day later, would steal an unlikely second successive win.
But Hamilton, who finished second in Sepang and chose that time not to defend his lead aggressively when Verstappen came past, was having none of it.
“Today I was like — he won the last race, I’m not letting you have this one,” said Hamilton, who hung on to win by 1.2 seconds.
“I was driving down the back straight at one point and I’m thinking ‘Jeez, the guy behind me is so much younger than me, I’ve got make sure I kind of man up and show my age’.”
Verstappen, son of former Formula One racer Jos ‘The Boss’, has established himself as one of the sport’s most spectacular drivers since making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2015.
His overtaking moves have also drawn criticism from some established stars but, already the sport’s youngest winner, he has an admirer in Hamilton.
“I’m enjoying being in an era with such great young talent coming through,” said the triple champion, who also ruffled feathers at the start of his career.
“He’ll be here far beyond after I stop. But until then, I will try and not give him too many poles or too many wins.”
Hamilton now has a 59-point lead over Vettel with just four races left and 100 points up for grabs.
He is now in a position to seal a fourth title at the next race in the United States, if not a week later in Mexico.
Editing by Alan Baldwin