1219 GMT December 15, 2018
Valtteri Bottas, who had lined up on pole position for Mercedes, saw his hopes of overhauling Vettel for the runner-up position in the championship effectively disappear when he finished second, Reuters reported.
Vettel is now 22 points clear of Bottas with only the Abu Dhabi season-ender remaining. Hamilton’s unassailable overall lead was reduced to 43.
It was the German’s fifth win of the season, 47th of his career, and Ferrari’s first success since Hungary at the end of July when Vettel was leading the championship.
Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen held off Hamilton to take third place for Ferrari, the 2007 world champion’s third podium finish in a row.
“I had a very good getaway but then I had a bit of wheel spin so I thought I had missed my chance,” said Vettel of the key moment of the race.
”But I think Valtteri was struggling even more off the line so I was able to squeeze down the inside and I think I surprised him a little bit.
“After that we were pushing for the remaining laps flat out. I was trying everything to pull a bit of a gap and control the race from there.”
Hamilton, who clinched the title in Mexico two weeks ago, started from the pit lane after changes to his car following a crash in qualifying then began a thrilling charge through the field.
The Briton was already up to ninth after 10 laps, with the safety car deployed after opening lap collisions and led the race before the halfway stage as others pitted and he ran longer.
He finished only 5.4 seconds behind Vettel.
“It was fun. It was reminiscent of my karting days when I’d start at the back, particularly in my first year or two,” said Hamilton, voted driver of the day by fans in an online poll.
“I messed up yesterday and put myself in the worst position,” he added.
“Waking up this morning, my goal was really kind of just to redeem myself... I was trying to get back to third but just ran out of tires at the end.”