Grand Prix Review: Japan

Japan is a circuit famous for some of it’s title deciding moments and although no champion was crowned in Suzuka this year the race has all but secured a 5th title for Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory in a dominant display where he led every lap from pole position to take his 50th win with Mercedes but the race could have looked very different if it wasn’t for mistakes by Vettel and Ferrari on Saturday. In mixed conditions Ferrari looked to have dropped the ball, in Q3 there was very light rain fall, everyone wanted to set a lap time as quickly as possible to get the best track conditions they could. Every car except Ferrari went out on Super Soft tyres, Ferrari elected to run Intermediates expecting more rain to fall quickly but they clearly realised that this wasn’t working out so opted to swap for the slick tyres but at this point everyone had set a lap time in dry conditions and Ferrari had to set theirs in damper conditions. Raikkonen managed to qualify 4th behind Verstappen and the two Mercedes but Vettel pushed too hard and made a mistake in Spoon Curve and qualified P9. Perhaps the driver most disappointed was Daniel Ricciardo who couldn’t set a lap in Q2 due to a throttle issue resulting in Ricciardo qualifying on P15.

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P9 would be Vettel’s worst qualifying of the season. Copyright: Scuderia Ferrari

Race day wouldn’t prove to be any better for Vettel, he made a great start and was soon 5th behind Raikkonen and Verstappen, this would soon turn into 4th when Verstappen locked his brakes and went off track in the final chicane only to rejoin in a dangerous manor making contact with Raikkonen. Vettel would ruin any chance of salvaging the weekend when he made a very ambitious overtake on Vertstappen at Spoon; making contact and spun dropping to the back of the pack. Daniel Ricciardo would make a solid recovery drive from P15 and finish just behind his teammate in P4 making less of a mess of his overtaking.

The midfield fight would be very close with overtaking proving to be easier than originally thought, Magnussen and Leclerc would make contact when the Dane made a late move defending damaging Leclerc’s front wing and giving himself a puncture, he would eventually retire with the damage sustained from the accident. The sole remaining Haas of Romain Grosjean would have a race long battle with both Force India’s but Perez would eventually overtake the Haas for P7. After a strong qualifying Toro Rosso would drop back in the race with both cars out of the points after Carlos Sainz made a late overtake on Gasly for the final points paying position.

Hamilton would cross the line over 12 seconds ahead of teammate Bottas who came under massive pressure from Max Verstappen in the closing laps, here is how the top ten finished:

  1. Lewis Hamilton 1:27:17.062
  2. Valtteri Bottas +12.919s
  3. Max Verstappen +14.295s
  4. Daniel Ricciardo +19.495s
  5. Kimi Raikkonen +50.998s
  6. Sebastian Vettel +69.873s
  7. Sergio Perez +79.379s
  8. Romain Grosjean +87.198s
  9. Esteban Ocon +88.055s
  10. Carlos Sainz +1Lap

Major Talking Points:

Hartley finds form:

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Copyright: Toro Rosso

Brendon Hartley put in his best qualifying of the season when he qualified P6 and it was very timely, there is still 1 seat remaining at Toro Rosso and Japan is the home track for Toro Rosso’s engine supplier Honda. The race wouldn’t turn out quite as well with both Toro Rosso’s struggling for race pace but Suzuka may prove to be the turning point for Brendon Hartley this year.

Leclerc unimpressed with Magnussen:

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Copyright: Haas

Charles Leclerc was left frustrated after a collision with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, Magnussen has become a fan favourite for his no nonsense never say die attitude, he is perhaps one of the most aggressive defenders in the business but took it a step too far in Japan. In the early stages of the race the Sauber of Leclerc would slipstream Magnussen ready for a move on the main straight, he would then begin to make his move when Magnussen moved across onto Leclerc’s line resulting in the two colliding ruining both their races with Leclerc announcing his displeasure on the radio.

“Magnussen is and will always be stupid. It’s a fact. A shame.”

Ferrari and Vettel mistakes gifting Hamilton championship:

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Copyright: Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton now has a 67 points lead in the championship, he has won 6 of the last 7 races and can take his 5th world title at the next race in Austin, Texas. Hamiltons bulletproof form is a big factor in this but Ferrari and Vettel have made this easy for him, Vettel and Ferraro have made a series of mistakes this season and Suzuka was no exception. A poor tyre choice in qualifying meant the Vettel has only one chance to set a decent lap in far from ideal conditions but a mistake by Vettel would compromise their weekend. Another mistake by Vettel in the race would result in Vettel finishing 6th and all but writing himself off in the championship.

Why Vettel won’t be champion this year

Driver of the Day:

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Copyright: Red Bull

He was so disappointed after a throttle problem prevented him from progressing past Q2 on Saturday that a loud scream in the car would damage his throat making it hard for the Aussie to talk but Ricciardo would be much happier come Sunday. A stellar drive saw him carve through the field to claim P4, he would make precise and bold overtaking manoeuvres and prove why he is the best overtaker in the business.

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