On one hand, the Japanese Grand Prix was going to hopefully be where Ferrari found some pace, avoided strategy errors and got Sebastian Vettel back in the driver’s championship. There was no shortage of hunches, innuendos and allegations.
Ferrari had more pace on the straights after the Belgian Grand Prix but now a rumored second sensor from the FIA has neutered whatever they were doing with the MGU-H. The strategy of Ferrari has had some dodgy moments and now Japan would be a place to reverse that track record. Mercedes may have been on the back foot briefly, but they simply out developed Ferrari. Finally, could it simply be that Ferrari were good at some tracks and not others.
Regardless of which rumor is correct, Ferrari managed to create errors that found Vettel in 8th on the grid for the start of the race. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen would be out front and with a 50-point lead, Lewis was in the perfect position to start hammering the final nails in the coffin of Vettel’s championship bid.
A big win for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton who controlled it from start to finish with his wingman, Valtteri Bottas, on his tail in second. If Lewis wins in Austin and Sebastian doesn’t finish second, the driver’s title is over and Lewis will win his 5th world championship. It was Lewis’s 6th win in the last 7 races even though both Mercs were struggling toward the end on their medium compound tires.
A win for Red Bull who weren’t quite sure they had the pace to keep the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen or Sebastian Vettel behind them, but they did and a storming race from Daniel Ricciardo up through the field to finish in 4th just behind his teammate Max Verstappen. Max was hoping for third while Dan was aiming for 6th before the start of the race. Max’s car came alive on the Soft compound, but Dan struggled with the mediums.
A win for Force India who managed to finish 7th and 9th just ahead of the Haas F1 car of Romain Grosjean in 8th. Sergio, best of the rest, made the most of his strategy and a dual points haul get that even closer to McLaren in the constructor’s championship.
Romain Grosjean has to be somewhat happy with his 8th place finish to at least score points for the team but losing to Force India may have stung a little. It was also a point for Carlos Sainz, on fresher tires, who managed to haul his struggling Renault ahead of the Toro Rosso Honda and deny the hometown team a point.
A fail for Ferrari. There isn’t really any other way to describe the weekend and that is now becoming the narrative of the season for them as well. A strategy error on tire selection during qualifying but even when they did get the right tires on, Vettel blew the one chance he had. During the race, Vettel tried to overtake Verstappen—who was going to be handed a 5s penalty anyway—and the opportunistic move ended with Vettel spinning and dropping to the back. A massive error given his terrific start coming from 8th to 4th. I might argue that he felt he would lose too much time behind Max to wait for a 5s penalty at the first stop and tried to make the move knowing he had to still get around Bottas. Regardless, Kimi made no ground and Vettel effectively lost the driver’s championship.
A fail for Toro Rosso Honda who seemed to have Pierre Gasly headed toward the points but both cars drifted backward after a good qualifying session to finish just out of the top 10.
A fail for McLaren who were effectively nowhere and had nothing to show. Similar fail for Williams with Lance Stroll converting a decent qualifying lap into dead last.
Sauber had a ragged day with Charles Leclerc who eventually retired the car with issues and Marcus Ericsson, who crashed in qualifying, wasn’t able to pick up the mantle and secure points.
A WTH for Kevin Magnussen who made a very late defensive move under braking and was hit by Leclerc which cut Kevin’s left rear tire down. HE lost a lap and eventually retired the car.
Also a WTH for Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg who crashed heavily in qualifying and the parked his car during the race with a mechanical issue. This is what Daniel Ricciardo has signed up for and after losing his voice by screaming with his Renault engine failed in the Red Bull, he may be having second thoughts…let’s hope not.
I am not sure why Ferrari are missing the strategy, making errors and why Vettel is making the errors he’s making other than perhaps trying too hard to get the car in places it may not quote be able to run in. With Vettel 30-ish second behind Kimi at the end, the team chose not to reverse order and that should probably tell you they weren’t worried about the additional 2 points Seb lost because of a lack of team orders.
Lewis’s win all but clinches his 5th title and takes Vettel’s hopes off life support. Lewis has won 6 of the last 7 and with a win and Vettel 3rd or worse, Lewis will put a clean sweep on the season.
Japanese GP result
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Renault||53||14.295s|
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||53||19.495s|
|7||Sergio Perez||Force India/Mercedes||53||1m19.379s|
|9||Esteban Ocon||Force India/Mercedes||53||1m28.055s|
|10||Carlos Sainz||Renault||52||1 Lap|
|11||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso/Honda||52||1 Lap|
|12||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber/Ferrari||52||1 Lap|
|13||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso/Honda||52||1 Lap|
|14||Fernando Alonso||McLaren/Renault||52||1 Lap|
|15||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren/Renault||52||1 Lap|
|16||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams/Mercedes||52||1 Lap|
|17||Lance Stroll||Williams/Mercedes||52||1 Lap|