Race Report: Hamilton wins Japanese GP; Vettel’s title hopes all but over

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Japanese GP result

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes531h27m17.062s
2Valtteri BottasMercedes5312.919s
3Max VerstappenRed Bull/Renault5314.295s
4Daniel RicciardoRed Bull/Renault5319.495s
5Kimi RaikkonenFerrari5350.998s
6Sebastian VettelFerrari531m09.873s
7Sergio PerezForce India/Mercedes531m19.379s
8Romain GrosjeanHaas/Ferrari531m27.198s
9Esteban OconForce India/Mercedes531m28.055s
10Carlos SainzRenault521 Lap
11Pierre GaslyToro Rosso/Honda521 Lap
12Marcus EricssonSauber/Ferrari521 Lap
13Brendon HartleyToro Rosso/Honda521 Lap
14Fernando AlonsoMcLaren/Renault521 Lap
15Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren/Renault521 Lap
16Sergey SirotkinWilliams/Mercedes521 Lap
17Lance StrollWilliams/Mercedes521 Lap
Charles LeclercSauber/Ferrari38Retirement
Nico HulkenbergRenault37Retirement
Kevin MagnussenHaas/Ferrari8Retirement

Driver’s Championship

1Lewis Hamilton331
2Sebastian Vettel264
3Valtteri Bottas207
4Kimi Raikkonen196
5Max Verstappen173
6Daniel Ricciardo146
7Sergio Perez53
8Kevin Magnussen53
9Nico Hulkenberg53
10Fernando Alonso50
11Esteban Ocon49
12Carlos Sainz39
13Romain Grosjean31
14Pierre Gasly28
15Charles Leclerc21
16Stoffel Vandoorne8
17Lance Stroll6
18Marcus Ericsson6
19Brendon Hartley2
20Sergey Sirotkin1

Constructor’s Championship

3Red Bull/Renault319
7Force India/Mercedes43
8Toro Rosso/Honda30
Overall Race
race-report-hamilton-wins-japanese-gp-vettels-title-hopes-all-but-overFor track that isn't supposed to produce a lot of passing opportunities, Suzuka shined like a new dime with lots of non-DRS passing and good scraps in the midfield.
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I just love watching 1%er’s cock things up. So, great race. 4.5 stars.


If Seb is just a little patient when he was behind Max, a good exit from Spoon would put him in DRS range and then he probably passes on the pit straight since the Renault motor can’t hang with the Ferrari. Really foolish of him to try a move where he did instead of making an easy DRS pass half a lap later. This is only the second time all year that Hartley started in the top ten (other was Hungary), and he hasn’t parlayed either into any points. STR/RBR leadership have been quite loudly disappointed in Hartley this year,… Read more »


Seb’s clumsy move on Max shows how desperate the situation is at Ferrari. He’s thrown away numerous points with stupid mistakes when the ‘red mist’ comes down. Lewis has been so clinical in his driving and totally deserves the WDC this year more than any other.


Even before I got into cars, I’ve always known of Ferrari the brand. And then I heard of the unprecedented success of the Schumacher/Brawn era. I was wowed by the technology of their cars. I began following F1 in earnest in 2014. Vettel was coming off his success in the V8 era. His dejected emotion stood in contrast to Ricciardo’s buoyancy. Then Vettel was contracted to Ferrari. Some hoped he would bring Ferrari back to greatness. It was exciting to see what a winning Vettel was like. 3 years on now, emotions are running high, but not for the reasons… Read more »


FIA needs to be waaaay clearer about why they do and don’t give penalties. Leclerc was baffled after the race that KMag didn’t get penalized for moving in the braking zone and causing a collision. He wasn’t even mad, just openly wondering if he might be allowed do the same next time he was working hard to defend a position. And just in general, Magnussen has been driving dirty all year and has very rarely been punished for it. I THINK the FIA let KMag and Seb off the hook because they scuttled their own races; both lost way more… Read more »


If you look at the replay… he wasn’t in the braking when he turned.


Sure looked like KMags was not in the braking zone and turned essentially at the same time as Leclerc. LeClerc took the chance that KMags wouldn’t defend… which he always does.


Also, Ferrari and all their strategic errors show why Alonso left the team. Not saying the McLaren move was a great one, but it seems that Ferrari can’t get out of their own way.

Schumie Toronto

I just watched the (queue NC’s imitation English voice impression) “AUTO-SHPORT” Youtube review clip, where Andrew van de Burgt eloquently describes why Vettel HAD to go for it, with the move on Max. He HAD to put pressure on Merc then and there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otS_ANRsjio&t=2s