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Photo by: www.kymilman.com/f1

A 34-point lead and pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix was a good position for Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton, to be in on Sunday a the Suzuka Circuit in Japan. An unexpected win in Singapore and a second-place in Malaysia, while Ferrari struggled in both races, meant that Mercedes were harvesting points without actually battling nose-to-tail with Ferrari. You take it any way you can get in F1 and mechanical issues are a part of the game.

The soggy weekend turned into a dry, sunny Sunday start to the race and the temperatures were higher than they had been previously in the weekend and Hamilton’s first-ever pole in Japan that was over 4/10ths faster than Vettel’s Ferrari was a good sign. A brace of Red Bulls on row two was enough to keep the run to turn one interesting.

Photo by: www.kymilman.com/f1

It was a 34-point lead at the start of the race and five laps later, Hamilton was set for a 59-point lead heading to the US Grand Prix. Hamilton’s win secured those points and in the end, that is most likely the final nail in the coffin on Vettel’s championship bid in 2017 and that nail is red and Ferrari shaped. It’s not fair to say that Mercedes didn’t win it, Ferrari lost it but there is a certainly an element of that which is applicable.

Win

A big win and capitalization on Ferrari’s woes for Lewis Hamilton who has all but locked up with 2017 championship bid with a hefty 59 points to the positive over Vettel.

A clean start from Hamilton and Vettel with no wild moves by either Red Bull meant that the leaders got away cleanly only to see Vettel drop back due to power issues. Regardless, the win was for good, clean start setting up a good battle between Mercedes and Ferrari that unfortunately didn’t materialize.

It may not have materialized in a podium but a great initial stint for Esteban Ocon running third for several of the opening laps and staying ahead of his teammate, Perez. Perez had radioed that Ocon was slow, but the team held station on the result.

Photo by: www.kymilman.com/f1

A win for Max Verstappen who took advantage of Vettel’s power issue but then drove a strong race and closed down to within 1.4s of Hamilton at the end. Perhaps Lewis was managing the pace but regardless, a great second place for Max and with teammate, Daniel ricciardo, in third, it was a dual podium finish for Red Bull.

A good result for Haas F1 with Magnussen and Grosjean in the points having dispatched Massa for 8th and 9th respectively.

Fail

Ferrari needed a recovery race and a resurgent outing for Vettel but what it got was a car that was down on power having changed a spark plug on the grid but it seemed that wasn’t the issue. Ferrari have no doubt made a serious push for more performance during the season but perhaps the push is a tad too far for reliable and yet competitive performance. A DNF for Vettel has just about handed the championship to Hamilton at this point and no telling what kind of thrombosis it will cause Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne who just reorganized the team this weekend after the Malaysia GP debacle.

Suffering a championship-ending race, Vettel decided that he’d leave the track and not engage in the mandatory press briefing and that’s going to garner a fine—which at this point he probably doesn’t care about.

Kimi Raikkonen didn’t help Ferrari’s case as he was pressed wide by Nico Hulkenberg and lost several positions in the process. Kimi did do a decent job of coming back through the field.

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A fail for Marcus Ericsson for a crash and failure to finish the race once again. Not the kind of behavior a team as small as Sauber can continue to afford.

Carlos Sainz spinning out of the race was not really the way he most likely wanted to finish his Toro Rosso career.

The Virtual Safety Car (VSC) is a good addition but as NBC’s crew pointed out, the time gains when the VSC is initiated seems to be a little confusing as Lewis doubled his time gap under the VSC period. It would seem that the system needs some explaining or improving on holding the gaps. Perhaps there is a simple explanation for it but the FIA needs to explain that.

It’s hard to say that a 4th place finish is a fail but for Valtterin Bottas, his struggles continue and surely the team would have preferred a 2nd place and it highlights the challenges the Finn is having at the moment.

WTH

A WTH for Ferrari who started the season strong but in their effort to keep up with Mercedes in the development war, pressed, perhaps, too hard and found the reliability monster in the process. Meanwhile, Red Bull said they wouldn’t really be competitive until after mid-season and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Having pit for SuperSoft tires, Nico Hulkenberg was set to storm through the field for a top-10 finish but unfortunately his DRS stuck open and the rear wing element looked completely askew. What a terrible way to end your race with a DRS flap that doesn’t close. It was then all down to Jolyon Palmer…the guy they just fired…to try and salvage some team points.

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A scary moment for Lance Stroll when his front-right tire went down and left him a passenger prompting the second VSC period of the race.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • jakobusvdl

    Another interesting race, interesting for the wrong reasons if you were hoping for a close title fight, but interesting to have the RBR’s in there fighting, as well as some fights and racing through the field.
    It really looks like the Mercedes more significantly affected than Red Bull or Ferrari when they get behind another car. Not that that is a frequent problem for Hamilton, but may be why Bottas is struggling to make up places.
    And on Ferrari, has their reliability gone since they slapped the Alfa Romeo stickers on the engine covers?

  • johnblair7

    Even though I want Lewis to win the title, its awful the bad luck that Seb is having. Its good that Max is on fire to make the rest of the races interesting.

    • subcritical71

      I don’t necessarily want Lewis to win (or Seb, I’m a bit indifferent really), but I must say up to this point he deserves the title… but it’s not over yet.

  • Dr T

    Apologies NC if you understand this and I am telling you how to suck eggs

    The time gaps are fairly straight forward under VSC once you get your head around them.

    The cars are going slower so it takes them longer to cover the same distance
    If at racing speed the gap is 5 seconds, and under VSC speed the cars are going half their usual speed then the gap becomes twice as much (ie 10 seconds).

    If the cars are going 1/3 of the usual speed then the gap is 3 times as much etc etc.

    So the gaps look longer under VSC but in fact they are the same when you adjust for speed. The the difference in the gaps once the VSC ends depends on where the drivers are when the lights went out which unfortunately is just luck (ie, if you are going at VSC speed in a part where that is the same speed as normal you lose less than if you are at VSC speed on a part of the track that is normally flat out).

    It’s all similar to the concertina effect you get as cars slow for and then accelerate out of corners – the gap looks smaller when they slow down even though the time gap is the same

    • Michael

      I’m missing something because your ending analogy doesn’t match your explanation. As the cars slow down for turns during racing, the gap gets *smaller* even though the time-difference is roughly the same. So why wouldn’t it be like that with the VSC? Why is the time and distance gap increasing with the slower VSC? I don’t get it. The gap from Hamilton to the next car should not increase with the slower speeds of the VSC, they should…using your analogy, get smaller.

      • Dr T

        In the corners the time gap is the same but the distance varies due to speed

        In the VSC the distance stays the same but the time increases because the speed is slower

        Speed = Distance / Time

        If you keep one fixed (in VSC the distance is fixed) then the other two move in proportion – in this case speed and time are inversely proportional

        • subcritical71

          I believe it has to do with the minimum time per marshaling sector. Say your 0.5 sec over the minimum time in one sector, you cannot make that up in the next sector. Since you now must stay above the minimum time in the next sector and say you are 0.3 sec above, now you are going to be 0.8 total above while the other driver may be closer to the ideal time. This snowball effect will continue.

          I can see a situation where If you get behind someone who is completely slow, and you cannot pass of course, you are now going to be miles behind the leader. I think some drivers are much better at maintaining this gap then others.

        • Michael

          If that was the way it really worked, that would make no sense. It’s easy to see why. That’s not the way it works though. I had a look at the Sporting Regulations (I should have done that before commenting :-)) and Article 40 describes how it works. Specifically 40.5 (@subcritical71:disqus explained it pretty well below):

          “40.5 All competing cars must reduce speed and stay above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU at least once in each marshalling sector (a marshalling sector is defined as the section of track between each of the FIA light panels). In addition, any driver entering the pit lane whilst the VSC procedure is in use must be above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU at the first safety car line as he enters the pit lane.”

          It would be interesting to see Hamilton’s telemetry to see where he is gaining (or Mercedes has figured out a way to game the system) or.. there is a basic misunderstanding of how the system described in the sporting regulations really works.

          • subcritical71

            I personally believe the way it should work is there is a time delta established when the VSC comes out based on the last completed marshal sector that two competitors completed (you would need to establish 19 different deltas, one for 1-2, one for 2-3, one for 3-4, etc until you get to 19-20). These deltas are now used in a way that they do not change over the course of the lap, so if you established delta is 1.3 sec at the time of the VSC, then at each marshaling station you need to be a minimum of 1.3 sec off the ideal VSC time. For the leader, he must follow the ideal VSC time. The time should be established such that any slowdown that would not be deemed as ‘unnecessarily slow’ should be able to be made up of the course of 1 marshaling sector without being too fast from a safety perspective, but could also be made up over the course of how many marshaling sectors the driver wants. The point would be that if a driver is 1.3 sec off at time of VSC, then he should be 1.3 sec off at time of green. If it would not be desirable to allow a catch-up in the follow on sectors, then the 30 sec window before the VSC is removed could be used for the catchup time.

          • Michael

            I’ve never liked like how the safety car bunches up the group. Sure, I like close racing, but I don’t like it being artificially competitive when a safety car comes out. For one, you never know if they deploy it (or not) to maybe help to manipulate the race outcome. I also don’t like backmarkers allowed to pass. Bottas was a lap down, then ended up placing very high earlier in the year. It’s just not fair. I’m currently pulling for Vettel and would say the exact same thing if he had benefited.

            So what you say makes sense. Honestly, from a technology perspective, I just don’t see why we need a safety car at all. From a safety perspective, having the drivers maintain their pre-safety car spacing prevents all the gamesmanship and speeding up and slowing down that occurs when the safety car is out. Vettel wouldn’t have had his issue with Hamilton, etc. Everybody goes off of one light at the start, no reason why technology can’t provide that same solution during a VSC restart. When I say “one light”, I mean the same time indicator on the messaging system, FIA light panels and maybe an additional indicator light on the steering wheel.

      • jakobusvdl

        F1 dictionary is a great resource for getting an overview of things like VSC
        http://www.formula1-dictionary.net/safety_car_virtual.html

        It looks like sub critical and DrT have pretty much figured out the intent and process, but the link attached is still worth a read.

        • subcritical71

          I think that was the original concept. I believe it was Alonso who also mentioned that a system similar to karting tracks which send a command that can cut the kart speed to a predetermined value could be employed.
          I still don’t see where the distance is coming from in the article (sorry, I can’t find it). I only see time mentioned.
          None the less, obviously if F1 nuts can’t figure it out the casual watcher will surely be just as confused.

          • jakobusvdl

            Thats a fair point.
            I’m ‘inferring’ distance based on them all lapping at the same speed, and keeping constant gaps ;-)
            I wonder if there is a you tube clip that explains it…….

  • subcritical71

    Motorsport.com is reporting that the spark plug was not changed. They removed the covers but it became evident that there was not enough time to effect the swap due to the lack of time. Instead they opted to change the engine settings to work around the problem. With the obvious loss of pace they decided to retire the car.

    I would have thought each team would know exactly how long it should take to ideally swap certain components. The dealership service department down the street certainly know this. Would the extra time gained by starting from pit road given the team an opportunity to swap the plug, therefore giving him full power and a possible points finish?

    • coolhand64

      Good point!!!

    • jakobusvdl

      They probably have a very good idea of how long any work on the car will take, they are building, dismantling, and rebuilding them several times over a race weekend.
      I was wondering if the work on the grid was still diagnostic. They may have known the spark plug wasn’t firing, but there could be multiple reasons for that, some might be really easy to fix (put the cap back on….) others might take much longer, but I’m surmising when the car got to the grid they didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with.

  • Max Johnson

    Jesus Christ that was a boring race, I wasted precious sleep hours for nothing.

  • spleee

    I’m so confused by VSC. Why was VSC used today and not in similar incidents in previous races? Isn’t VSC supposed to be used when the tractors are on the track because it controls speed instantly? Safety car still allows the backmarkers to drive faster on track until they catch up to the group behind the safety car.

  • Jimmy27

    We’re at two races in a row now where Alonso has tucked himself in between cars trying to make moves at the end of a race.