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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.