There need not have been much focus on the front of the Japanese Grand Prix Sunday (Oct. 7). Lewis Hamilton made sure of that.
Hamilton started from the pole position, took the lead and managed the race from there. Even a safety car and a virtual safety car could not disrupt his dominant performance as he cruised to victory. The win was Hamilton’s 71st of his career and widened his lead over Sebastian Vettel in the driver’s championship. The gap now sits at 63 points with four races to go.
Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas took second, for the second consecutive race which increased the gap in the constructor’s title to 78 points over Ferrari. Max Verstappen somehow earned the third spot after a rather eventful race with his teammate Daniel Ricciardo close behind. Next came the Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel who took fifth and sixth.
Verstappen brought the first incident of the race when he went off track and came back on – right into the side of Raikkonen. While Verstappen continued on, Raikkonen lost momentum and Vettel slid by. The move earned Verstappen a five-second penalty, consequences that looked like it might set him back into the clutches of both Ferraris. But that never came to fruition.
Of course, the contact that Verstappen and Vettel had after the safety car for Kevin Magnussen’s exploded tyre still proved influential. The incident, coming after contact with Charles Leclerc, spun out Vettel and dropped him to 19th. Vettel worked his way steadily through the field and didn’t put his car at risk but his fifth-place finish must come as a disappointment.
The storyline surrounding Vettel is that he is showing that he is unable to handle the pressure of racing for the championship. While such a narrative might come across as pure folly and as click-bait, the reality is that it has become more clear that he does not have the mettle to match Hamiltonʻs. The fact that Ferrari seem to have lost their early-season mojo when calling their races adds to what looks like titles already slipped away. It may not just be that Vettel is struggling but that Ferrari are as well, and all this despite having what has frequently been the faster car.
Driver of Note
Daniel Ricciardo bowed out of qualifying early, with an engine failure that put him 15th. His frustration came out afterward when he criticized the failure, remarking that something like that shouldnʻt happen at this level of racing. Ricciardo is right, sort of, but the obvious issue is that he has faced mechanical issues all season long. The fact that if his car ran without incident thereʻs a likelihood that Red Bull would be second in the constructors battle is something that everyone who favors the team would like to ignore.
It is a bit of surprise then that Ricciardo was able to drive from 15th to fifth. His efforts earned him driver of the day and showed why he allowed more frustration to escape than usual as it became clear that he felt they could have been challenging for the podium and perhaps a win.
Drive to Question
Max Verstappen showed off his prodigious talent and his ability to lack a complete understanding of what is going on around him once again. This time he did so and in the result killed the chances of both Ferraris to fight for the podium. Verstappen is a perplexing presence on the grid, a personality worth admiring for his attacking and unrepentant behavior, yet someone who also seems like he needs to do a better job managing his race and car. When he puts it all together he should be amazing.
Team to Watch
Toro Rosso supposedly enjoyed a boost in power from the Honda powerplant upgrade given to them at the Japanese manufacturerʻs home track. Reports have the Red Bull junior team sporting 60 more horsepower. Whether or not the improvement was that substantial, it did look like the Toro Rossoʻs were able to hold their straight-line speed better than they all season.
The race held enough intrigue to be considered interesting and that is likely due to Verstappen treating the Ferraris like pinball bumpers. Hamiltonʻs runaway victory was unsurprising which killed some of the drama. That a number of drivers earned five-second penalties (Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen) seems to highlight that it was a bit of a messy race.
The U.S. Grand Prix from the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, October 21.
1 Lewis Hamilton (GBr) Mercedes GP 1hr 27mins 17.062secs
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:27:29.981
3 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:27:31.357
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:27:36.557
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:28:08.060
6 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:28:26.935
7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:28:36.441
8 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:28:44.260
9 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:28:45.117
10 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Renault at 1 Lap
11 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap
12 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 Lap
13 Brendon Hartley (Nzl) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap
14 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren at 1 Lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren at 1 Lap
16 Sergey Sirotkin (Rus) Williams at 1 Lap
17 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams at 1 Lap
18 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber-Ferrari 38 Laps completed
19 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 37 Laps completed
20 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 8 Laps completed
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