The Super Sunday that was the FORMULA 1 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX 2019 ended in the return to the Winner’s Enclosure of Valtteri Bottas and also saw Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport take its sixth consecutive Constructors’ title thanks to the 41 points it picked up today, in the certain knowledge that one of its drivers will take the Drivers’ crown. This was the Finn’s third win of the season, his sixth in all, while the win tally for the Silver Arrows has now reached 99.
On the second step of the podium was Sebastian Vettel, but the Ferrari man was definitely not that delighted this evening, as a hesitant getaway at the start wiped out the pole position advantage he’d secured in the morning. He lost the lead in the first few metres and after that never looked to have the pace to get it back and then had to fight tooth and nail to defend his second place from Lewis Hamilton, only half a second separating them at the flag. It wasn’t the championship leader’s best day, starting with him qualifying fourth, but the lap time of 1.30.983 he posted on lap 45 was a new race record for Suzuka and more importantly, the point that came with it meant the team could start celebrating the fact they have both titles in the bag.
Even if Hamilton had not got that fastest lap point, shortly after the race, the Stewards ensured that Mercedes could celebrate, as they had given Charles Leclerc a double penalty totalling 15 seconds, following another key moment just after the start. Leclerc also got a poor getaway off the front row and ran wide into Max Verstappen on the outside of turn 2 which sent the Red Bull into a spin. The Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow driver damaged the front win and, on instruction from the Race Director, came in on lap 3 to change it. This happened after a piece of the damaged wing had flown off and hit the closely following Hamilton’s car. It was more or less race over for the Monegasque who could only finish seventh.
And yet, Sunday in Suzuka had got off to the best possible start for Ferrari, who locked out the front row of the grid at the end of a tense and closely contested qualifying, close enough for the two Red Bull drivers to set identical times of 1.27.851. Ferrari and Mercedes are now level when it comes to front row lockouts, with 64 apiece. However, even if the Italian team’s chances of victory were compromised just a few hundred metres after the start, the race was still open all the way to the end, mainly down to the fact that the teams had adopted a variety of strategies and there were plenty of passing moves and climbs up the field.
There was an amazing 89,000 strong crowd that packed the grandstands, having turned up at the track despite the difficulties caused by the Hagibis typhoon that had caused all track activity on Saturday to be cancelled. They saw Bottas immediately set a strong pace as he gradually pulled away from Vettel, while Hamilton was delayed by Leclerc who was definitely not at his best after the collision with Verstappen. The German dropped back to 5 seconds behind by lap 14 and realised it was time to make his first pit stop. Vettel fitted a new set of Soft tyres on lap 16 and Bottas stopped next time round to take on Mediums. The Finn was told on the radio that he would require a second stop while Hamilton would only do the one. But the Englishman didn’t seem to be able to match his team-mate’s pace and he pitted on lap 21 to change tyres.
On lap 22, Bottas led by 11 seconds over Vettel and was 22 ahead of Hamilton. In order not to have to deal with his team-mate, the Finn had to extend that lead by a few more seconds, but on the Mediums it looked as though Hamilton had a stronger pace. In fact, on lap 30 while the lead over Vettel was more or less the same at 10 seconds, the advantage over the Englishman had more than halved down to 15 seconds. Vettel decided to pit for a second time on lap 31, taking on the Mediums while Bottas lengthened his stint to lap 36, fitting a set of used Softs. On lap 40, Hamilton led by 9 seconds over the Finn with Vettel more or less the same distance behind. However, the five times world champion was suffering from significant tyre degradation so that he too had to switch to a two stop strategy, pitting two laps later. From then on the podium positions remained unchanged although Hamilton closed right up to Vettel although he never quite had enough pace to get past: further cause for recrimination for Vettel, thinking what might have been if he’d managed to maintain the lead from pole position and could probably have fought his corner.
Behind the leaders, albeit almost a minute down came Alexander Albon who kept his head down to finish fourth, his best Formula 1 result to date, as well as being the highest placed Honda powered driver. Next up was Carlos Sainz in the McLaren, once again the best of the rest, followed home by Daniel Ricciardo who drove a great race after he’d been knocked out in the first part of qualifying. However, the sword of Damocles hangs over the Renaults, because after the race, Racing Point protested the French team for having an alleged pre-set lap distance dependent brake bias adjustment system. The Stewards will rule on this only following a full and thorough investigations by the FIA Technical Department. For the moment, Renault keeps the 9 points it scored today, thanks to the Australian’s result and the tenth place of his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
Leclerc might have only been classified seventh, but he staged a great climb up the order from last on lap 4, while Pierre Gasly and Sergio Perez also had good afternoons finishing eighth and ninth respectively. However, the Mexican never made it to parc ferme because on lap 53, he went off track at the second corner after a collisions with the French Toro Rosso driver. However, the chequered flag had mistakenly been shown one lap too early, so that the race was theoretically over when Perez went off, so he was able to claim his finishing position, a great reward for the SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team driver for coming through from the penultimate row of the grid.
Moving on from Japan, Formula 1 now prepares to tackle three races in the Americas, starting on 29 October with the FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE MEXICO 2019 in Mexico City. At the circuit named after the brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez, Lewis Hamilton will get his first chance to clinch the Drivers’ title, something he’s down the last two times in Mexico. While the battle for the top two places is clearl, the fight for third is more uncertain with Leclerc on 221 points and Verstappen and Vettel both on 212, so only 9 points in it. Further back it’s just as close: Sainz is sixth with 76 ahead of Gasly on 73, but Albon on 64 can count on a top car in the Red Bull and has every chance of moving up. In the Constructors’ classification, things are clearer, with Mercedes now champions followed by Ferrari and Red Bull and McLaren looks ever more solid in fourth place, although Renault’s hopes are still alive although 44 points separate it from its customer team. Plenty of reasons to watch what should be some exciting Grands Prix, to follow on from the thrilling races we have seen so far.
FROM THE DRIVERS
Lewis Hamilton -
"I'm so happy for the team - what a great result! Six consecutive double titles is an amazing achievement that has taken a long time and a lot of hard work. It just shows the strength and depth through and through for the team and I'm incredibly proud to be a part of Mercedes history. It's a well-deserved achievement - thank you to everyone in Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart for all the hard work and dedication. "Valtteri did a great job today and deserved the win, congratulations to him. I did everything I could today; I think we probably had the chance at a 1-2 today, so we'll take a look at what we could have done better in the debrief. I think we can expect the next races to be very challenging; Ferrari still have a straight-line speed advantage which makes it very hard to qualify ahead of them, so we have to outrace them, but I think that makes it really exciting for the spectators. We will celebrate this monumental achievement today; but tomorrow we'll start pushing again - we still have races to win."
Valtteri Bottas -
"Six double championships - every single team member at the race track and in the factories can be incredibly proud of this achievement! A big thank you to all of you. I think we don't quite realise yet what an amazing achievement this is, but we're making history in this sport. We've had a really good season so far and managed to make the most of our opportunities, especially in the beginning of the season. "It's amazing to think that we've just done something that's never been done before - what a great day for all of us! I had an excellent start today, one of the best ones in my career, and managed to take the lead in the very beginning. "We expected our car to be quick in the race, but it's really tricky to overtake on this track, so we knew that we'd have to try and take the lead at the start and I'm very glad it all worked out. I really enjoyed the race afterwards; the car felt really good and our upgrades worked well. Suzuka has always been my favourite track even though I've never been particularly strong here - but now I like this track even more. It's been a while since my last victory, I missed that winning feeling and I'm very happy and proud to have won the race that secured us the Constructors' Championship."
Sebastian Vettel -
“We had a very good morning, but the afternoon was less good in terms of the result we were able to achieve as a team. “The start wasn’t good for either me or Charles and without that, we could have had both cars fighting at the front. It was difficult today and to be fair. Our rivals were simply quicker, Valtteri was just flying. “I had a poor start, I was a bit early with the clutch initially then clutched in again and lost a bit of momentum. Usually our starts are very good but not this time. After that we were missing out a little bit in terms of speed in the race compared to our rivals. We went through the tyres more than Valtteri and Lewis. Especially at the end of the stints they were dropping off a bit more, whereas our rivals kept the pace throughout. “Towards the end my only target was to stay ahead of Lewis. I knew that down the straights he struggled to overtake, so I just tried to have clean exits in the places where it mattered.”
Charles Leclerc -
“It was a tough race. I made a mistake at the start and made contact with Max Verstappen on turn 1, which unfortunately compromised both our races and my front wing was damaged. “I tried to make the best of it going forward. After the first stop, when my front wing was changed, I gave it my all. I tried to make up as many positions as possible. Although it was quite fun to overtake other cars and fight my way up the field, P6 is not our target or a result we are satisfied with. It was a different weekend overall, and I look forward to the opportunity of bringing home better results once again at the upcoming races.”
Max Verstappen -
“I had a really good start and I think I was up to third place which was positive. I stayed on the outside at Turn 2 but Charles drove into the side of my car. I guess Charles was trying to recover places after the start but it’s a long race so there was no need to risk so much so early. We both lost out but he managed to carry on once he replaced his front wing. I re-joined at the back of the field but my car was severely damaged and we had to retire on Lap 15. From my side I don’t think I could have done anything different, so now it will be investigated by the stewards. It’s very frustrating as I think we had a good chance of being on the podium again especially after such a good start, which would have been amazing for all the Honda fans supporting us. We are definitely improving and the gap is closing but there is still more work to do before Mexico.”
Alex Albon -
“Fourth is my F1 career best finish and this weekend has definitely felt like my best with the Team. Immediately from FP1 I felt comfortable with the car and the balance, which is important for a track like Suzuka where you need a lot of confidence, especially on your first visit! I wanted more in the race and felt like I could have done better at the start but I had too much wheel spin off the line and lost a couple of places to the McLarens. I managed to get back past them but by then I had already lost a lot of time to the lead pack. The move on Lando for P5 was on, he gave me space and left the door open but it was a bit tight! We then managed to get past Carlos with some good strategy by undercutting him, but from then onwards we were in no man’s land in P4. It was just about managing the tyres to the end but with Max’s DNF it was good to score some points for the Team and fourth was the best we could do. I’m still finding my feet but overall I’m happy with my pace and progress and we took a step forward this weekend. Coming into the weekend we probably wanted more, especially for Honda, and we were close but we just didn’t quite have the pace. Now we’ll do our homework and hopefully come back stronger in Mexico.“
Carlos Sainz -
“A very good day in general. Qualifying was extremely strong after leading the midfield on Friday. We secured P7 and P8 clearly ahead of our main competitors. Later, in the race, I had a good start on the inside line and fought again wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton. From there I controlled my pace and went for a long first stint. “The second stint was especially strong, with very good pace and keeping Leclerc behind to secure another P5. I’m very happy with both results today, quali and the race, and the only downside is that Lando couldn’t finish in the points due to an unlucky situation. The team clearly deserved another double-points finish here in Japan. Congratulations!”
Lando Norris -
“A frustrating day. I made a really good start and managed to get to the outside of a few drivers at Turn One. Then there was contact ahead of me, debris and guys spinning. I had to slow down, unfortunately, and gave up a position or two but was still P6 I think. “In the chaos, I collected some debris in the brakes, which meant I had to box really early on and then the rest was pretty straightforward. I did what I could but I always struggled towards the end with the tyres and just couldn’t make enough progress to come back through. Some positives, some negatives – but good points for the team from Carlos.”
Nico Hulkenberg -
“I’m very happy for the team today, with both Daniel and I inside the points. We fought all the way, pushed really hard and everything seemed to come together. It was an amazing recovery from this morning where our qualifying wasn’t so good. Personally, I made a great start off the line, passed a few cars at turn one and then pushed on with good track position. From there, it was a fight. The whole second stint we were in traffic and by the end, it was getting hot and tasty out there with everyone’s tyres going off. It was really good fun and I’m pleased with today.”
Daniel Ricciardo -
“The team deserved this result today. We’ve been on a bit of a frustrating run recently without scoring, so to take seventh today is excellent. We had an issue in qualifying with the rear of the car that the boys fixed, which explained why we were quite far down. We had good pace in the race and were coming through quite nicely. Starting on the Medium tyre worked to our advantage and we came through the pack with some enjoyable battles. It was nice to execute a good strategy, we pulled through and, in the end, it was a deserved and quite comfortable seventh place.”
Japanese Grand Prix Final Classification
1st Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport 52 1:21.46.755
2nd Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow 52 +13.343
3rd Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport 52 +13.858
4th Alexander Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 52 +59.537
5th Carlos Sainz McLaren F1 Team 52 +69.101
6th Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 Team 51 +1 lap
7th Charles Leclerc* Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow 51 +1 lap
8th Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda 51 +1 lap
9th Sergio Perez SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team 51 +1 lap
10th Nico Hulkenberg Renault F1 Team 51 +1 lap
11th Lance Stroll SportPesa Racing Point F1 Racing 51 +1 lap
12th Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda 51 +1 lap
13th Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team 51 +1 lap
14th Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 51 +1 lap
15th Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team 51 +1 lap
16th Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 51 +1 lap
17th Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team 51 +1 lap
18th George Russell ROKiT Williams Racing 50 +2 laps
19th Robert Kubica ROKiT Williams Racing 50 +2 laps
NC Max Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 14 DNF
1 L. Hamilton 338
2 V. Bottas 274
3 C. Leclerc 221
4 M. Verstappen 212
5.S. Vettel 212
6 C. Sainz 76
7 P. Gasly 73
8 A. Albon 64
9 D. Ricciardo 42
10 N. Hulkenberg 35
11 S. Perez 35
12 L. Norris 35
13 D. Kvyat 33
14. K. Raikkonen 31
Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport 612
Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow 433
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 323
McLaren F1 Team Renault F1 Team 111
Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda 59
SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team 54
Alfa Romeo Racing 35
Haas F1 Team 28
ROKiT Williams Racing 1