Formula One Japanese Grand Prix
What an utterly crazy fortnight- Murray Walker turned 96, Daniel Ricciardo coughed up a few million dollarydoos to his former manager, we reached 30 years since Senna and Prost collided and decided the 1989 championship, and much like the Rugby World Cup, the weekend at Suzuka was going to get battered by Typhoon Hagibis, which forced the FIA to get proactive and move Qualifying to Sunday.
It was far from the first time a Japanese Grand Prix has been hit by heavy rain- 1976 and 2007 at Fuji, 1994 at Suzuka was run in the middle of Typhoon Zelda, 2014 was run in persistent rain (Which contributed to Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident), and 2004 + 2010, also at Suzuka, resulted in Qualifying being rescheduled to Sunday.
It was the 5th time in F1 history that Qualifying was rescheduled to Sunday- Suzuka now accounts for 3 of those instances.
It meant FP1 and FP2 on Friday would be the only time the cars had on track before Qualifying, and as I suspected without writing on here, the Renaults were absolutely flaccid on the downforce focused track, barely cracking the Top 15.
With Bathurst having a delayed start, it was only 10 minutes between the start of the race and the start of Qualifying in Japan, meaning I had to delve into a skill men in particular seem to struggle with- Multitasking.
One on the phone, and the other on the zombie box.
The rain had disappeared by Sunday morning, but the high winds remained when Q1 went ahead as rescheduled, and was brought to a stop 2 minutes in, when Robert Kubica put a wheel on the grass down the pit straight, lost control, and slammed into the tyre barrier.
Another red flag came out a few minutes later, when Kevin Magnussen got caught out by the wind at the exact same section of the track, and spun backwards into the tyre barrier.
And of course, because the Renault has no downforce at all, and Suzuka is a massive downforce circuit, Dan was knocked out in Q1… being consigned to 16th.
Capping off the comedy, Nico Hulkenberg lost his power steering in Q2, forcing him to start from 15th.
Out in front, the Prancing Horses dominated Qualifying yet again, but this time, it was Sebastian Vettel on pole, firing out an unofficial track record 1.27.064, beating LeClerc by 0.189, with Bottas ahead of Hamilton by 9 thousandths of a second, the Red Bulls locking out Red Bull Row, the McLarens in 7th and 8th, and then Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean completed the Top 10.
Needing to outscore Ferrari by 14 points during the race, it was the first time Mercedes hadn’t locked out the front row at Suzuka in the Turbo-Hybrid era (2014-), and in some 31 visits to Suzuka, no driver had won from the 2nd Row.
That would soon change 3 hours later.
Race (53 laps)
Funnily enough, of the 5 times Qualifying has been moved to Sunday, a German has started on pole every time- Michael Schumacher in Japan 2004, Vettel in Japan 2010, Australia 2013 and Japan 2019, and Nico Rosberg in America in 2015.
The start would turn into a trainwreck for Ferrari- Vettel appeared to jump the start, and then bogged down, and was passed by the flying Bottas from 3rd, and Verstappen made a great start and was challenging LeClerc for 3rd, but the Monegasque driver braked too late and spun the Dutchman, damaging the Ferrari’s front wing, and dropping the Red Bull to last.
For an incident that should’ve been a penalty on the spot, the Stewards declared it a racing incident… and later changed their minds and investigated after the race.
LeClerc then didn’t come in at the end of Lap 1, after Ferrari had assured the FIA he would come in, as his left mirror came flying off at top speed (Thankfully out of harm’s way), but his damaged wing sent sparks flying and spitting bits of carbon fibre and foam all over the track, until it finally blew off on the back straight, hitting Hamilton’s Halo directly behind, taking out his mirror at top speed heading into 130R, which was downright dangerous.
Thank god for the Halo, because crikey, if Felipe Massa was nearly killed by a spring flying at him at 160 km/h, Hamilton probably would have been in a river of a shit without a damn canoe if it wasn’t there.
He eventually pitted on Lap 4, and emerged behind Verstappen, sparking Round 2 in the run down to Turn 1, but this time there was no contact, and the Ferrari passed the wounded Red Bull for 16th.
On Lap 4, Albon, with the anniversary of the Senna-Prost collision on his mind, enforced a pretty aggressive move on Norris at the Casio Triangle, and they made decent contact, apparently causing brake problems with the McLaren, forcing him in to the pits and dropping him to last, but a more feasible explanation was that the Brit had picked up pieces of LeClerc’s carbon fibre in his brake ducts, affecting performance.
What I also missed was that through all the chaos, the Renaults had carved their way up to 8th (Hulk) and 10th (Dan) by Lap 8!
Vettel was cleared of a suspected jump start, while Bottas built a very good lead over the Ferrari, and due to problems with the car as a result of the opening lap contact, Verstappen was out on Lap 15, a tough result for the de facto Honda team at Honda’s home track.
Vettel pitted on Lap 17, going for a fresh set of Soft tyres and a 2-stop strategy, with Mercedes bringing in Bottas next lap for a set of Mediums, with Hamilton pitting on Lap 21, and also going for Mediums.
LeClerc was picking his way through the midfield, pulling off plenty of dazzling overtakes, including one around the outside of Kimi Raikkonen at 130R, working his way up to 7th before pitting again on Lap 26, going on to the soft tyre, meaning he would probably 3 stop to the end.
In the meantime, the midfield action ahead of him continued, as Hulkenberg passed Kvyat for 9th, with Perez seeing the opportunity and joining in.
Ricciardo moved up to 5th by the time he pitted on Lap 30 for his only stop of the race, putting him on a fresh set of Softs until the end of the race, giving him a nice chance of some unlikely points.
Mercedes decided to mix things up on Lap 40, and pit Hamilton for Softs, giving Bottas the lead, with Hamilton having a shot at Vettel 10 seconds up the road to make it a 1-2, and giving the World Championa free crack at the fastest lap bonus point as well, which he achieved comfortably on Lap 45 with a new Lap record.
In the meantime, Renault made the call to allow Riccardo past Hulk on fresher tyres so he could have a crack at 7th, to which Daniel vowed that he would “Get them” (Stroll and Gasly ahead).
He didn’t let the team down, and passed Stroll for 8th place by forcing him to compromise his exit from the Triangle, followed by Gasly for 7th on superior tyres.
On the last lap, Sergio Perez collided with Pierre Gasly at the exit of Turn 2, and went straight into the tyre barrier, putting him out of 9th place.
And yet, because of a complete arse-up from some incompetent dickhead, the official record will show it never happened…. because someone managed to hit the button for the chequered light a lap early, which means under Rule 43.2, the result stands as of the end of Lap 52, giving him 2 points he would otherwise not receive, and robbing Renault of what would’ve been 6th and 9th.
But nobody was touching Bottas, who was absolutely superb all day out in front, and he coasted home to his first win since Azerbaijan, with Vettel 13 seconds further back, beating off Hamilton’s late charge, although thanks to the fastest lap bonus point for Lewis, Mercedes wrapped up their 6th consecutive Constructors’ title, the first team to ever achieve the feat.
After being on the end of many “Valtteri, it’s James” messages, the Finn returned the favour. … and also got a thanks from Toto Wolff.
It’s the second time in 2 years that the chequered flag has been shown too early for a race- Last year, model Winnie Harlow (Named after the fabled cigarette) managed to go two laps early in Canada, costing Dan The Man the consolation of a fastest lap.
Once several incidents were assessed, LeClerc was penalised 5 seconds for the Verstappen incident, and was then slapped with a further 10 second penalty for driving an unsafe car, Ferrari were fined €25,000, and the 15 second penalty bumped him down to 7th, and promoted Dan up to 6th!
THERE IS ALWAYS A BUT WITH BLOODY RENAULT.
Racing Point, who had obviously been sitting on this one waiting for the yellow cars to get a good result, fired in a protest to the FIA against Renault in the form of a 12-page document, detailing what they described as a “Pre-set lap distance dependent brake bias adjustment system”…. a statement obviously written for them by Kevin Rudd.
As you can clearly see, Racing Point are so utterly irrelevant, that even F1.com still call them Force India.
Not content with being handed 2 points thanks to the FIA’s incompetence, Racing Point have gone in for the kill and tried wiping out Renault from the 2019 championship for apparently running (What are in effect) illegal driver aids.
The only logical answer as to how they obtained this information- A FORMER RENAULT EMPLOYEE HAS MADE HIS WAY TO RACING POINT.
Apparently everything is set for Wednesday…. So you just know those poor Frenchies are preparing their arse cheeks for a pounding in Paris, with the decision probably enough to make them withdraw from Formula One post-2020.