1) Mercedes regain their supremacy
2018 has been the toughest battle for the Silver Arrows in the V6 era so far – but they’ve now completely taken control of both championships in the last few rounds.
After Sebastian Vettel’s commanding victory at Spa, Hamilton’s led the standings by 17 points. However, the Brit has won the last four races and it leaves him with a 67-point championship lead heading to Austin. A win at COTA with Vettel 3rd seals a fifth drivers’ title for the Brit.
As well as Hamilton’s recent dominance, Mercedes’ 1-2 finishes at Russia and Japan are the first time in 2018 that the team have achieved that feat at successive races. They looked untouchable all weekend as the Brit was fastest in every practice session, took pole and won the race.
It shows they’ve taken a big step forward with their car, in addition to the recent implosion from Ferrari.
2) Verstappen irks the Ferrari drivers, again
Not for the first time since the young Dutchman joined Red Bull in 2016, he’s managed to be involved in contentious incidents with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
Max locked up at the final chicane at the end of the opening lap and rejoined the track in a clumsy manner. He forced Raikkonen off on the exit and it left the Finn with some damage. He deservedly picked up a 5-second time penalty for the collision.
It was an eventful Sunday for @Max33Verstappen in Japan— Formula 1 (@F1) October 8, 2018
Clashes with Vettel 😶
Finishes on the podium 🙂
And it started with a five-second penalty for this tussle with Kimi 👀#JapaneseGP 🇯🇵 #F1 pic.twitter.com/p34ljy7dI3
Then, on lap 8, he was involved in a clash with Vettel. With Verstappen saving energy for the straight exiting Spoon, Vettel sniffed an opportunity to make an overtake. He tried to make a move into the first part of Spoon corner, but the pair made heavy contact. The German spun as Max managed to continue in P3.
Vettel wasn’t pleased: "The problem was that as soon as he saw I was side-by-side, he opened the brakes, and tried to push. But I think that is wrong. I don't think he makes the corner either.
"He just looks at me, but he should keep the overview of the track and we should both try to make the corner in the first place, and then work out who is inside/outside."
The Verstappen - Vettel/Ferrari rivalry continues to be intense!
3) The incredibly tight fight in the best of the rest championship
In a battle that has been incredibly close all season, it became even closer after a lot of thrilling action during the Japanese Grand Prix.
Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg are all tied on 53 points following the race in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Mexican is the man with the momentum at present. He’s scored 36 points in seven of the last nine races and thanks to his podium finish in Baku, it puts Checo above Magnussen and Hulkenberg in the standings.
Behind them, Alonso trails the aforementioned trio by three points. Esteban Ocon is a single point in arrears of the Spaniard and trailing his stablemate by just four.
On the basis of recent events, this fight should end up between the Force Indias and Magnussen. Haas and Force India have got the best cars in the midfield for the most part and it could well be all decided in Abu Dhabi.
In the constructors, Haas sit eight points behind Renault in the scrap for 4th in the teams’ standings following yesterday's race at Suzuka.
We’ve got a remarkably close and great fight for the Class B crown in 2018. It’s also a contest well worth keeping an eye on, now that the main title race is all but over.
4) McLaren’s downward spiral continues
At Suzuka 20 years ago, Mika Hakkinen won the race and his first drivers’ championship with McLaren as the team also sealed the constructors’ title that year.
Fast forward to 2018 and the story is totally different. Leaving aside Marcus Ericsson’s crash in qualifying which left the Swede in P20, the two McLaren cars were the slowest on Saturday afternoon.
Just like he did at his maiden Japanese Grand Prix back in 2001 when driving for Minardi, Fernando Alonso qualified down in 18th place. A real sign of how far McLaren have fallen throughout the season and generally.
They finished P14 and P15, ahead of the Williams pair. Sadly, like Williams, McLaren seem to be in a steep decline and don’t look like a team who will be fighting for podiums anytime soon. It’s very hard times for the former giants of the sport.
5) Suzuka: A great circuit and amazing fans
The drivers, teams and many fans wax lyrical about it about this circuit and with good reason. It’s a proper, old-school track and punishes errors.
Hamilton was properly excited during FP2 and said on the team radio: ‘’This track is awesome. I’m having the best day.’’
There were a number of errors by drivers as the circuit showed no mercy. Fernando Alonso was one of a few drivers who found that out in FP1. During qualifying, Marcus Ericsson ended up in the wall after running wide into the gravel at Dunlop resulted in a crash.
Crucially, we saw a good race for the first time in a number of years. We witnessed lots of good battles in the midfield as well as the clashes between Verstappen and both Ferraris, plus Vettel’s excellent recovery. It was much needed.
Away from the circuit, the Japanese fans are the best and most passionate fans in the world. Making DRS hats, wearing race suits of former and present drivers show the fanaticism they have for F1. They’re also always respectful and giving lots of gifts to drivers and team members. The knowledge and love they have for the sport is incredible.
Let’s hope that Suzuka stays on the calendar for many years to come.