Ferrari falter after a brilliant qualifying
It was a day of mixed emotions for the Scuderia in the space of a few short hours at Suzuka. Sebastian Vettel delivered a magnificent performance in qualifying to take pole position as Ferrari annexed the front row of the grid.
However, it all went wrong at the beginning. Vettel almost jumped the start and lost out to Bottas. The German did escape a penalty, however. The FIA explained why following the race.
"Whilst the video shows some movement that movement was within the acceptable tolerance of the F1 jump-start system which formally defines a jump start per Article 36.13(a) of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations."
Charles Leclerc’s start was even worse and he tagged Verstappen at T2. He picked up damage and was forced to pit at the end of lap 3. He recovered to 6th on the road, but dropped to 7th following post-race penalties for the incident with the Dutchman (5 seconds) and driving a damaged car on the circuit (10 seconds).
Sebastian Vettel beautifully fended off Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages to claim 2nd spot. Ultimately, Ferrari just didn’t have the race pace to match Mercedes on the day.
Mercedes seal a sixth straight Constructors’ Championship as Bottas shines
It looked unlikely after qualifying, but turned into a wonderful day for Mercedes at Suzuka on Sunday as they won a record-equalling sixth consecutive WCC.
Valtteri Bottas’ brilliant start from P3 saw him take the lead as the two Ferraris made a complete mess of the start. From there on in he controlled the race beautifully and took a well-deserved victory following a very strong weekend.
Hamilton’s P3 finish and fastest lap meant Mercedes scored enough points to claim the teams’ championship at Suzuka. A so-so start and a questionable strategy cost Hamilton a probable 2nd place. Nonetheless, he should wrap up the championship in Mexico or the United States.
After the tragic loss of Niki Lauda earlier this year, it was a brilliant but emotional day for this record-breaking team. They’ve consistently been the standard-setters throughout the V6 era in almost every department. Congratulations to Mercedes.
A disappointing home event for Honda
Following a very strong season with Red Bull Racing, Honda would have been hoping for a podium finish at their home event and at a track they own. However, it wasn’t to be.
Whilst Verstappen and Albon did the exact same lap times in Q3, they were over half a second off fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton. The race start ended any slim hopes of a podium finish for Red Bull and Honda.
Max Verstappen had a superb getaway and jumped both Hamilton and Leclerc to be P3 heading into turn 2. However, despite leaving Leclerc plenty of space on the inside heading into that corner, the Ferrari driver hit him quite hard. The Dutchman continued for a while but the damage was too severe and he retired on lap 14.
Alex Albon had a terrible start which cost him any chance of scoring his first podium position. An aggressive move on Lando Norris on lap 4 could have easily led to a DNF on another day. In the end, he recovered to P4 as Pierre Gasly drove a very strong race to finish P8; it gave Honda a double-points finish at their home race for the first time since 2004, but they would have wanted more.
Storming drives through the field from midfield runners
Qualifying on Sunday morning produced a few surprises as Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez got knocked out in Q1. Nico Hulkenberg had an issue in Q2 which meant the trio started P15, P16 and P17 on the grid respectively.
Hulkenberg and Perez carved their way through the field on the opening laps to sit P8 and P9 after 5 laps. Ricciardo, on the slower medium tyre in the first stint, gradually made his way through and found himself in P10 by lap 7.
The German and Mexican stalled out there for most of the race as they were on similar strategies to Gasly and Stroll in front of them.
Ricciardo benefitted by going for the alternate strategy. After pitting on lap 29, he dropped to P11 but charged his way back through the pack. He overtook Perez, Hulkenberg (team orders), Stroll and Gasly to finish P7 on the road. Leclerc’s post-race penalties gave him an extra position.
Following Ricciardo’s overtake on him, Perez pitted on lap 41. He stormed back up to the pack he was in and overtook Stroll and Hulkenberg. It looked like he wouldn’t score a point as he ended up in the barrier following contact with Gasly as he tried to take 8th place on the final lap.
However, a system glitch led to the chequered flag light display panel being shown too soon and the results were brought back a lap. That meant Perez finished 9th, with Hulkenberg 10th.
This last-lap lunge didn't go to plan 😱— Formula 1 (@F1) October 14, 2019
Despite crashing out on the final lap, Sergio Perez was still classified in P9 - with Gasly P8 - after the race results were counted a lap early#JapaneseGP 🇯🇵 #F1 pic.twitter.com/JDBCzU7t06
Could a two-day weekend be the way forward?
Due to Typhoon Hagibis, there was no track on Saturday due to the heavy rain and high winds from it.
That meant we had a shortened weekend: FP1 and FP2 on Friday, with qualifying and the race on Sunday. Is this something that could work in the future? Quite possibly.
There would be an extra day off for the mechanics who are already overstretched with the gruelling schedule of 21 races in 2019. It was also quite good not to wait a whole day for F1 action between qualifying and the race. I loved the quick turnaround between the big two sessions of the weekend.
Of course, it can’t happen at every event as there are lots of support categories at the European races, but it’s certainly something to think about at other venues.