The 2018 Formula 1 world drivers championship is all over but for the shouting, after Lewis Hamilton took his fourth win in five years at Suzuka, and his fourth win out of five since the mid-season break.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel started from eighth place after a mistake in qualifying cost him big time, but the German made good progress in the opening lap to start lap 2 in 4th place, courtesy of three overtakes and teammate, Kimi Raikkonen tangling with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as the Dutchman rejoined the track at the final chicane at the end of lap one, for which Verstappen was handed a +5 sec time penalty.
The Mercedes duo made good starts to enter the ‘S’ curves in 1st and 2nd, with WDC leader Hamilton leading Valtteri Bottas, followed by Verstappen. This is how things remained for the entire race, Verstappen did get close to Bottas near the end of the race, but Bottas was clearly pacing himself, conserving tires and power unit, as every time Verstappen came close, Bottas pulled out a 2-second gap.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo made rapid progress through the field from his starting position of 15th after an engine issue in qualifying 2. By lap 3, the Australian was up 5 places and into the top 10, and by lap 15, he was up to 5th place, which probably would have happened faster if it weren’t for the safety car from lap 4 through 8 to clear debris from a collision between Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc.
Vettel, who is honestly his own worse enemy, made an ill-advised dive up the inside of Verstappen at the Spoon curve on the restart lap, clattering into the side of the Dutchman, forcing Verstappen off track while Vettel, himself spun out, dropping back to 19th place, Verstappen continued on without losing a position as Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was not close enough to capitalize on this incident.
Despite, having to serve a five second time penalty, Verstappen still managed to stay ahead of Raikkonen in third place and to make things worse for Ferrari, Ricciardo jumped Raikkonen for fourth place during the pitstops. Ricciardo stopped 11 laps later than Raikkonen, clearly, Ferrari was the third best team at Suzuka, Ricciardo was quicker than Raikkonen, the 11 extra laps allowed for Ricciardo to jump the Ferrari.
Vettel, did make it back up to sixth place by lap 35, but found himself 40 seconds adrift of teammate, Raikkonen, so the switch of position was not really on. The German did close to within 19 seconds of the Finn, clearly not close enough to overtake, Ferrari could have instructed Raikkonen to slow down for Vettel, there was nothing to lose, Vettel was immediately behind, but that radio message never came.
So, the situation is that if Lewis Hamilton scores eight more points than Vettel in the next four races, Hamilton will be world drivers champion by virtue of more race wins. If Hamilton wins and Vettel finishes third or lower in the next race, it’s all over for 2018. This is likely to happen at the US Grand Prix in Austin, a track that heavily favors Mercedes, barring any mechanical issues, I expect a Mercedes 1 – 2.
Some of the talking points, Verstappen’s assertion that Raikkonen should have hung back to allow him to come back on track. I will quote Ayrton Senna, “when you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver”, Raikkonen did nothing wrong, Verstappen was at fault, he chose the wrong option when returning to the track and he got penalized for returning to the track in an unsafe manner.
Sebastian Vettel, another poor choice destroyed his own race, and not for the first time. I honestly question whether he will ever win a fifth title unless he has superior machinery like he did at Red Bull, where he won all four of his titles. At this point, he would be considered a veteran driver, but his actions on the track are rookie mistakes, the sort of errors you’d not expect a 4-time WDC driver to make.
Japanese Grand Prix 2018 Results
|1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:27:17.062
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +12.919
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +14.295
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +19.495
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +50.998
|6. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +69.873
7. Sergio Perez (Force India) +79.379
8. Romain Grosjean (HAAS) +87.198
9. Esteban Ocon (Force India) +88.055
10. Carlos Sainz (Renault) +1 LAP