Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg has capped off a dominating weekend by winning the Japanese Grand Prix to extend his lead over team mate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship to 33 points with four races to go.
The race proved to be a simple on in the end for Rosberg, he hurried off into the distance at the start and was then able to dictate the pace, only losing the lead of the race when he pitted. The cruise to his ninth victory of the season also helped secure Mercedes the Constructors’ championship for a third successive season. While things look ever increasingly good for Rosberg winning his first ever drivers’ championship.
“I’m feeling good cause I came here to win.” Rosberg told the media after his victory. “I’m well aware of the points. 33 points. It’s better that way than the other way round but it’s still Lewis that’s my teammate, so I always need to reckon with him. He’s going to be going for it in the last four races. There’s still a long way to go.”
Rosberg was joined on the podium by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in 2nd today. The young Dutch driver was able to leapfrog Hamilton at the start, and much like Rosberg benefited from remaining unchallenged for a lot of the race. During the final few laps he came under fire from a resurgent Hamilton. But the rather defiant teenager held his ground with another potentially controversial defending move on Hamilton on the penultimate lap. That saw him, according to Hamilton at least, defend into a breaking zone. While the move was aggressive, resulting in Hamilton taking to the escape road to avoid a serious collision, the stewards never investigated the move. Suggesting they thought what Verstappen did was perfectly legal.
Rosberg’s team mate Hamilton finished 3rd after fighting back from 8th place after lap 1 due to yet another nightmare start for him. Hamilton once again lost more than five positions into the first corner of a race for the fourth time this year. Before the race Hamilton could be seen pacing on front of his grid position, complaining to the team that there was a damp patch on the right side of the grid following some overnight rain, while the left side of the grid was dry. It was clear he was agitated by the damp patch and roped in some of the marshals to try to dry the line, as the team are not allowed to interfere with such things. However, this didn’t seem to work as he bogged down at the start with some wheel spin too. By then the damage was done and he had fallen down the grid to 8th place. From then on in Hamilton was relying on a superior strategy from the Mercedes pit wall to catapult him ahead of the likes of Ferrari.
“I made a mistake,” Hamilton admitted. “Working my way up from there was tricky, but I did the best I could. Nico did a great job so congrats to him.”
The race today leaves Hamilton’s championship chances in tatters, even if he was to win the remaining four races, his championship hopes would still be dependent on Rosberg finishing at least one of those races below 4th. In contrast even if Rosberg finishes 2nd in every race from now till the end of the season. He will still be crowned world champion for 2016.
Finishing off the podium in 4th today was the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, who must be ruing yet another questionable strategy call from Ferrari that ultimately cost him another podium today. Ferrari pitted Vettel later than Hamilton at the final rounds of stops and fitted him with fresh, soft tyres. While faster than the hard tyres Hamilton was on the degradation level on them was much higher. Meaning Vettel was unable to stay in the fight with Hamilton without destroying his tyres. To add insult to injury Vettel once again owes money to the swear jar for his rants over the lack of blue flags for backmarkers. His team mate Kimi Raikkonen finished the race 5th, after taking a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox last night. He too was heard complaining about the lack of blue flags for backmarkers as he cut his way through the field.
Daniel Ricciardo finished 6th on what was a disappointing race for him in the end. He had been in the mix for a possible podium position till yet another tardy pit stop by Red bull cost him track position. After that he seemed to be in a lonely race of his own. His 6th place finish puts him 101 points off the lead of the drivers’ championship, meaning he is now out of contention for it, leaving a two horse battle between Hamilton and Rosberg for the title.
Force India had another good points finish this weekend, with Sergio Perez 7th and Nico Hulkenberg 8th respectively, following a battle with the one stopping Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. The team were able to optimise their two stop plan and beat the Williams in a straight fight, who finished 9th and 10th respectively. The result is Force India how now put some distance between themselves and Williams in their battle for fourth in the constructor’s championship, with a 10-point advantage over the Grove based team.
Overall the race today was rather good. It was perhaps not the dramatic battle it was shaping up to be, with such a small gap between the Mercedes many envisioned a tooth and nail battle between the two. But Hamilton’s start cost us the chance to see them scrap. Instead what we got was a race with a mixture of on track action, and strategic optimisation from the teams. There were some good overtakes today up and down the grid, while with the exception of Ferrari yet again, the strategy calls seemed to be rather good. Good reliability from all the teams as well as clean racing today meant that for only the seventh time in F1 history, all racers finished the race. A fact picked up on by our Formula E reporter Amy Hawk.
“Good, clean racing today. It was good to see all 22 cars finish a race together. Sebastian Vettel drove his heart out to try to make it on the podium and Force India had a fantastic day!”
I’m inclined to agree with her, after some of the scrappier starts and questionable drives from some drivers, it was refreshing to see some good clean racing. While my heart really does go out to Vettel right now. Yet another podium stolen from him by another bad strategy call. For a team like Ferrari who once managed to go through three team principals and a president in one season, it boggles the mind how the hell the strategy team haven’t all already been fired? You may want to look at that Ferrari. I’ll leave you now with my highlight of the weekend. And there are some things we just associate certain drivers with. Daniel Ricciardo and that horrible shoey tradition, Jenson Button and cake, Kimi Raikkonen and Bwoah, Mark Webber and bad luck. And of course Sebastian Vettel and those pesky blue flags! And while he didn’t turn the airwaves blue in this rant (pardon the pun) he did give us a lecture on moving out of the way when blue flags are around. If you’re stuck for Christmas gift ideas for Seb might I suggest one of these flags…
Seb's Greatest Hits now available on iTunes… https://t.co/vtugBlJv5A
— Parc Fermé (@PFF1) October 9, 2016
Japanese GP result
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:26:43.333
2. Max Verstappen, Red Bull,
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes,
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari,
5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari,
6. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull,
7. Sergio Perez, Force India,
8. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India,
9. Felipe Massa, Williams,
10. Valtteri Bottas, Williams,
11. Romain Grosjean, Haas,
12. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, + 1 lap
13. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, + 1 lap
14. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, + 1 lap
15. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, + 1 lap
16. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, + 1 lap
17. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, + 1 lap
18. Jenson Button, McLaren, + 1 lap
19. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, + 1 lap
20. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, + 1 lap
21. Esteban Ocon, Manor, + 1 lap
22. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, + 1 lap
Feature Image Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas Press Release