SUZUKA, Japan — A round-up of the main talking points from the Japanese Grand Prix, where another disastrous weekend for Ferrari all but handed Lewis Hamilton the 2018 championship.
Shock: From the very first session of Friday practice, it seemed unlikely Ferrari would challenge Mercedes for victory in Suzuka but nobody expected the fastest red car to be 50 seconds off at the finish. The size of the gap between the top two teams and the speed in which it has been opened up over the last three races is still hard to comprehend, but underlines just how quickly Ferrari’s season has unravelled.
Shocker: Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari needed to take some risks in Japan to keep their championship chances alive, but gamble after gamble failed to pay off. The Italian team first got it wrong in qualifying by fitting the wrong tyres at the start of Q3, meaning it was then all or nothing for Vettel on Sunday as he started from eighth on the grid.
His aggression paid off in the opening laps before he went a step too far while attempting to slide his Ferrari past Max Verstappen into Spoon corner on lap eight. Had it paid off he would have had a crack at the two Mercedes drivers at the front, but the move still smacked of desperation.
Hamilton can secure the title in Austin: Sunday’s result gives Lewis Hamilton a 67-point lead over Vettel in the championship and means the championship is all but over. A Hamilton-led one-two victory at the U.S. Grand Prix in two weeks’ time would secure the title regardless of where Vettel finishes. And on Mercedes’ current form that looks very achievable indeed.
Overtake of the race: Just a few laps before his botched overtake on Verstappen, Vettel pulled a remarkable move on Romain Grosjean on the straight down to Spoon with two wheels on the grass. His first two laps of the race were massively impressive, and the Grosjean pass was the pick of the bunch.
Magnussen takes no prisoners: Kevin Magnussen’s reputation for hard racing is growing by the race and his move on Charles Leclerc was the perfect example of why. Although it wasn’t penalised by the stewards, his chop across the Sauber must have been as close to the limit as you can get without receiving a time penalty of some sort.
The resulting collision sprayed debris across the track and resulted in a puncture for the Haas driver on the run down to Turn 1 — and ultimately a Safety Car to clean up the mess. Perhaps the stewards viewed the puncture as punishment enough, but in an incident-packed Japanese Grand Prix, this had the biggest potential for a serious accident.
Honda disappointment: After qualifying sixth and seventh there was a real buzz around Toro Rosso-Honda ahead of the start of the race. The grandstands were packed with bright blue t-shirts, scarfs and flags in the hope of Honda points on home turf, but the car simply didn’t have the pace on Sunday. Brendon Hartley got a bad start and immediately fell down the order while Pierre Gasly’s tumble out of the points was drawn out over the whole race. But while the team will be disappointed they can still take some consolation from both cars finishing ahead of Honda’s former chassis partner McLaren.
Japanese fans: Despite the disappointment for Honda’s home fans, the large crowds at Suzuka remained enthusiastic throughout. From home-made DRS hats in the fanzone to thousands of glowsticks in the grandstands at 20:00 at night on Saturday evening, nothing beats Japan for atmosphere.
Driver of the day: Daniel Ricciardo drove a brilliant race from 15th on the grid to fourth at the finish. He was just 5.2s off teammate Verstappen as he crossed the line, but the important part of the race was around the pit stops when he managed to move himself ahead Kimi Raikkonen, whose pace disappeared after contact with Verstappen on the opening lap.