Hamilton & Mercedes return to dominating ways at Suzuka with Rosberg runner up; Vettel 3rd for Ferrari
As predicted, Mercedes power returned to their winning ways at the high speed Suzuka track in Japan on Sunday after their hiccup at the low speed Marina Bay street circuit race in Singapore the week prior. And even with a desperate Nico Rosberg starting from pole, nothing could stop Lewis Hamilton from grabbing the lead on the first corner as he ruthlessly pushed his Silver Arrows teammate ever wider until his German rival had to relinquish the top spot or be run completely off the track. From there the reigning English Champion and this year’s points leader never looked back, dominating the Japanese Grand Prix in such a masterful fashion that the world television feed barely showed the leader until his last victorious lap. Which is a bit of a shame because not only did Hamilton glide home nearly 19 seconds ahead of Rosberg, whose championship dreams, such as they were, have now surely suffered another painful blow. But with the win Hamilton also tied his hero and F1 immortal Ayrton Senna with 41 career victories. It was also Hamilton’s 8th win out of 14 GP this season and coming after his only DNF in the previous race at Singapore it must have felt like the proper order had been restored with the fastest driver in the fastest car rightfully back on top. Hamilton now leads Rosberg, his closest pursuer, by a daunting 48 points with 5 races left on the calendar.
Despite the poor start, which shuffled him down to fourth position on Lap 1, Rosberg had a decent race, fighting back against the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and passing him on Lap 17. Rosberg later leapfrogging Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on pit strategy to secure the 1-2 finish for the factory Mercedes team. After Ferrari’s dream results in Singapore with a win for Vettel and a P3 for Kimi Raikonnen, the Prancing Horses came back to earth somewhat at a track where their lack of pure straight-line speed as compared to Mercedes power was made clear once again. In the end, Vettel made it close with Rosberg but could only manage to take the last step on the podium with a solid P3. Raikonnen fought hard and outshone his fellow Finn Bottas, P4 to P5. Bottas’ Williams teammate, Felipe Massa, had his race destroyed on the opening lap when Daniel Ricciaro tagged him while trying to overtake, cutting down his right front tire and forcing the Brazilian veteran to limp back to the pits for a premature tire change. Massa was then doomed to a lonely race at the back, where he would finish some 2 laps down in P17.
At the other end of the spectrum, Nico Hulkenberg had a very good race race for Force India after a poor qualifying and a 3-spot grid penalty saw the German starting form 13th. Hulkenberg methodically worked his way through the field and settled comfortably into P6, where he would finish with nary another car in sight ahead or behind. But as so often seems to happen with this striving little team, Force India could not get both cars into the points. Sergio Perez had a poor race after coming together with Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz on the opening lap. The Mexican, who qualified well at P9, had it all to do just come home a disappointing P12. Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado finished in 7th and 8th respectively, a much needed boost for beleaguered team Lotus, which seems sure to be bought out by Renault. Toro Rosso teen sensation Max Verstappen had a number of aggressive overtaking maneuvers throughout the race to hustle up to P9 after starting from way back in 17th on the grid. His teamate Sainz recovered from his early incident with Perez to take the last point in P10.
Neither Red Bull car scored points for the first time this season, a fairly disastrous result for a team admittedly in turmoil and whose F1 future is suddenly in doubt. After Ricciardo bumped with Massa at the start, he destroyed his own left rear tire as well and suffered the same fate as Massa, limping back to the pits and then never really being a factor again. The normally sterling Aussie finished a lowly P17. His teammate Daniil Kvyat, who totaled his car in Saturday Qualifying with a frightening shunt in Q3, had to start from the pits in his rebuilt machine. Despite a valiant effort by his team and the young Russian to get the car to the front, Kvyat was plagued by mechanical gremlins and poor performance from his tires and brakes and in the end could muster no better than a frustrating 13th place finish. McLaren had another poor race but this time it was even more ignominious because it came at their engine supplier’s home track. Their Honda-powered chassis remains so down on power that Fernando Alonso’s frustrations boiled over and he likened it to a GP2 engine. The volatile Spanish ex double-champ fought hard but could not get into the points and had to settle for P11. His teammate and fellow former World Champion Jenson Button was even further back in P16, making it another dismal day in a dismal season for this once-elite team. If the Honda engineers wanted to see for themselves how much more had to be done to make the McLaren power unit competitive they certainly had a bird’s eye view at Suzuka.
Top 10 finishers:
|6||NICO HULKENBERG||GER||FORCE INDIA||+55.559s||8|
|9||MAX VERSTAPPEN||NED||TORO ROSSO||+95.315s||2|
|10||CARLOS SAINZ||ESP||TORO ROSSO||+1 lap||1|
The next Grand Prix weekend is October 9-11 from the Sochi Autodrome in Russia. It’s another high speed circuit so look for Hamilton and Mercedes to keep the pedal to the metal as we race towards the end of the 2015 season. Hope to see you then!