Mercedes claim sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship at Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes have claimed a sixth successive Constructors’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas taking the race win and Lewis Hamilton finishing in third.

The pair had started in third and fourth respectively, but Bottas capitalised on a mistake from Sebastian Vettel at the start to take the lead going into turn one. Hamilton inherited third when Charles Leclerc pitted on lap four for a new front-wing, following a coming-together with Max Verstappen on the first lap.

“We never thought this would be possible,” Toto Wolff said, “and I’m incredibly happy for everybody who has been a part of this journey. It’s not always been easy, the entire team put in a lot of hard work and we had our fair share of painful moments, but we were always able to pick ourselves up.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Wolff also spoke of this year’s championship being particularly emotional in the wake of Niki Lauda’s passing in May.

“This sixth Championship is a very special one – and we dedicate it to Niki,” he said. “He has been such an important part from the beginning, and we all miss him dearly. I think about him every day and still find it hard to believe that he’s not here anymore.

“I keep thinking to myself, ‘What would Niki say, what would he think?’ Today, he probably would have said, ‘Congratulations for the sixth one, but you have a challenge on your hands for next year’. It was his way of making sure that we’re never complacent.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes become the first team to claim six successive championships since Ferrari did so between 1999 and 2004, and things are set to get even more rosy for them in the coming races. Bottas’ win and Hamilton’s third-place means that they alone remain in contention for the Drivers’ Championship, with Vettel, Leclerc and Verstappen’s mathematical hopes being put to bed.

As such, Mercedes will become the first team in F1’s history to claim six successive Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, regardless of which of their line-up claims the title.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Japanese Grand Prix Preview: As a typhoon looms, is Hamilton storming towards the 2019 title?

Just when things looked to be in peril for Mercedes in the second half of the season, stepping up to stop Ferrari was, erm… Ferrari.

An evident storm is brewing within the Italian giant as the rivalry intensifies between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, and imminent typhoon Hagibis will either threaten to ignite that combustible tension or will give them the necessary push to overcome their Russian demons.

Indeed, the title is now all but wrapped up by the imperious Lewis Hamilton who leads the championship by 73 points with just 128 still up for grabs.

His tour towards his inevitable sixth world title brings us to the 5.8-kilometre Suzuka circuit. It’s easy to get tied up in knots here, with it being the only figure-of-eight circuit on the calendar, and having the awe-inspiring yet terrifying first sector, featuring high-speed esses that require skill, talent and bravery in equal measure.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Such sections tend to become more difficult in treacherous conditions, and we are expecting no shortage of those this weekend. The typhoon is expected to affect practice, qualifying, and the race, although it is difficult to predict with any certainty.

Form generally gets tossed out the window in conditions like the ones anticipated in Suzuka – cast your minds back to Hockenheim – and the favourites for the weekend would be tough to predict in normal situations. Suzuka requires a pinpoint balance of power and downforce, and Ferrari – save for their spectacular in Sochi last time out – have seemed to excel at both since the teams returned from the summer break, but Mercedes will fancy their chances through the technical first sector.

Indeed this is a big weekend for Ferrari. Vettel had a complete nightmare last year in Japan, when a crazy, kamikaze move on Verstappen cost him any chance of a podium finish, and Charles Leclerc’s race was ultimately ruined after an incident at the start of the second lap with Kevin Magnussen.

Ferrari were in trouble before the race even began in Russia last time out. They had planned for Leclerc, starting on pole, to allow Sebastian Vettel, starting third, to slipstream his way past to ensure they had a one-two off the start. This was all well and good, but there’s one aspect Ferrari failed to factor in – pride.

Vettel, who is no stranger to team order controversy, was never going to allow Leclerc back past as the team had planned. Leclerc is an upstart who has walked into Vettel’s team and all but overthrown him. He needed to make a statement to his team, his team mate, and the world, saying that he is a four-time world champion, and that this is his team.

GP RUSSIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 29/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Ferrari gave Leclerc the undercut to pass Vettel in the pitstops, only for the German to suffer an engine failure. He stopped the car off track, brought out the virtual safety car, gave Mercedes a free pit stop for both their drivers, and, ultimately, a one-two.

It is fair to say, then, that Ferrari have a point to prove, but so do Mercedes. They must prove themselves able to throw down with Ferrari after a post-summer break that has seen their form undulate. They want to change that, and issue an emphatic message to their counterparts.

Elsewhere, Toro Rosso will give an F1 debut to reigning Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto. The Japanese home hero will take Pierre Gasly’s seat in the first practice session, before Gasly returns to the cockpit for the rest of the weekend.

It’s set to be a tough weekend with Typhoon Hagibis looming, and there’s a storm brewing between Mercedes and Ferrari as we head towards beautiful Suzuka.

 

[Featured image – Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel: Ferrari spirit “unbroken despite everything”

Sebastian Vettel believes that Ferrari can still be a force to be reckoned with in 2018, with their spirit “unbroken despite everything” they have been through.

“Today, I found it quite inspirational walking through the garage and watching the guys work,” Vettel said. “All the team is fired up and that certainly helps, as the last couple of weeks haven’t been that easy. The spirit is unbroken despite everything.”

Vettel has only won two races out of the past ten – taking the chequered flag at Silverstone and Spa – and he has been involved in incidents or been the victim of various strategy mistakes in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Singapore and, most recently, in Japan.

Vettel finished in sixth place in Suzuka after a clash with Max Verstappen early on in the race dropped him to the back of the pack. The German tried to dive down the inside going into Spoon Curve but made contact with Verstappen and ended up spinning. The incident, which was investigated by the stewards but didn’t result in any penalties, left Vettel to fight his way back through the field. He now trails title rival Lewis Hamilton by 67 points with four races still to go.

Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

Speaking of the coming together with Verstappen, Vettel said, “I was obviously pushing to pass, I knew he had a penalty, but I also felt that we were fast. I could see that his battery was clipping, while I had saved some energy from mine. I saw a gap and went for it on the inside, he obviously tried to defend and I couldn’t go anywhere, so we touched. However, this is part of racing.”

F1 now heads to the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, where Hamilton has his first chance at winning his fifth world championship. If he outscores Vettel by eight points – so, if Hamilton wins the race and Vettel doesn’t finish second, for instance – then he would wrap up the title.

“Races like [Japan] are a bit of a hand-over and we know it is difficult from where we are in the points standings, but we don’t have much to lose,” Vettel said. “We have given everything so far and I believe there’s still something we can learn and understand from the car. So we keep fighting and resisting and we’ll see what the other races bring.”

Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

2018 Japanese GP Review: Risking It All

Early in the morning for most Europeans, Formula One returned to the legendary Suzuka circuit for round seventeen of the 2018 season.

Lewis Hamilton started on pole once again, the 80th time he has done so in his career. Title rival Sebastian Vettel started from a lowly ninth place after a gamble on the intermediate tyres at the start of Q3 meant they lost precious time on track when it was dry. When the rain then started to fall near the end of Q3, Vettel couldn’t improve and made several mistakes in the slippery conditions. Bottas started behind Hamilton in P2, with a very surprised but happy Verstappen in third. On the other side of the Red Bull garage there was drama as Ricciardo once again had issues with the engine, keeping the car inside the garage in Q2 and resigning him to a 15th place start.

The race started under clear blue skies, and immediately Vettel began to make up for his poor qualifying by charging to sixth place after just two turns, and fifth place by the end of the first lap. Verstappen had a good start, but at the end of the first lap he locked up his brakes entering the final chicane, pushing the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen off the track as he rejoined. The incident was investigated, and Verstappen was given a five-second penalty for “leaving the track and returning unsafely”.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

After a brief Virtual Safety Car, deployed because of debris on the track after a collision between Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc, Vettel moved up to fourth place and turned his attention to getting past Verstappen for third. He made an overtaking attempt going into Spoon Corner but, in trying to go through on the inside of Verstappen, the two made contact, with Vettel spinning and dropping down to 19th.

Verstappen survived relatively unscathed, and came into the pits on lap twenty-two to serve his five-second penalty and change onto the soft tyres. Valtteri Bottas made his pit stop the lap afterwards, and switched onto the medium tyres.

By lap 34, Vettel had fought his way back into the top ten, and overtook Grosjean going into Spoon – this time cleanly – to take seventh place.

After another Virtual Safety Car, this time for the stranded car of Charles Leclerc, Verstappen made an effort to get past Valtteri Bottas for P2. Despite Bottas making an error going into the last chicane and struggling with a blister on his rear tyres, he managed to hold on.

After fifty-three laps it was a dominant victory for Lewis Hamilton, once again extending his championship lead as Vettel disappointed with an eventual sixth place. Bottas and Verstappen completed the podium, with Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Vettel, Perez, Grosjean, Ocon and Sainz rounding out the top ten. Driver of the Day could only go to Daniel Ricciardo, who finished in fourth after starting from fifteenth.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Paul Ripke

In the drivers’ championship, Hamilton now leads Vettel by 67 points with only four races to go. Next up is the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in two weeks time. If Hamilton outscores Vettel by eight points or more in that race, Hamilton will win the championship.

Three Years Since Bianchi’s Death – What Has F1 Learned From the Horror Crash?

5th October 2014 was a dark day that holds many painful memories for the world of Formula One. It was the day that French racing driver Jules Bianchi – a man so talented he was tipped to be a multi-world champion – crashed into a recovery vehicle at turn seven at Suzuka and, after a long battle, eventually succumbed to his injuries on the 17th July 2015.

Jules Bianchi at Silverstone 09/07/2014
Image courtesy of FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO X FERRARI

Exactly what has Formula One learned since Jules’ passing? First of all, we have to look at the marshals and the stewards. Regardless of whose responsibility it was, a recovery vehicle was deployed under a yellow flag in incredibly wet conditions. Not a safety car or a red flag, but a yellow flag. This, plainly and simply, should never have happened.

As a result of this recovery vehicle deployment, the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was invented so as to keep the drivers to a delta time after an incident. This would mean that drivers would slow down immediately, and there would not be the confusion that is otherwise presented by localised yellows. This is not to say that localised yellows no longer exist, but Adrian Sutil’s accident in Suzuka – the reason the recovery vehicle was deployed – would have seen a VSC brought out instead. The VSC was first used at Monaco in 2015 when Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean crashed at Sainte Devote.

However, the most concerning aspect of the incident is not the yellow flags, but rather the fact that the recovery vehicle was allowed out on track under such circumstances. In 2008 at the Nurburgring, a recovery vehicle was deployed after several spins at turn one, and it was hit by a Toro Rosso. Thankfully it was a small impact and no harm was done as a result, but surely you would think that Charlie Whiting would learn from something so dangerous. As it was, he didn’t, and once again he allowed the recovery vehicle to be let out onto the track at Suzuka. This time, the decision resulted in a fatal accident.

This negligence is the reason Jules’ father, Philippe Bianchi, decided to sue Formula One, then-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, FOM (Formula One Management) and the Marussia Formula One Team for whom Jules had been racing. He later retracted this because, realistically, he could receive all the money in the world, but he would not get his son back.

Jules Bianchi. Image courtesy of Ferrari media

Our sport has come a long way since Bianchi’s death, and steps have been taken to prevent the same thing happening again. In fairness, Charlie Whiting has since taken precautions to avoid similar circumstances to the ones to which he contributed nearly four years ago.

They say the good die young, but Jules was not just good. He was on another level, but unfortunately these safety advances came too late for one of Formula One’s brightest ever stars.

 

 

Featured image © FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO X FERRARI