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)

Cassidy the Super Formula victor in Suzuka

With live coverage finally in our neck of the woods, available on YouTube rather than a suspect stream, there’s every reason to be watching Super Formula this season. And if today’s first round at Suzuka, one of the all-time great Grand Prix circuits, was anything to go by, with Nick Cassidy storming through the field to win and attrition aplenty, it’ll be worth getting into.

The race started with Tadasuke Makino, formerly of F2, cementing his lead ahead of the battling Alex Palou. The opening laps remained fairly static, with few successful moves until Lap 7, when Cassidy, who qualified 12th, pitted for soft tyres. This would turn out to be a masterstroke, as only a few laps later, both 18 year old debutant Tristan Charpentier and stalwart Ryo Hirakawa went off at 130R and into the barriers, bringing out the first safety car.

This was where the madness kicked in. Palou, who had been straining to get past Makino at the start, was slapped with a drive-through penalty and served it just before the Safety Car was deployed, but the field bunching up did alleviate some of the damage. Dan Ticktum was slow to get into his pit box due to his Mugen team double-stacking, and a mechanic even acrobatically jumped over Cassidy’s car to change the wheels as quickly as possible.

Yuhi Sekiguchi’s car appeared to momentarily stop in the pitlane before he was able to get it going, but a lap later he pulled back into the pits and became the third of what would turn out to be a long list of retirees. Meanwhile, Cassidy was on the charge, his perfectly-timed pitstop jumping him up into 5th before he dispatched first Makino then Yuji Kunimoto to place himself 3rd. Shortly after, the safety car was out again: Kazuki Nakajima beached his TOM’S Toyota into the Degner 1 gravel, with a distracted Harrison Newey then following him into retirement at Degner 2.

Five retirements within 15 laps just signals the frantic drama Super Formula is good for, and a second safety car three laps later when Hiroaki Ishiura pulled into the pits and Palou’s machine gave up on him only furthered that point. From then on, Cassidy was into a prime position to win a race which looked for all the world yesterday evening to be an exercise in damage limitation. Kamui Kobayashi, the on-track leader, would have to pit again to use a different compound.

A third safety car was brought out this time by Makino, who’s car suffered a right-rear wheel nut failure and sent him into the gravel beside the run up to 130R. Makino would prove, finally, to be the last of the retirements, but there were still twists and turns up the road with Kobayashi trying to find the perfect slot to pit in, Cassidy managing to keep within arms’ reach, and the others jostling for podium/lower positions. Ticktum began to fall down the field, his airbox lighting glowing red (this signals a lack of attack mode – versus green for full, and blue for halfway used) and tyres appearing to be spent.

The final laps proved to be the killer for Kobayashi’s hopes of a strong finish. The late Safety Cars prevented the ex-Sauber F1 driver from banking a good result on a happy hunting ground for him, finishing tenth. Cassidy took the on-track lead on the final lap, and Kenta Yamashita was kept at bay in the end by Naoki Yamamoto, last season’s title winner. Cassidy lost that title by a point, but already, he’s taken first blood and cemented a troubling marker for his rivals.

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

Japanese Grand Prix Preview, Can Hamilton secure his 4th title?

GP GIAPPONE F1/2016 – SUZUKA 06/10/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

After the Malaysian Grand Prix, drivers and teams are heading to one of the most fascinating places on the Formula One calendar, Japan. Back to back races for the crews with just five races to go and 125 points available for the drivers, Sebastian Vettel has to cover the gap of 34 points between him and Lewis Hamilton, who right now is the favourite for the 2017 world title.

Scuderia Ferrari announced that they will not change Sebastian Vettel’s gearbox for the upcoming Grand Prix, so the German driver will avoid the five place grid penalty.

Max Verstappen with his Red Bull celebrated a victory in Malaysia, first in this season for the young driver, was in full control of the race followed by the Brit champion Lewis Hamilton. Daniel Ricciardo was the third man on the podium, whilst Sebastian Vettel finished fourth. Kimi Raikkonen suffered an issue with his Ferrari and forced to retire from the second position before the start of the race.

Only three drivers have won more than three times in Japan, these drivers are Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Vettel took four times the chequered flag in Suzuka, whilst Lewis Hamilton has scored one less victory than the German champion.

The team with the most wins in Japan is McLaren (9), followed by Ferrari who have won seven times in Suzuka and Red Bull four. Two Japanese drivers have finished on the podium in their home race the one was Kamui Kobayashi and the second one was Aguri Suzuki.

Suzuka International Racing Course

Laps: 53

Circuit Length: 5.807 km

Race Distance: 307.471 km

Lap Record: 1:31.540 (Kimi Raikkonen 2005)

Suzuka built by Honda and used as a test facility in 1962, the circuit was designed by John Hugenholz. In 1987, several motorsport races were held in Suzuka, F2 races were among these events.

Suzuka is a demanding circuit for the tyres, has 18 corners and the brake demanding is low. During a lap the drivers are changing their gears around 45 times and the average lap speed is 220 km/h.

Max Verstappen – “After Malaysia we will spend some time in Tokyo before heading to Suzuka. Japan is full of new experiences and it will be great to spend a couple of days exploring before the race weekend starts. Some people say the Japanese fans are crazy, but I think they are just very passionate about Formula 1, which for me is very nice to see. Suzuka will always be a special place for me because I made my Formula 1 debut there during Friday practice and it’s a proper old-school track. My favourite corner is the fast Esses in the first sector, but it’s also the most difficult section of the track and you really have to concentrate on getting the set-up right.”

Felipe Massa believes that Suzuka suits to Williams and they will be very competitive.

“Suzuka is definitely one of the best tracks in the world and one where I really love racing. I think the car we have this year will be amazing there with the high downforce and the high-speed corners, so I am really looking forward to going there. Another great thing about being in Japan is the fans, who are some of the best we come across during the year.”

Victor Archakis