Formula 1
Monday, Oct 14 10:45am
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Valtteri Bottas wins extraordinary Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes has won the Constructors’ Championship courtesy of a dominant performance by Valtteri Bottas and a third-place for Lewis Hamilton in the Japanese Grand Prix.

“I’m happy, very happy you know,” Bottas said after the race at Suzuka Circuit.

“Obviously it was pretty close qualifying and yeah starting third here is never easy but obviously no point ever to give up on everything, and I knew everything was possible today.

“Opportunities were there. First one at the start and I had a really nice start and obviously Sebastian had an issue and I managed to get into the lead then the pace was super good and I could control the race, I really enjoyed it, had fun. I’m very, very happy.”

After an early call to postpone qualifying to Sunday morning due to Super Typhoon Hagibis, it was Ferrari who stood atop the order at the end of the three-part session.

 

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was the man to beat with stablemate Charles Leclerc alongside him for the race start. Mercedes occupied row two with the Red Bull racers Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon on row three.

Mercedes had been quickest in Friday’s two practice sessions, so when Ferrari locked out the front row it caught them by surprise. Fortunately for them, Vettel stuffed up his start, which allowed Bottas to blow by on the run down to Turn 1.

Hamilton was slow away, but it was Verstappen who got a blinder to challenge for third into Turn 2. However, his hopes of a strong result were dashed in a few hundred metres after contact with Leclerc.

Verstappen went spinning and fell to the back of the pack. Leclerc carried on, his wing bore the brunt of the impact and scattered carbon shards throughout the circuit as it disintegrated.

Hamilton nearly had a hairy moment of his own as McLaren driver Carlos Sainz challenged for fourth on the road into Turn 3. Fortunately, the pair didn’t come together.

Sparks flew from the front wing of Leclerc who decided to stay out against his team’s call to come into the pit lane. The damage got worse on Lap 2 when the end plate finally parted company. Hamilton lost his right mirror courtesy of the debris.

Leclerc finally pitted at the end of Lap 3 and fell to the back of the field. A lap later there was drama for sixth-placed Lando Norris of McLaren and Alexander Albon. The British-born Thai driver slammed into the side of Norris, fortunately, both managed to continue, but Norris took to the pit lane.

Bottas kept pace out in front with Vettel a distant second and Hamilton third. The Ferrari was first to pit among the leading trio and the Mercedes’ followed suit. Bottas and Vettel went for a two-stop strategy while Hamilton aimed for a one-stop. However, the team put the wrong compound of tyre to achieve that and eventually had to change tact to a two-stop strategy.

It was a wise move for Hamilton, who hustled his way to the checkered flag with a strong challenge to overtake Vettel. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be done and he had to settle for third.

Behind them, Albon claimed a career-best fourth-place finish. Just behind him was Sainz. Daniel Ricciardo had a quiet day down in six for Renault while Leclerc was seventh. The final three places inside the top 10 were occupied by Pierre Gasly of Scuderia Toro Rosso, Racing Point driver Sergio Perez and Renault ace Nico Hulkenberg.

The race wasn’t without one last dose of drama at the end. Contact between Gasly and Perez saw the Mexican driver crash on the penultimate lap. It should have seen him suffer a DNF, however, a timing and scoring mistake meant the checkered flag was shown one lap too early. As a result, Perez was classified on Lap 52 instead of Lap 53 when he crashed and with it claimed ninth in the race.

Leclerc was reprimanded for staying out with a damaged front wing. He initially finished sixth but was given two post-race penalties. The first was a five-second time penalty.

“Car 33 [Verstappen], which was marginally in front, stayed wide and allowed sufficient room to the inside but car 16 lost front grip in the wake of the car in front and abruptly understeered towards the outside of the track, contacting car 33 and forcing it off the track,” the stewards said in a statement.

“While the loss of front grip on car 16 [Leclerc] caused the contact and was not intentional, that loss of grip in close proximity to the car in front should have been anticipated and allowed for by car 16.”

It went from bad to worse though, with Leclerc handed a €25,000 fine for driving a car “in an unsafe condition.”

“This piece of wing narrowly avoided an impact in the area of the cockpit of car 44 [Hamilton] and destroyed the right-side mirror of car 44,” the stewards said in a statement.

“After this second piece detached, the team felt the car was now in a safe condition and despite previously telling the Race Director that the car would be called to the pits, they told car 16 to remain out and not to pit.

“On lap 3 the Race Director called the team and directed the car be brought to the pits for inspection. Car 16 pitted at the end of lap 3.

“By not bringing car 16 into the pits at the end of lap 1, immediately after the incident for a safety inspection when there was damage clearly visible and then by telling the driver to remain out for an additional lap after telling the Race Director otherwise, the team created an unsafe condition on the circuit which only narrowly avoided being a major incident and also increased the likelihood of additional incidents after the one noted.”

Formula 1 continues over 26-28 October with the Mexican Grand Prix.

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