Japanese Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

Japanese Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

9 October 2017 – Lewis Hamilton strode into a 59-point lead with victory as the spark went out of the title battle following another Ferrari mishap. GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the Japanese Grand Prix.

Winners

It seems scarcely believable that Lewis Hamilton entered the summer break 14 points behind Sebastian Vettel after a frantic mano-a-mano battle during the opening half of the campaign. Six weeks and five races on, and it is now Hamilton with the advantage. It has been a turnaround of surprising proportions, a swing of 73. Of course, Hamilton's quest has been facilitated by Vettel's malaise, but he has taken 118 points from the available 125; in the same time frame Bottas has amassed 65. It is not just a matter of luck. Hamilton's Q3 laps were breath-taking as he finally tackled Suzuka with the car balance he craves – there was never a moment that pole position felt in doubt, such was his display. Hamilton's only scare in the race came late on in traffic, enabling Max Verstappen to edge closer, but the Briton remained cool and delivered his fourth win in five. Ferrari may have dismantled itself, but Hamilton's crushing form has played an influential role.

For the first time in the hybrid era, Red Bull claimed a double podium in successive races courtesy of a 2-3 for Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Vettel's exit, and the compromised Finnish duo, boosted Red Bull's prospects, but once more it figured prominently in race trim, in spite of so-so one-lap pace. Verstappen's bold move on Ricciardo through Turn 1 made him as Red Bull's lead driver – and in turn left Ricciardo easy prey for Esteban Ocon – and the Dutchman did not relent in his pursuit of Hamilton. The late-race traffic lifted Verstappen deceptively close, for Hamilton initially lost more time, and he conceded that Felipe Massa's dawdling did not affect the overall result. However, that Verstappen was within potential striking distance after 52 laps of racing at such a venue must act further encouragement for Red Bull – it has now been in the mix at each post-summer break event, an impossible feat to consider just a few months ago.

Haas copped a big repair bill due to Romain Grosjean's drain encounter in Malaysia and it was left with more work when the Frenchman spiralled wide in qualifying and thumped the barriers through the Esses. However, it departed Suzuka with its mood lifted as both drivers scored points for only the second time in its history. The crucial moment came when Kevin Magnussen put in an aggressive move on the ailing Felipe Massa through Turn 1, with his deft commitment earning him the spot, and leaving the Brazilian unable to prevent Grosjean from also sweeping through. Magnussen consequently took eighth position, with Grosjean ninth, the Frenchman believing that the pace improvement came through the team being able to exploit Pirelli's notoriously sensitive tyres. The result enabled Haas to move back in front of Renault in the fight for seventh and, with Toro Rosso in a state of driver flux, sixth is surely still within reach.

Losers

Ferrari – and Sebastian Vettel – only have themselves to blame for dropping out of contention in astonishing fashion. Without his Baku madness and Singapore swerve, he would be firmly in the running, while Ferrari has compounded matters with its sub-par reliability. In an exhausting 20-race campaign, Ferrari's season has hit the buffers. Vettel's pre-race spark plug failure left him piloting a wounded machine, as attempts to fix the problem proved in vain; a small glitch had major consequences, yet again. With Vettel out, Ferrari's hopes were done and dusted, due to Kimi Räikkönen starting mid-grid as a consequence of his average Q3 lap and FP3-crash induced gearbox sanction. Räikkönen eventually wound up in fifth, but it was another poor return for Ferrari; even in its worst nightmares, it could not have envisaged the trio of Asian events unfolding in such a manner.

Renault's pre-season target of fifth is becoming increasingly unrealistic, in spite of the clear performance gains made this season, and its early recruitment of Carlos Sainz Jr. is a sure signal that 2018 is already firmly on its mind. Japan was another missed opportunity for Renault, and once more reliability was predominantly at fault for points going begging. Nico Hülkenberg ran the alternative strategy and, despite skating through the Degner 2's well-worn gravel trap, was poised to charge into the top 10. However, a faulty DRS put paid to his prospects. Nonetheless, in one of the most technologically developed sports in the world, a bloke ramming his fist down onto a broken piece of bodywork in a curious attempt at a repair job was an amusing sight. Meanwhile, the outgoing Jolyon Palmer was compromised by an engine penalty, and he came home 12th. Formula 1 never worked out for Palmer, but here's hoping the erudite Briton can enjoy a lengthy career elsewhere.

Carlos Sainz Jr. naturally aspired to depart Toro Rosso on a high note, but unfortunately the weekend turned out to be one of his worst in the sport. Already slapped with a back-row start due to an engine penalty, Sainz Jr. clumsily grabbed too much kerb exiting Turn 11 during FP1 and looped his STR12 into the barriers, giving his mechanics a hefty repair job. Sainz Jr. "risked everything" at the start but lost control after adopting the outside line through Turn 6 and spun into the barriers. It was a misjudgement on Sainz Jr.'s behalf, for a driver of his experience – and about to take a theoretical step up in his career – could have displayed a little more nous. Nevertheless, Sainz Jr. has had more ups than downs with Toro Rosso, and the team will be poorer without him.

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