For the second race in first of two October double headers, F1 headed to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.
After an thrilling race, what did we learn in the land of the rising sun as Jolyon Palmer said farewell to Renault and possibly F1 as a whole?
Mercedes back to best
After a tough couple of race weekends in Singapore and Malaysia, Mercedes were back to their best around Suzuka.
Friday was a difficult day for all teams with the traditional Friday programmes all being squeezed into FP1. This was due to FP2 being all but effectively washed out by rain.
Saturday saw the two Silver Arrows step up and demonstrate that they’re still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to qualifying.
That is all the more evident by Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying pace and breaking Michael Schumacher’s lap record around Suzuka by 1.635 seconds in the process.
Race wise, Hamilton drove a solid race and will be relishing the opportunity to seal his fourth world title in Austin, after Sebastian Vettel retired with a sparkplug failure.
Valtteri Bottas however struggled initially against Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo behind Esteban Ocon’s Force India.
Once the latter was cleared, it was a great drive to fourth despite playing the no.2 role and allowing Hamilton through back into the lead and a step closer to the title.
Questions over Stroll’s one lap pace
Williams’ Lance Stroll is impressive on race pace but it is his one lap pace that lets him down on most occasions.
Like most teams, Friday practice was tough but to not make strides forward on Saturday is worrying.
Although he only qualified 18th, Stroll can blame Romain Grosjean for this Q1 exit, after the Frenchman crashed his Haas to end Q1 early.
As for the race, we can’t really blame Stroll here because the car’s rear really struggled, dragging him off on a few occasions. It then gave up the ghost on lap 47 leaving him with no points on a tough weekend.
Either way, the young Canadian needs to step up his performances over one lap. He is already doing tests at each track before race weekends in a 2014 Williams’ car so more would be expected come qualifying.
Gasly ready to lead Toro Rosso?
With the news that Carlos Sainz is now joining Renault from Austin onwards till end of next season, pressure was on Pierre Gasly to deliver ahead of Daniil Kvyat’s return.
Sadly for me, the young Frenchman hasn’t delivered so far, struggling all weekend and finishing in the bottom five (excluding an irrelevant FP2).
For a driver who will surely be expected to lead the team in a fortnight’s time, he seems to still be learning and not ready to push for some points or high starting spots.
Given that Toro Rosso are chasing Williams for fifth in the Constructors standings, they really need two solid drivers capable of fighting for point finishes.
In Gasly, I don’t see a driver ready to fight for points whilst Kvyat adapts to being back in a F1 car, after two race weekends out. He however made solid progress in race so perhaps there is potential improvement in a fortnight’s time.
Ultimately, he is still a work in progress and this driver swap could be costly in the battle for fifth with Williams.
McLaren has demonstrated impressive one lap pace on a circuit where they expected to struggle.
Despite Fernando Alonso having a 35 place penalty for engine, he and Stoffel Vandoorne were on form throughout FP1 and Saturday.
Their race however was fairly disappointing, partially because Vandoorne got on the outer grass during the first lap. Alonso on other hand produced one of his masterclasses to finish just outside the points.
The fact that this is a power based circuit made it tougher for them to recover from as their Suzuka curse under Honda power continues.
There has been so much going on this weekend that for my fifth lesson, I am going to round up the smaller bits that wouldn’t bag a solo section.
- Flying Kimi – Kimi Raikkonen put in an impressive race drive after falling towards back early on after some mistakes. His grid penalty definitely contributed to his plight but a great recovery to 5th on a day when his teammate – Vettel retired.
- Fantastic Force – Force India as shown all season long, has been consistent weekend in weekend out and this weekend was no other. Ocon in particular was a shining light with his defence against Ricciardo and Bottas at start of race before finishing 7th and ahead of teammate – Sergio Perez.
- Haas comeback – After a difficult Saturday, Haas F1 definitely deserve ‘team of day’ for their spectacular comeback to get both cars in the points ahead of Felipe Massa.
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