After a controversial Russian Grand Prix, Formula One made the short trip down to Suzuka, Japan for an exciting 2018 Japanese Grand Prix.
With the season firmly on its home stretch, every point matters as lessons continue to be learned so here are the five big topics to come out of this weekend.
Hamilton has Measure of FieldEmbed from Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton has been in an entirely different league of his own this weekend with only Bottas perhaps coming close on a track which Mercedes excel at in this hybrid era.
Add in the ever changing conditions throughout this weekend then to top every session is a quality that only the best champions possess.
Hamilton also showed tactical awareness when it comes to omens by letting teammate, Valtteri Bottas top Q2 because in previous six races, whoever topped that qualifying session has failed to take pole. That decision definitely highlights Hamilton’s ability to notice patterns and react by doing whatever necessary to let someone else suffer that fate.
Race wise, he was simply untroubled throughout and now just needs to outscore Sebastian Vettel in Austin by eight points to become a five time World Champion.
In space of just a month, Ferrari and Vettel’s seasons have unravelled in spectacular fashion.
Across three races in that period, their mistakes have come from driver, strategy and pace but this weekend was pretty much a mix of all three.
Strategy wise, they really should of taken Friday more seriously given the unpredictable weather rather than conserve their power units, which in turn would of allowed them to understand their pace better.Embed from Getty Images
Qualifying however saw the biggest and perhaps most embarrassing strategy blunder after sending both drivers out in Q3 on intermediates at driest point of session, only to have to come in and swap as others set their times before the rain arrived.
That error condemn Vettel to ninth (eighth after Esteban Ocon’s penalty) on grid which ultimately saw him crack under pressure, despite a good start of race until lap eight.
Heading into Spoon trying to overtake Max Verstappen who had left room, Vettel showed little initiative if thought be too risky and ran into back of the Dutchman before spinning down to back of field.
Now that is the actions of a man cracking under pressure because any driver with a cool head in that sort of situation probably would of tucked behind and tried the pass on run into 130R.
His comeback through field though was commendable even if helped by some drivers literally letting him fly by without a fight.
Now with Hamilton and Mercedes closing in on both championships, Ferrari and Vettel need to regroup and find some momentum at least to take into next season.
Since announcing his decision to leave Red Bull at end of season for Renault, Daniel Ricciardo has had plenty of bad luck so its no wonder that another qualifying failure left him in a fiery mood for the race.
Unlike Vettel, Ricciardo channelled his fury brilliantly into a storming drive to beat both Ferraris to fourth and proved Helmut Marko wrong after the team Advisor believed fourth was ‘possibly out of reach’.
Add in the fact that he was able to start on fresh set of softs before switching to mediums, the Aussie should be pleased with the timing of his power issue in qualifying despite it leaving him ‘pretty fed up’.
On top of Ricciardo’s performance, Verstappen managed to nearly prevent a Mercedes 1-2, highlighting that if reliability issues don’t flare up in final four races, perhaps Red Bull could be a threat to at least Ferrari.
Ocon on Form
After his disappointing exit from Singapore a few weeks ago, Esteban Ocon has followed up his brilliant drive in Russia with another comfortable top ten weekend.
The Frenchman however is quite critical of lost points despite their pace and said in Force India’s post race review; “We have shown great speed all weekend – as the fourth quickest team – but if we don’t start higher up its difficult to show it in the race.”
Team Principal, Otmar Szafnauer however is pleased with Ocon’s progress because ‘significant performance’ has been found and the aim is to just continue ‘this points-scoring momentum in the final few races.’
To record two back to back race weekends of top ten finishes in each session for any driver from a midfield team is an incredible achievement, and highlights Ocon’s talent at such a pivotal time of the driver market.
Promise for HondaEmbed from Getty Images
With Red Bull due to take their power units from next season and this weekend being their home race, Honda faced a tough test as Toro Rosso ran their new upgrade across an entire weekend for the first time.
Well, there is definitely promise with this power unit after a strong performance in qualifying saw both cars reach Q3 before qualifying sixth and seventh on grid.
Although race didn’t produce similar success, there are plenty of positives as Honda remain without a point at home in this hybrid era.
Missed any of the first ten race weekends and want to get up to date? Click on any of the hyperlinks below to go and check out my round up of the weekend/s.
- Great Britain