GRAND PRIX: Japan: It Hurts to Say “A Deserved Champion”

Posted on October 25, 2022.

Wet summed up nearly everything about the weekend.
Photo almost looks like a fine art drawing.
Charles splashing around in Suzuka.

Report by Tony Cotton.

Whilst we all know that (for example) a Williams is never going to overnight gain the performance of a Ferrari or a RedBull, the subtlety involved in the adjustment of modern racing cars is sometimes overlooked. Bearing in mind how adjustable each component is, the following anecdote may illustrate the levels that modern cars work at. A few weeks ago I was sharing my Dallara F300 at Curborough with a driver and engineer known in Ferrari circles, who has in the past run many single seaters, sports cars and GTs at the highest levels. I had bought new tyres; I always change the tyres every 5 years whether they need it or not. In practice we both had trouble with the back breaking away with little warning. The car was terrible. My co-driver changed rear damper settings by one click and adjusted two other suspension settings by one turn of an adjuster (around 1-2mm) and another by 2 flats (1/3 of a turn) – about 0.5mm. The car was transformed and yet to me these were tiny changes. Bearing in mind that F1 cars are probably near-optimised to start with and that there are adjustments possible in every conceivable area even before new parts are commissioned, is it any wonder that getting a car to behave to perfection is such a difficult task?

And getting the FIA to behave reasonably is even more difficult; some would say impossible. Though with the FIA it’s the big things they get wrong, not the detail.


In case you haven’t worked it out, at around 120mph, 1/100sec is around 50cm travelled. That’s how close Charles was to Max Verstappen in qualifying. Whilst Charles may have been disappointed to miss out by so small a margin, imagine Daniel Ricciardo’s feelings as he missed Q3 by 0.003, or 15cm. That’s the length of a pencil.  Poor old DaniRicc.

After 2 out of 3 of the practice sessions were wet, qualifying was in pleasant sunny conditions, and Q1 was a routine culling of two Williams, Stroll, Magnussen and Gasly.  Kevin and Pierre’s team mates joined them on the bench after Q2, along with the aforementioned Ricciardo and both Alfas. It wasn’t exactly a qualifying of major shocks. Both Ferrari drivers stayed in the garages after their first Q2 runs having set times on used softs, to preserve the tyre choice for the race.

The Ferrari pair each had two sets of new Softs for Q3. On their first run they were second and third fastest behind Verstappen. They both improved on their second run, getting very close to the pole time. Charles stopped the clocks in 1’29”314 – a hundredth behind Max- and Carlos got down to 1’29”361 (57 thousandths). That Perez was nearly 4/10 behind Carlos says a lot for the competitiveness of the Ferraris.

There was an incident on Verstappen’s out lap. The Dutchman was running slowly and had a slide just as Lando Norris was coming up quickly on a hot lap. The McLaren driver went onto the grass in an evasive manoeuvre. Verstappen later received a reprimand over the incident but was not penalised.

Alpine were delighted with 5th (Ocon) and 7th (Alonso) with Alonso saying that he hoped for wet weather. Hamilton and Russell sandwiched Alonso, Hamilton shading out Russell. Vettel and Norris completed the top 10, Norris vindicating Ricciardo by lining up one place ahead of him while Vettel was 10 places ahead of Stroll.


For about 3 seconds, it was good news; Charles beat Max away from the rainy startline, but unfortunately the Dutchman attacked relentlessly and was in the lead by turn 1. Symmetrically, Perez got ahead of Carlos, and then the rain took over as race director. Vettel spun in turn 1, and then Carlos aquaplaned off, dislodging a hoarding which Gasly caught resulting in him driving back to the pits with a full width nose. Carlos said “I tried to get out of Perez’s spray and found myself in a big puddle, had aquaplaning and couldn’t do anything to hold the car. At that moment my only concern was not being hit. I was in a dangerous position in the middle of the track and I knew the other drivers couldn’t see me.”

Albon then stopped with “hydraulic failure” and Zhou spun. The chaos was such that a red flag was required, but not before a safety car was thrown. During the safety car period, Gasly was catching up after his pit visit and narrowly missed a recovery crane in the rain. To think that this could happen at Japan of all places, where a similar incident resulted in the death of Jules Bianchi, is inconceivable. The FIA issued a statement saying they would review procedures, which perhaps tells all we need to know.

After a 2 hour delay, the race resumed, but on a reduced basis. Everybody started on full wets and followed the safety car for 4 laps. Verstappen then led from Charles and Perez. As conditions improved, intermediates were fitted, with the same order resuming after the stops. Fun for the impartial spectator centred on Ocon’s duel with Hamilton. I’m not a great Ocon fan,  but he did everything right to keep the Englishman behind for 19 laps and to finish 4th. The fun increased as we listened to Hamilton asking the pits for more power. Another Mercedes/Renault fight took place when a recovering George Russell, up from 14th after a “disappointing” double stack, came behind Alonso. It took him 3 laps to pass, but of course Alonso never gives up, and took 7th back on the last lap. Alonso was behind fellow champion emeritus Vettel, who had cunningly swapped tyres early and found himself in  6th after everybody had pitted, a position from which he didn’t move. Latifi must have run out of mistakes to make, as he drove well to finish 9th ahead of Norris.

As for the front of the race, Verstappen was superb, driving fast enough to keep Charles at bay while slow enough to avoid peril, and to easily win the reduced lap race. The same couldn’t be said for Charles’s battle with Checo. With 20 minutes to go, the inters on Charles’s car were beginning to be troublesome and the Mexican was within 4 seconds. Three laps later it was a second, and it later became as little as 0.17seconds. Charles did a superb defensive job, and kept Perez behind until the very last corner when he pushed a bit too hard and jumped the chicane. He finished ahead of Perez, but frankly it was never going to stick and there was no surprise when a 5 second penalty demoted him to 3rd.

For the second time in the day, the FIA embarrassed themselves as they decided that despite the race being shorter than it should be, it hadn’t satisfied the detailed and badly drafted definition of a shortened race and hence reduced points. Nope, I don’t understand either and I’m past caring anyway.  Verstappen got full points, both to his surprise and that of Horner; with Charles demoted he was Champion.  An amusing parallel with Hunt’s 1976 Japan win when he too didn’t at first realise he was champion.

Last words need to go to Charles. “I congratulate Max and Red Bull for an incredible season. They’ve done an excellent job and deserve the title.” Sadly, that is not only very sporting it is accurate in every respect, and this writer joins in the congratulations to Max, RedBull and especially Honda, who sponsored the race.

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