The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Japan : Rosberg Tightens his Grip

15-10-2016

Report by Paul Robinson

F1 headed straight to the Suzuka circuit from Sepang for the Japanese Grand Prix in another back-to-back weekend.

Suzuka is one of the old-school, traditional tracks which I put alongside Silverstone, Monaco, Spa and Monza as must-have Grand Prix, to have on the calendar and to sustain the heritage and history of this great sport. This track regularly featured as the penultimate event to decide the championship in the eighties and nineties. Japan also has some of the best and loudest fans, with their eccentric and crazy car hats and banners and enthusiasm for motorsport.

Suzuka is a racers’ track, with fast and challenging turns that sort the great from the good. If you run off the track here, you know you may not have a second chance to return, as most of the latest modern tracks have to offer. I’m convinced that if this track was designed in this era, it would be rejected straight away by the F1 management for safety concerns.

After Malaysia, Hamilton headed into this event knowing he couldn’t afford to lose any more ground on his team mate Rosberg after his engine failure whilst leading the previous race.

Hamilton was soon in the spotlight in Suzuka in the Drivers’ Press Conference. Whilst other drivers were focused on questions from the world media, Hamilton seemed disengaged, instead taking photos on his mobile phone for the social network Snapchat. It soon emerged that he had taken photos of himself and Carlos Sainz with rabbit ears and teeth over their faces. As much as it was light hearted fun, I feel that this bizarre behaviour was disrespectful and unprofessional to his employers, fellow drivers, media and fans who wanted to hear his thoughts ahead of this weekend’s race.

As we move into the weekend on track, qualifying resumed to normal, with the Mercedes at the front with Rosberg edging his team-mate Hamilton by 0.013s. The Ferraris were able to edge the Red Bull charge with Raikkonen and Vettel finishing 3rd and 4th respectively. However, it doesn’t rain but it pours at the moment in the Ferrari team, as both incurred penalties moving them further down the grid. Raikkonen needed a gear box change and Vettel received a penalty for his collision with Rosberg in the first corner in the previous grand prix.

During the race on Sunday I was hoping to see an epic battle between the two championship leaders, however, typically this year, one of them always has a nightmare with either the start or the first corner. It was Hamilton’s turn this race, with a clutch problem and dropped to eighth place on the first corner. This became damage limitation for Hamilton who now had no chance of beating his team mate, who disappeared out in front. He had to fight his way back near to the front and he did this in style, especially when overtaking Ricciardo, Massa and Bottas in a little over a lap.

Rosberg, as expected, won the race with no issues or competition, while Hamilton managed to get on the podium in third following a late charge to pass Verstappen, who defended his second place finish using controversial tactics.

Vettel who needed a solid points finish after his problems in recent races finished fourth. His team radio was full of his usual rants on passing slow cars and blue flags. I agree with Vettel’s frustration as he lost a lot of time but Suzuka is not an easy track for drivers to get out of the way quickly on. Personally, I would like to see the drivers having to pass lapped cars unaided by flags. If they are a lap quicker I think they should have to use their skill and faster car to do this. This will also prevent the slower cars falling even further behind in the race. It would be interesting to find out how much time the Saubers and Manors lost in this race from blue flags.

Raikkonen, who normally has the same anger with passing lapped cars, finished fifth.  It’s frustrating that he had his grid penalty, as the Ferraris were definitely competitive enough this weekend to be at least in front of both Red Bulls. There was lots of great overtaking in the race by the Ferrari driver, especially the two car overtake in one, with Perez on fresh tyres and Palmer.

With the points accumulated, Mercedes have now taken their third straight constructors’ title in their continued dominance of the sport. As well as the close Red Bull and Ferrari battle for second, Force India have a slender ten points lead over Williams for fourth after this race.  Perez and Hulkenberg finished seventh and eighth and Massa and Bottas ninth and tenth respectively.

What has happened to Williams? A few years ago they were a revitalised third best team hoping to challenge the top two. With Massa retiring and Bottas looking to miss out on a drive for one of the top teams in the near future, I feel they have to stop the slump now before they slip further down the midfield like some years back.

It is also worth pointing out that this was a rare occasion when all 22 cars saw the chequered flag and completed the race!

As we move into the final four races of the championship, Rosberg leads Hamilton by 33 points with only 100 available. It now means Rosberg can finish second by Hamilton in the remaining races and still win the championship. However, we do know he will still be going for the race wins.  We also know that anything can happen in F1 and there still could be another twist in the tale.