The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Suzuka : Hamilton Takes Joyless Win


report by Steve Lawson-Dickinson (@SteveF1_458)

Designed as a Honda test track in 1962 Suzuka is still regarded as one of the “old-school” circuits with its small run off areas, roller-coaster changes in elevation, fast sweeping curves and its figure of eight layout. It is an extreme driving challenge to say the least.

The stakes are high at Suzuka. The risk of an accident is much higher here than at many circuits. Mistakes are often punished by impact with barriers or damaged cars, rather than losing time on extended areas of the track.

Then there’s the unpredictable weather over a high speed circuit, driver change rumours, inter team rivalry and drivers fighting desperately for points to retain their seat for next season. This is Formula One in the land of the rising sun.

A lot of eyes have been focussed on Hamilton and Rosberg this season, and deservedly so. The close battle between the two drivers has been enthralling the entire season. The status of their long term friendship is now a guarded secret, the body language at times suggests it isn’t good..

Rosberg had his day during qualifying, unexpectedly achieving pole position almost two-tenths over a visibly disappointed Hamilton.

On race day there was an atmosphere of uncertainty with fears of a cancelled race due to the imminent arrival of typhoon Phanfone. There was rain and building wind, and a lot of it. For a country whose current sunset time is 5.30pm there wasn’t much room for delay considering the race started at 3pm locally. Nevertheless the race was on. Initially starting under the safety car it was red flagged and suspended after 2 laps as the conditions were too bad. At least half points could have been an option if no further racing took place.

Ten minutes later the race was restarted under SC conditions, only for Alonso’s Ferrari to immediately stop due to a total electrical failure. His frustration was clearly shown back in the pit garage, openly shoulder shrugging and throwing his hands in air. The internal politics at Ferrari no doubt having an effect throughout the team on every level.

By lap 10 the safety car went in and the race continued. Both Mercedes pulled away instantly from the pack in quite terrible conditions. Luckily for the fans the rain did subside again making exiting viewing as the teams jostled with strategies and getting the intermediate tyres on.

With Rosburg leading and Hamilton hot on his tail anything could have happened. For me I was stunned. A small amount of correction by Rosberg on the entry to the straightaway on lap 28 gave Hamilton his chance and he took it, pulling off one of the overtakes of the season, unbelievably passing Rosburg on the outside of turn one to take the lead.

Button drove great as he does in these conditions, at one point battling with the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Jenson certainly displaying his worthiness of staying with Mclaren. Daniel Ricciardo himself made several sensational overtakes, inside, outside, using the wet kerbs.This boy can find grip. What a revelation he has been this season.

Again, an increase in the rain saw the return of the safety car at lap 44. Adrian Sutil had aquaplaned and crashed at Dunlop corner. Then came the awful realisation of why an ambulance was on circuit… Marrusia driver Jules Bianchi had exited the track also at Dunlop corner during the recovery of Sutil’s Sauber. Devastatingly, his car hit the rear side of the recovery tractor that at the time was lifting Sutil’s car off the track. The impact was so severe it tore away the roll bar hoop of Bianchi’s car as it partially went under the rear of the tractor, the brute force lifting it momentarily into the air. Sutil’s Sauber crashed to the ground.

Unconscious, Bianchi was driven to hospital, the poor conditions preventing an air lift evacuation.
Two laps later race control deciding the race was not to be resumed. Under the circumstances it was the only correct decision.

Over 75% of the race was completed so full points were awarded to the drivers, not really a consolation as the thoughts of everyone were entirelly focused on Bianchi’s condition.

This race was up there as being one of Hamilton’s greatest . Under shocking conditions, fading light and knowing the slightest mistake could cost him the championship he was 14s ahead of Rosberg before the last safety car. Eight victories now for Hamilton this season and his first at Suzuka. Rosberg’s second place keeps the championship close; Sebastian Vettel drove well picking up the last place on the podium. Williams didn’t perform as expected, their lack of downforce hurt them this weekend in the wet, nevertheless they are now above Ferrari by 23 points in the constructors championship.

With the end of the season looming the rumours as ever go into overdrive. One of the biggest shocks is the confirmation that Sebastian Vettel is leaving Red Bull. The rumours are he will be at Ferrari next year. Allegedly team principal Christian Horner said Ferrari made Vettel “a very attractive offer”. He will be replaced at Red Bull by Russian Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat.

So Alonso is leaving Ferrari? The rumours say so. Allegedly the Spaniards departure has been assisted by outgoing Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo. He asked Alonso if he could give him anything as a leaving gift. The driver, who has three times in the last four years finished runner-up to Vettel in the championship, asked to be released from his contract. The rumour is he was released from his contract on Thursday before the race weekend at Suzuka. And then of course Alonso will move to McLaren? Well, only time will tell. It’s no secret that Alonso’s management have spoken with McLaren earlier in the year.

F1 has had a good safety record in recent years. There is a lot of talk about Bianchi’s accident everywhere you look, with criticism as to why a safety car wasn’t deployed whilst a recovery tractor was on the side of the track, and many are saying double yellow flags were not enough. It’s a valid point but I haven’t seen much mention of what really happened in those fateful last few moments. The facts are, as the stewards were recovering the car of Adrian Sutil, the tractor is positioned track side under double waved yellow flags (driver slow down or prepare to stop if necessary). The tractor lifts the Sauber in the air and then moves slowly backwards, still track side. What appears to be going unnoticed is that just prior to Jules Bianchi arriving at the corner at approx 100 mph the double yellow flags were changed for a green flag (all clear, prohibitions have been lifted). Bianchi would have seen a green flag.

Our thoughts remain with Jules Bianchi and his family. The last update was he was critical but stable following surgery.