[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile not particularly important right now, let’s go through the field and hand out the Team Mate Battle points for the Japanese Grand Prix.
1 point is awarded to the driver who sets the faster lap.
3 points are awarded to the driver who performs best in qualifying.
5 points are awarded to the driver who performs best on raceday.
After losing out on FP1 to Roberto Merhi, Kamui Kobayashi’s weekend never really got going. Slowest of all in FP2 after a crash, he caught up slightly in FP3 to be only 1.4 seconds off the pace of Marcus Ericsson who was quickest of the back four, and only 0.7 seconds off Sutil’s Sauber.
Marcus kept up his rapid pace in qualifying, as he remained fastest of his immediate competition, out qualifying Bianchi by 0.1 seconds and 0.2 ahead of Kamui. He undid all his good work at the start of the race by spinning off just before the red flag, but luckily managed to keep the car going and was able to join in when the race resumed twenty minutes later.
Marcus remained on Kamui’s pace throughout the opening stint, despite running in last. He stayed around 8 seconds behind for the opening eleven laps before both himself and Kamui pitted, but after the stop, Marcus’s pace was superior and he started reeling Kobayashi in. He passed him on Lap 22 and didn’t look back, pulling out over a minute on Kamui over the remaining laps. While such a performance deficit would usually signal a car problem, neither the team nor Kamui made excuses for it, with the Japanese driver just admitting the race was ‘difficult’.
Highlighting Marcus’ excellent pace, his fastest race lap was quicker than those managed by either Sauber or Lotus as well as Marussia and Caterham, while only 0.5 seconds slower than the fastest race lap set by Valtteri Bottas.
Fastest lap: Marcus Ericsson (8-6 to Marcus Ericsson)
Qualifying: Marcus Ericsson (33-9 to Kamui Kobayashi)
Race: Marcus Ericsson (55-15 to Kamui Kobayashi)
- Caterham: 94-32 to Kamui Kobayashi (Total After Round 15)
- Caterham: 8-1 to Andre Lotterer (Total After Spa-Round 12)
- Total for Caterham: 102-32 to Kobayashi/Lotterer
For what it’s worth, Jules got the points. But so what? It’s mere days since we were running stories on this site about Jules being a possible shoe-in for a drive at Ferrari next season. Now, we are reporting facts that none of us want to be writing about: injuries, hospital, severe brain injuries…it’s appalling. As I wrote about in an article last year when Maria De Villota tragically passed away, Formula 1 feels like an altogether more unfriendly and dislikable entity when tragic circumstances occur. Normally, it feels like a circus, a show….a reliable source of entertainment week in week out. But when things go wrong, the very things that attract us all to the sport are the things that bite back the hardest.
At the time of writing, Jules has been diagnosed with a diffuse axonal injury. I’ve read some articles on it, and all the surrounding doom and gloom is just not acceptable. I am an eternal optimist, and until we are told otherwise, I believe that Jules will recover from this. Maybe never to an extent which will allow him to race again, but right now, who cares? Let’s hope that Jules’ mistake at the very worst only costs him his career and nothing more.
The reason I say Jules’s mistake is that the unfortunate fact is that the French driver would almost certainly have been seen as a villain had he been uninjured. Jules certainly should have been aware that Sutil had gone off, as it was Jules who was battling with him when the German driver went off. Knowing that would certainly mean marshals and recovery machinery on or near the track and the presence of yellow flags approaching the corner…Jules was travelling too quickly for the circumstances he found himself in. The same crash without the presence of the CAT machine would have resulted in serious injuries or worse to the marshals attempting to remove Sutil’s car and would have led to serious repercussions to Jules’ career.
Looking back to similar incidents like Brazil 2003 and Tonio Liuzzi’s close escape at the Nurburgring in 2007, Formula 1 should have already figured out an alternative to the high ground clearance vehicles used for car removal. If a Formula 1 car is not designed to be in an impact with something, that something has no place on a Grand Prix track. Rather than bleating on about the positioning of green flags, changing race start times or whether it’s raining, F1 needs a safer alternative to the current digger model and possibly a speed limiter system. Remotely activated, the FIA could slowly (over the course of 10 seconds say) reduce engine power of all cars on track when yellow flags/marshals are on track, and increase again when the danger has passed. No gaps significantly change as the drivers all poodle around with identical available power at a safe speed, and then remove the limiter when finished. If it works for basic go-karts, it can work for Formula One.
These are almost certainly the last points allocated to Bianchi this year, he has largely dominated Max Chilton after a somewhat slow start to the season. A hugely promising career looks as though it is over, but let’s pray that that is the only consequence.
Fastest lap: Jules Bianchi (8.5 – 6.5 to Max Chilton) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Jules Bianchi (36-9 to Jules Bianchi) (after Round 15)
Race: Jules Bianchi (60-15 to Jules Bianchi) (after Round 15)
Marussia: 103.5 – 31.5 to Jules Bianchi (Total After Round 15)
After such a great qualifying session on Saturday, the rainy conditions on Sunday really showed up the weaknesses of the Williams package. As is the case usually with both drivers, there was very little to choose between Bottas and Massa all weekend. Bottas hit the ground running faster on Friday with competitive times in both FP1 & FP2, but by FP3, Felipe was up to speed and lapped 0.5 seconds faster than the Finn could manage.
In qualifying, Valtteri regained the edge, 0.1 seconds faster in both Q1 & Q2 before finding 0.4 seconds that Felipe couldn’t in Q3. Bottas wound up best of the rest behind the Mercs with third spot, with Felipe directly behind in 4th.
That remained pretty much the same the whole way through the race on Sunday. Apart from through the pitstops, Valtteri was always in front of Felipe, but never by much. At it’s biggest, the gap between the pair was just 5 seconds and they would both scrabble home a very distant 6th and 7th, over a minute behind the Red Bulls that made a mockery of the Williams setup early in the race.
With Felipe so vehemently angry about how dangerous he felt the conditions were, it suggests that the Brazilian driver was spooked by the way his car handled in the rain. Despite the events of the race and the early red flag, most of the field felt the conditions were tricky, but not unusually so. Felipe’s distress may have stemmed from his discomfort with what he perceived to be an unacceptable level of risk, or his car was completely wrongly set up for the conditions.
Fastest Lap: Felipe Massa (8-7 to Felipe Massa) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Valtteri Bottas (30-15 to Valtteri Bottas) (after Round 15)
Race: Valtteri Bottas (60-15 to Valtteri Bottas) (after Round 15)
Williams: 87-38 to Valtteri Bottas (Total After Round 15)
For the second year in a row, Jean-Eric Vergne’s team-mate has been promoted to Red Bull while he toils away attempting to ensure he has an F1 career in 2015. Jean-Eric’s performances have never been so poor that he has been outshone by either Ricciardo or Kvyat completely, but his circumstances (read: age) are preventing Red Bull from rewarding a driver who is there or thereabouts with the man in the other cockpit. Apparently this is due to JEV not being quite as good in terms of technical feedback to the team, of particular note during his time alongside Daniel Ricciardo who is now well regarded in that area, but also insinuations from Helmut Marko that JEV lacks the off track commitment that the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Ricciardo have shown.
Added to Vergne’s ‘con’ list is his luck, or more the lack of it. Vergne became the man requiring the penalising 6th engine on this occasion after Kvyat fell foul at Monza, but recovered well to score points on Sunday, thanks to making what would be his final stop on Lap 19.
With JEV out qualifying Daniil on Saturday but starting from 20th after his penalty, he was around 8 seconds behind the young Russian on Lap 11 when he came in first, and had fallen 18 seconds behind by Lap 19 when he pitted again for fresh intermediates. Daniil pitted on Lap 11 and 23, so with both men all square at the ‘half-way point’ on Lap 28, Daniil enjoyed a 20 second advantage over JEV. By Lap 38, Vergne had ground this down to 14 seconds, but Daniil pitted again on Lap 39, just four laps before the red flag. With Vergne not making the equivalent stop, he held position in 9th place. The implication from Franz Tost after the race suggested another stop for JEV was not planned, and a split strategy had been employed. Daniil never got the opportunity to recover due to the red flag, so points go to him, particularly after passing Kimi Raikkonen just before the safety car neutralised the race.
After a more than competent FP1, surely fears over Max Verstappen’s impending debut will be somewhat eased. Whether he is ready to go racing wheel to wheel with so little single seater experience behind him (coupled with the explosive temperament of a pubescent teenager) remains to be seen, but his basic car control certainly seems more than adequate.
Fastest Lap: Jean-Eric Vergne (9-6 to Jean-Eric Vergne) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Jean-Eric Vergne (24-21 to Daniil Kyvat) (after Round 15)
Race: Daniil Kvyat (45-30 to Daniil Kyvat) (after Round 15)
Toro Rosso: 75-60 to Daniil Kyvat (Total After Round 15)
Adrian’s composure post-race was almost definitely caused by shock. His wide-eyed account of what had happened to Jules Bianchi showed the extent of Adrian’s disbelief at the events. Coupled with the graphic images that were no doubt etched into his memory forever as he watched Bianchi being extricated from his decimated Marussia, Adrian may feel a lot of unnecessary guilt for the role he unwittingly played in Sunday’s events.
After starting ahead of Esteban, Adrian never really pulled away, with the gap only growing to six seconds at its largest. Adrian pitted on Lap 22 for his second stop while Esteban kept going. Unable to make the tyres last, Adrian would pit yet again on Lap 32, before Esteban made what was his second stop on Lap 34. This handed Esteban a 15 second cushion over Adrian, who was battling to get past Jules Bianchi when he spun off on Lap 41.
Sutil’s reputation has taken a battering this season, and what with his somewhat storied past, Adrian isn’t quite as popular amongst fans as some of his peers. However, it’s impossible not to feel for Adrian right now. The helplessness he felt was written all over his face in some of the images seen by this author, and knowing that his actions indirectly caused the massive injuries Jules has sustained will weigh on him massively. The cause and effect nature of racing will do little to assuage that guilt.
Fastest Lap: Esteban Gutierrez (9-6 to Esteban Gutierrez) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Adrian Sutil (27-18 to Adrian Sutil) (after Round 15)
Race: Esteban Gutierrez (45-30 to Adrian Sutil) (after Round 15)
Sauber: 78-57 to Adrian Sutil (Total After Round 15)
Force India no longer look as sharp as they did earlier in the season, and are now scrapping for lower points positions. Neither car made it into Q3, with Sergio and Nico lining up 11th and 13th respectively after Jean Eric Vergne’s engine penalty. Just 0.010 seconds separated them, with Nico explaining that a mistake he made at the Casio chicane ruined his final run in Q2.
Despite pitting the lap before Nico, Sergio would emerge from the first round of stops behind Hulkenberg, who then set about opening up the gap. He succeeded in doing this, stretching his advantage to 12 seconds by the time the second round of stops came about.
This gap remained constant for the remainder of the race, but Nico lost out when the safety car emerged. Having originally planned to run to the end, both Force Indias pitted under the safety car. While Sergio came out in the same 9th place, Nico dropped from 6th to 8th as the Williams drivers had pitted a handful of laps prior. Any chance of recovering those positions were lost when the red flag was thrown. A solid race for Force India, points go to Nico Hulkenberg who appears to be recovering from a mid season wobble.
Fastest Lap: Nico Hulkenberg (9-6 to Nico Hulkenberg) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Sergio Perez (30-15 to Nico Hulkenberg) (after Round 15)
Race: Nico Hulkenberg (45-30 to Nico Hulkenberg) (after Round 15)
Force India: 84-51 to Nico Hulkenberg (Total After Round 15)
I read an interesting bit of info yesterday that I’ve no idea if it’s true or not. Apparently, Force India’s rule of thumb for wet/changeable weather races was ‘Do whatever Jenson Button does’. As usual, Jenson’s uncanny knack for being able to figure out what to do and when to do it when the conditions are tricky played out very nicely.
It appeared as though Kevin Magnussen was to have the upper hand in Japan. Faster than Button in FP1 & FP3, Kevin remained ahead throughout all three qualifying sessions and duly lined up 7th ahead of Jenson’s 8th place. Kevin and Jenson both maintained their places at the start and moved up when Fernando Alonso pulled off to the side. The tables turned on Lap 9 when Jenson dove into the pits and took on the intermediates, the first man to do so. Almost immediately, he became one of the fastest men on the track and duly moved up to 3rd by the time everyone else had pitted, only trailing the dominant Mercedes drivers.
By contrast, Kevin pitted on Lap 11 but stayed on wets, before pitting again on Lap 15 for inters and a fresh steering wheel after electronic problems struck. In the space of those six laps, Kevin went from leading Jenson by three seconds to trailing by 22 seconds, and that gap just grew and grew throughout the rest of the race. By the end of the race, Kevin was almost two minutes behind Jenson, with no real indication as to whether the steering wheel issues were solved. Jenson was slowly hunted down by the Red Bulls throughout the middle phase of the race and would emerge between Vettel & Ricciardo after he too required a steering wheel change on Lap 31. He would fall behind Daniel Ricciardo when he swapped back to wet tyres on Lap 42, and never got a chance to come back at the Red Bulls due to the red flag. A great intuitive drive from Jenson, as you would expect in those conditions.
Eric Boullier is clearly learning Ronspeak thanks to his exposure to the great man. In his press statement after the race, Eric, rather than explain how the team attempted to ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ Kevin’s electrical problems, took delight in telling everyone that McLaren had taken steps to ‘ameliorate’ the Danish driver’s issues. Nice.
Fastest Lap: Jenson Button (9-6 to Kevin Magnussen) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Kevin Magnussen (27-18 to Kevin Magnussen) (after Round 15)
Race: Jenson Button (55-20 to Jenson Button) (after Round 15)
McLaren: 79-56 to Jenson Button (Total After Round 15)
To be fair to Pastor Maldonado, he is quite fast when he isn’t crashing. If you were new to the sport and judged him purely on the Japanese Grand Prix, he would appear to be quite a good choice for the team, as he is usually there or thereabouts with Romain Grosjean in terms of pace. Only marginally slower through FP1 & FP2, Pastor went 0.067 seconds faster in Q1 to take 17th spot ahead of Romain’s 18th. For a team that challenged Red Bull strongly for the win last year, it shows how badly the team have adjusted to the new formula and how fundamentally wrong they went with the E22 design, regardless of the power deficit they suffer.
While Pastor would start from last due to his engine change penalty, he quickly rose to 20th after Alonso retired and he passed Marcus Ericsson. Pitting on Lap 9, he took the same gamble as Jenson Button by swapping to intermediates and immediately started rising through the ranks. Grosjean followed his lead on Lap 11, and once those stops had played out, Maldonado was only 6 seconds behind Grosjean with Gutierrez in between.
The next stops didn’t work out quite as well for Pastor, as he ended up emerging in traffic despite not losing any significant time to Romain, and he would end up finishing the race just behind Grosjean, as Romain pitted to fit wet tyres under the safety car. We will never find out whether Romain’s call was the right one, but points go to Romain regardless as he remained in front throughout, although Pastor matched him throughout the race.
Fastest Lap: Pastor Maldonado (8-7 to Romain Grosjean) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Pastor Maldonado (36-9 to Romain Grosjean) (after Round 15)
Race: Romain Grosjean (45-30 to Romain Grosjean) (after Round 15)
Lotus: 89-46 to Romain Grosjean (Total After Round 15)
With Kimi Raikkonen appearing buoyant (or as buoyant as Kimi Raikkonen can ever be) prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, with statements saying he had finally figured out how to get the troublesome Ferrari handling the way he wanted, it was very odd to see one of the poorest performance he has produced all season. Apart from FP2, Raikkonen was eclipsed in every session by Fernando Alonso, usually by at least half a second, although this grew as large as over a second on some occasions.
After going over 4 full years without a mechanical retirement, Fernando has now suffered two in the space of three races after lining up in his usual 5th place. No comments about conspiracy theories or remote controls with big red buttons held by a gleeful Mattiaci will be made in this column! With no representative racing from Fernando on Sunday, the race points reluctantly have to go to Kimi despite his appallingly dire race. Despite setting the race’s fifth fastest lap time, his pace was very poor, due to his complaint that he was unable to keep temperature in the tyres. This is borne out by his lap times, which would usually be respectable at the very start of a stint, but would rapidly fall away. His times were usually between 3 and 5 seconds off the leading pace, and combined with a poor final stop, this resulted in Kimi shuffling down the order to finish a discouraging 11th place. This meant that this was the first time Raikkonen failed to score points in a Japanese GP he has finished, and also ended Ferrari’s record streak of 82 consecutive points finishes.
Alonso, after having his electrics fail, is counting down the days until his Ferrari exit. While his driving skills are always exemplary, it appears his self-portrayal as the ox that carries the cart has annoyed the no-nonsense Mattiaci, and Fernando’s usual use of politics to better his position with the team has been all too transparent for the man designated to turn the stagnant Scuderia around.
Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen (10-5 to Fernando Alonso) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Fernando Alonso (39-6 to Fernando Alonso) (after Round 15)
Race: Kimi Raikkonen (62.5 – 12.5 to Fernando Alonso) (after Round 15)
Ferrari: 111.5 – 23.5 to Fernando Alonso (Total After Round 15)
Another race, yet another defeat for Nico Rosberg. As we have seen on so many occasions this season, Nico took control of the race weekend on Saturday and then couldn’t do anything to hold onto it on Sunday. Despite losing out on pole position, despite his Saturday morning crash, despite looking like the slightly slower man in the early .Sp5rl!47rs, Lewis quickly began to look the danger man on Sunday as Nico started complaining about the oversteer.
Just like Nico, Lewis also suffered from oversteer but embraced it. The nervous rear of the car shook Nico’s confidence more than Lewis, and despite Lewis almost binning his Merc into Turn 1 when de-activating the DRS, he capitalised on a small error from Nico leaving the chicane to sweep around Rosberg into Turn 1 in a move similar to Raikkonen’s pass on Fisichella in 2005. Nico’s pace compared to Lewis became increasingly poor as the race proceeded, and he would have come under pressure for second place had the race continued more normally as the Red Bulls were on the hunt, and the ‘damage limitation’ of second position ensured that he remains just ten points behind after a somewhat disastrous recent run.
Mercedes would have crossed the line first regardless of what Lewis & Nico did on Sunday, as the race ended under safety car conditions. The return on investment being enjoyed by Mercedes is immense in 2014. Mercedes power dominates the sport, the factory team will claim both titles over the next month, and the safety car features prominently on frequent occasions. More manufacturers need to come onboard and save a sport that is struggling to keep numbers up. The return of Honda is great to see, but what about the other marques that jumped at the first sign of trouble? Toyota & BMW could have been right up at the front competing in this new engine formula, but instead it is Mercedes who are reaping all the benefits of sticking it out. September was the strongest sales month in history for Mercedes as a company, who have also recorded record growth at 11.9% on last September. One of the strongest markets for growth is…the UK. That is the power of success.
Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (9-6 to Lewis Hamilton) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Nico Rosberg (24-21 to Nico Rosberg) (after Round 15)
Race: Lewis Hamilton (47.5 – 27.5 to Lewis Hamilton) (after Round 15)
Mercedes: 77.5 – 57.5 to Lewis Hamilton (Total After Round 15)
Despite my curiosity at seeing a Vettel-led Ferrari team in 2015, I’d rather see Sebastian Vettel remain at Red Bull next year. Now that he is getting to grips with the formula, there are hints of the ‘old’ Sebastian emerging. While mistakes like the one he made on Lap 39, sliding off the track, were very few and far between in the old blown diffuser V8 days, Vettel’s race craft and overall pace remains undiminished, and the motivating factor of having a driver every bit as talented alongside him could have resulted in an amazing duel in 2015.
Despite Red Bull being the comprehensively better option for next season, the lure of Ferrari has proven too much for Sebastian and despite the tears and upset at telling Christian Horner his plans on Friday evening, Vettel was his usual focussed best on Sunday. After being out qualified by Daniel by almost half a second, Seb took the initiative during the first set of stops to get in front of Ricciardo. Vettel then lead the charge on the Williams boys, who took some beating down the straights, but some imaginative moves from Sebastian & Daniel following closely behind allowed the Red Bulls to show their pace and catch Jenson Button’s McLaren. While Seb got past through the second round of pitstops, Daniel had to use some imagination to sneak past the English driver. The pair traded places at the hairpin but Daniel eventually found a way to make the pass stick and started pulling away from the McLaren, although he had fallen nine seconds behind Sebastian at this point.
In the end, the battle of the Red Bulls came to a rather inconclusive ending. Daniel remained out on track on used intermediates, while Sebastian pitted under the safety car to take on the full wets, coming out in front of Jenson Button who had taken a similar risk, but behind Daniel Were the conditions bad enough to prevent Daniel from holding off Sebastian over the closing laps had the safety car withdrawn? We’ll never know.
Vettel mathematically conceded his championship in Japan for the first time in five years. Despite Red Bull on paper looking as strong as ever for 2015, Seb has clearly seen something at Ferrari to risk everything he has built up over that time. It’s worth noting that Vettel has no manager, so any negotiations with Ferrari were done completely by himself. Rumours of a lucrative 50 million euro a year is to be his payment at the Scuderia show that Vettel is as ruthless off the track as he is on it. Can Daniel Ricciardo really fill his shoes as Numero Uno next season?
Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (9-6 to Daniel Ricciardo) (after Round 15)
Qualifying: Daniel Ricciardo (24-21 to Daniel Ricciardo) (after Round 15)
Race: Sebastian Vettel (60-15 to Daniel Ricciardo) (after Round 15)
Red Bull: 93-42 to Daniel Ricciardo (Total After Round 15)
- Team Mate Battles – Singapore GP
- Team Mate Battles – Italian GP
- Team Mate Battles – Belgian GP
- Team Mate Battles – German GP
- Team Mate Battles – British GP
- Team Mate Battles – Austrian GP
- Team Mate Battles – Canadian GP
- Team Mate Battles – Monaco GP
- Team Mate Battles – Spanish GP
- Team Mate Battles – Chinese GP
- Team Mate Battles – Bahrain GP
- Team Mate Battles – Malaysian GP
- Team Mate Battles – Australian GP