The outcome of the Japanese Grand Prix was all but confirmed in the seconds after the lights went out.
Nico Rosberg took off well from pole position, but the same could not be said for Lewis Hamilton, who spent the rest of his race trying to recover to a podium finish and limit the points’ loss to his teammate.
All in all, it was a bit of a dull race – livened by the occasional overtaking move – but in the final reckoning there are always a few winners and losers…
Mercedes came out on top, sealing their third – and never in doubt – Constructors’ Championship title in a row. This came with a win for Nico Rosberg in Japan who started on pole. After notching up his ninth win of the season, Rosberg is now 33 points clear of his championship rival Lewis Hamilton with four races to run.
Max Verstappen didn’t put a foot wrong and drove a solid race to finish second, although his race was not without controversy for another demonstration of his defensive driving skills against Hamilton in the closing stages. Nonetheless, he outpaced and outraces his teammate Daniel Ricciardo all weekend, atoning somewhat for being beaten by the Australian a week ago in Malaysia.
Both Force Indias had a great weekend, finishing ahead of Williams on points to extend their Constructors’ Championship advantage to 10 points over the multiple championship-winning outfit. Sergio Pérez had the measure of teammate Nico Hülkenberg, with the pair finishing seventh and eighth respectively.
In a race with a one hundred per cent finishing record – itself an achievement – there were still a few drivers and teams who didn’t live up to expectations.
Lewis Hamilton will put the blame of a missed win squarely at his feet after botching the start of the race. While the Englishman had early concerns about his side of the grid still being damp after overnight showers, he admitted that the error – which dropped him from second to eighth off the line – was his fault. He gave himself a long afternoon climbing back through the field, but third place and a further 10-point deficit to Rosberg means a fourth World Championship crown is slipping from his grasp.
Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth at a race that should have been stronger for the Australian driver, given the strengths of his Red Bull Racing RB12 chassis. A winner a week ago in Malaysia, the Australian was baulked at the start by Hamilton’s slow-starting Mercedes and blamed switching to the damper side of the grid – thanks to Kimi Räikkönen’s gearbox penalty – as a factor as well.
Ferrari looked to have the measure of Red Bull Racing after outqualifying the former champions, but came into the weekend knowing Sebastian Vettel would get a three-place grid penalty. Fourth place became seventh for the German, but he would be joined by his teammate Räikkönen after Ferrari opted to change the Finn’s gearbox overnight, earning the 2007 champion a five-place grid drop. While Vettel was able to run third in the race, he was eventually overhauled by Hamilton at the second pit stops and had to settle for fourth place ahead of Räikkönen.
McLaren-Honda had a ‘home’ race to forget. After getting both cars into the points in Malaysia a week ago, both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were left all at sea in a car that seemed ill-suited to Suzuka’s sweeps. P16 (Alonso) and P18 (Button) was hardly the type of performance to impressive Honda’s top brass.
Scuderia Toro Rosso was found wanting with its older-spec Ferrari power units, neither of which seemed to have fully functioning batteries. Daniil Kvyat tried and raced hard in a desperate bid to keep his seat, finishing thirteenth, four spots ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1