Mercedes-AMG Petronas has won its sixth Constructors’ Championship title in a row and it will achieve the same feat in the Drivers’ Championship standings as well after Valtteri Bottas took a controlled victory in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The Finn made a superb start from the second row of the grid to lead the field into Turn 1 and was never headed, taking his third win of the season ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Bottas’ Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton completed the podium.
Bottas’ victory has kept his slender championship hopes alive, although it will take a miracle to deny Hamilton his sixth Drivers’ Championship title. The Englishman leads Bottas by 64 points and needs to outscore him by 14 points at the next Grand Prix in Mexico City to close out the fight.
Mercedes’ six titles on the trot continues the Silver Arrows’ remarkable dominance of the current turbo-hybrid era, while also continuing the squad’s unbeaten run at Suzuka. Their feat equals the six Constructors’ Championship crowns won by Scuderia Ferrari in the Michael Schumacher dominated era between 1999 and 2004.
Starting from third on the grid behind the Ferraris of Vettel and Charles Leclerc after qualifying was postponed to Sunday morning because of Typhoon Hagibis, Bottas made a superb launch from the grid to sweep ahead of the two red cars into Turn 1.
Ferrari found itself unable to convert its surprising one-lap pace, with its race yet again falling apart because of errors by both drivers. Vettel appeared to flinch just before the lights went out but brought his car to a quick stop and somehow avoided a jump-start penalty. His faltering getaway allowed him to be jumped by Bottas.
Leclerc made an equally poor getaway and was too aggressive trying to recover ground into Turns 1 and 2, understeering behind Vettel and punting Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen off the circuit. Verstappen was forced to pit and later retired his car with terminal damage, marking a disappointing weekend for the Dutchman at engine partner Honda’s home race.
The Ferrari sustained damage to its front wing and he initially refused calls to pit for a new nose cone. After Ferrari acquiesced to the FIA Race Director’s instructions to pit the Monégasque driver, his car then shed its front wing down the back straight, scattering debris into the path of Hamilton with a piece getting lodged in the brake ducts of Lando Norris’ McLaren.
Out front, Bottas quickly pulled clear of a potential DRS threat from Vettel, while Hamilton zeroed up to the back of the German’s Ferrari.
Vettel made his first pit stop on Lap 17, taking on a second set of Pirelli’s Soft compound tyres to confirm he was on a two-stop race. Mercedes called Bottas in to cover off a potential undercut, mirroring the same tyre strategy and keeping the Finn ahead on track.
Hamilton stayed out on track, extending his first stint into a potential one-stop race while Bottas pumped ot quick times on his fresh tyres.
Hamilton pitted on Lap 22, switching to Medium tyres – which could allow him to run a one-stop race if he could keep his tyre wear under control – but the Englishman was immediately on the pit-to-car radio blasting the team’s strategists for leaving him out too long on his first set of tyres.
Hamilton could theoretically win by not stopping again and jumping Bottas and Vettel when they made their second stops. Vettel pitted on Lap 32 with Bottas following suit five laps later, leaving Hamilton in the lead but being rapidly closed down by his teammate and the Ferrari.
Mercedes took the medicine and pitted him for a second time, leaving him with fresh Soft tyres and ten laps to close down and pass Vettel. Although he caught the four-time World Champion, Hamilton couldn’t match Vettel’s straight-line speed and had to settle for third place.
Alexander Albon pit in another fine drive to finish fourth in the sole remaining Red Bull Racing Honda, ten seconds clear of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz who was the last of the runners to finish on the lead lap of the race.
A lap team orders call and fresh rubber helped Daniel Ricciardo put in a sequence of passing moves to carve his way up to sixth place, however the double points’ finish he and teammate Nico Hülkenberg (who finished tenth) earned remain provisional. Rival team Racing Point launched a protest against the Enstone team alleging its illegal use of a “pre-set lap distance-dependent brake bias adjustment system”.
Leclerc recovered to fourth place after his unscheduled pit stop, but was curiously brought back in for a late tyre change in an attempt to deny Hamilton the bonus point for the fastest lap of the race. The gamble backfired on both fronts, with Hamilton reclaiming the bonus point and Leclerc later copping two separate time penalties that demoted him from sixth to seventh in the final classification.
The race classification was adjusted correct to the timing on the 52nd and penultimate lap after a software glitch caused the electronic chequered flag display to show a lap early.
That proved a bonus for Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez, who found himself punted into the Turn 2 barriers on Lap 53 after an unsuccessful attempt trying to snatch eighth place from Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly. The Mexican driver reclaimed his ninth place as a result of the timing glitch.
|FORMULA 1 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX 2019 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (52 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||52||1:21:46.755||28|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||52||+ 13.343||18|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||52||+ 13.858||16|
|4.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB15||52||+ 59.537||12|
|5.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||52||+ 1:09.101||10|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||51||1 lap behind||8|
|7.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||51||1 lap behind||6|
|8.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||51||1 lap behind||4|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||51||1 lap behind||2|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||51||1 lap behind||1|
|11.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||51||1 lap behind|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||51||1 lap behind|
|13.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||51||1 lap behind|
|14.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||51||1 lap behind|
|15.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||51||1 lap behind|
|16.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||51||1 lap behind|
|17.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||51||1 lap behind|
|18.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||50||2 laps behind|
|19.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||50||2 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||14||Brakes|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Lewis Hamilton is awarded an additional 1 championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race by a points’ finisher.
- Charles Leclerc – provisionally classified P6 – was issued two post-race time penalties: five seconds for causing a collision with Max Verstappen and ten seconds for driving his car in an unsafe condition.
- Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg – provisionally classified P6 and P10 respectively – remain provisionally classified pending the outcome of a protest from Racing Point.
Image via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport