SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 07: Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and second place Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP celebrate with their team after the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 7, 2018 in Suzuka. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

We look at the winners and losers of the Japanese GP. It turned out to be a sedate Japanese Grand Prix for Lewis Hamilton who coasted from pole position to an easy win. Sebastian Vettel, on the other hand, ended up last after a collision with Max Verstappen and recovered to P6. But he lost further ground in the championship to Hamilton.

Japanese GP – Winners and Losers

The Winners

Lewis Hamilton

The Briton scripted his ninth win of the 2018 Formula 1 season at the Suzuka circuit and extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 67-points over Sebastian Vettel. The Mercedes W09 seems to have an edge over the Ferrari SF71H with their recent tweaks and updates. Hamilton crossed the line to take his 71st career win and a fifth win at the Japanese GP (one win came at Fuji).

Hamilton started on pole and coasted to his sixth win in seven races. This is the Briton’s fourth straight win and 50th victory for Mercedes. Hamilton is on the march to his fifth world title and will join an exclusive “club of two”. Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher are currently the only two drivers who have won five or more titles.

Hamilton said: “Naturally I’m very, very happy. The whole weekend has been incredibly strong from the team. A great one-two from Mercedes. A true showing of the real strength in depth we have as a team. This track is the best track in the world. They don’t make tracks like this anymore – I don’t know why. Every second of the run – it was great fun.”

Max Verstappen

The 21-year old Dutchman scored his third consecutive podium at the Japanese GP. It was an eventful race that saw him run into both the Ferrari drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. He was handed a five-second penalty for his first run-in with Raikkonen (taken at his first pitstop). The clash with Vettel was treated as a racing incident.

The season started with a series of errors, but Verstappen has recovered with seven podiums now. After the race, Verstappen was given a single penalty point on his license for the Raikkonen clash. With eight penalty points in the current 12-month period, Verstappen is four points away from a full race ban.

Verstappen robustly defended his actions off-track as he does on the track. He did not think he did anything wrong in the Raikkonen clash. He had this to say about the Vettel clash: “In that corner, you can’t overtake. I even gave him space but he understeered into my car. For me, it was a bit similar to China this year where I made the mistake because he was a lot faster and he could have easily overtaken me the next lap. So I think even the most experienced drivers make these mistakes. I think we both already got penalised with damage, but looking back I think it was a similar scenario to China and I got a penalty there. But at the end of the day, it is like it is. It’s just not nice that it happens.”

Daniel Ricciardo

The Australian has been in the wars in recent races with reliability issues taking a toll. He was seen screaming in frustration in the pitlane after a loss of power during qualification that saw him knocked out in Q2. The Australian started P15 on the grid. From there he scripted a fantastic comeback drive that saw him finish fourth.

Ricciardo made a strong start that put him in the points by lap 3. By lap 15, he was fifth behind Raikkonen. His first pit stop on lap 24 saw Ricciardo get past the Finn for fourth place. Briefly, he challenged his teammate Verstappen for third before he settled for fourth. The “Driver of the Day” award was well-deserved.

As his Red Bull career winds down, Ricciardo would like to finish strongly and add to his 29 career podiums. After the Monaco win, things have gone wrong for Ricciardo. He now languishes in sixth position (146 pts) in the drivers’ championship.

Mercedes

Mercedes seems to have won the development race and edged ahead in performance recently against arch-rival Ferrari. It looked like doom and gloom going into the Italian GP with Ferrari set to beat them on the high-speed circuit with their superior straight-line speed.

After qualification, both Mercedes drivers were on the second row behind the Ferrari drivers. This seemed to confirm the fact that Ferrari had now edged ahead of the dominant team of the hybrid-era. But with the help of their 4-time world champion driver Hamilton, the team fought against the odds and scored an unlikely win in front of the Tifosi.

The Italian GP win for Hamilton started a four-race win streak that has seen the Briton open up a 67-point lead over Vettel in the drivers’ championship. The two Mercedes drivers have qualified and finished 1-2 in the last two races. The Silver Arrows has opened up a 78-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors’ championship now. Mercedes are within striking distance of both titles. Another double-title win will see the Silver Arrows win for the fifth consecutive season. Absolute dominance in the hybrid-engine era since 2014 !!

Racing Point Force India

This was a team that went into administration just before the summer break started. A consortium-led by Lawrence Stroll has bought the team which is now rebranded “Racing Point Force India”. The FIA announced that the team will start with zero constructors’ points but both the drivers, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, can keep their points in the drivers’ championship.

Rival teams like Haas F1 had objected to the team being able to keep the prize money as they are a new team. But even with the uncertainty surrounding this team, they continue to deliver great results.

As the newly rebranded outfit Racing Point Force India, the team has scored double-point finishes in four of the five races. In Singapore, the clash between the two drivers on the opening lap cost the team a double-point finish. The 43-points scored by the team in its new avatar has seen them advance to seventh in the constructors’ championship. The Silverstone-based team has once again shown what a valuable team they are for F1.

The Losers

Sebastian Vettel

Another error-strewn race for the German. Vettel had scored a dominant win at Spa in Belgium. His rival Hamilton appeared disheartened and said Mercedes had to improve their performance to match Ferrari. But since that race, it has been a downward slide for Vettel. He is now 67-points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ championship with four races to go. The world drivers’ championship seems to be slipping away.

The first stumble at Suzuka happened in qualification when a tactical error in Q3 saw him qualify P9. Vettel started eighth and made quick progress to fourth in the opening laps. On lap 8, Vettel tried to dive on the inside of Verstappen at the Spoon curve. They collided and he was sent spinning off the track. The German rejoined P19 and finished sixth.

After this race, more questions about Vettel’s propensity for errors under pressure have arisen. The memories of the implosion of Vettel and Ferrari starting with the Singapore GP in 2017 have resurfaced. With a mixture of errors from Vettel and his team, the title chances seemed to have slipped away yet again in 2018.

Nico Hulkenberg

Another frustrating race for the German. Hulkenberg has scored one point in the last six races. The Hulk held on to seventh in the drivers’ championship and the “best of the rest” title for a long time. But as Renault tailed off in their performance after the summer break, Hulkenberg has stagnated.

The German suffered a heavy crash in FP3. The French team managed to repair the damage before qualification. But he was knocked out in Q1, a rare occurrence for him. By lap 38, Hulkenberg was out of the race.

He is now on equal points (53 pts) as Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen. This puts him ninth in the drivers’ championship. Hulkenberg needs to halt the downward slide in the next four races and finish the season strong.

Ferrari

The Maranello-based team entered the summer break ten points behind Mercedes. In the first race after the summer break, Vettel won the race and beat Hamilton head-to-head in a straight fight. They came to their home race in Monza with full confidence that they could beat Mercedes at their home race for the first time in the hybrid-era.

The qualification went well and the team locked out the front row. The loyal Tifosi turned up in full strength in anticipation of a Ferrari 1-2. Instead, Vettel ended up at the back of the grid after lap 1. What seemed like a sure race win for the first time since 2010 at their home Grand Prix actually saw Ferrari lose more ground to Mercedes in both title races.

Even with a car that has performed well at all tracks and slightly faster than the Mercedes W09 for most of the season, repeated errors has seen the team throw away points. With a combination of errors from the team and drivers, both titles seems to be slipping away. A 63-point deficit to Mercedes in the last four races has all but scuppered the title challenge.

Renault

The French manufacturer is in fourth place in the constructors’ championship, just. Haas F1 has closed the gap and is now just 8-points behind them. After the summer break, the team has scored only 10 points in five races. As Haas and Force India have surged after the summer break, Renault’s performance has tailed off.

Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz are now ninth and twelfth respectively in the drivers’ championship. With a top driver like Ricciardo joining the team in 2019, the team will hope the 2019 car can help them challenge the top 3 teams.

McLaren F1

The Woking-based team had another poor race. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished P14 and P15 respectively. This is the fourth non-scoring race after the summer break. McLaren is sixth in the constructors’ championship mainly because of Force India losing the points they scored before the summer break.

A disgruntled and exasperated Alonso has decided to leave F1 and race elsewhere in 2019. Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris will be the new driver pairing next year. This once great team will hope that it can finally turn the corner with them.

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