Hamilton's sombre figure of eight: Japanese GP review

By on Monday, October 6, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

This was the most peculiar of races which ended with a horrifying outcome. All weekend there were doubts over whether the Japanese Grand Prix would go ahead due to the oncoming Typhoon Phanfone. Ultimately, Formula 1 fans were rewarded with a duel between title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, which has understandably been overshadowed by Jules Bianchi’s terrible accident.

Heavy rain shortly prior to the start of the race meant that a Safety Car start was required and Rosberg duly led away from pole, as the remaining drivers searched for some clear space to see. Marcus Ericsson was the sole casualty after he spun exiting the final corner and race control soon deemed that conditions were too wet, bringing the drivers into the pit lane for 20 minutes.

The race resumed behind the Safety Car but it was bad news for Fernando Alonso, whose car stopped trackside when the electrics inside the Ferrari F14T packed up.

The Safety Car remained out as an increasing number of drivers voiced their dissatisfaction over the continued neutralisation of the race. Hamilton, particularly, felt that it would soon be time for Intermediates.

On the 10th lap the Safety Car unleashed the pack and Rosberg and Hamilton immediately scampered away at the head of the field, with the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa unable to keep tabs on the Mercedes duo.

As Hamilton anticipated, it was time for Intermediates and Jenson Button dived into the pits at the restart, immediately setting rapid sector times.

His rivals soon followed suit, but such was Button’s pace that he emerged in third position, while Sebastian Vettel jumped Daniel Ricciardo after staying out for one more lap.

Rosberg was the first of the Mercedes drivers to pit, allowing Hamilton a lap at the head of the field to make his advantage count. But he went off at Spoon Curve and lost time, emerging from his own stop a couple of seconds behind his team-mate.

The gap ebbed and flowed, with the pair holding advantages across different sections of the track as they experimented with different lines. Rosberg began to complain of oversteer on Intermediate rubber and Hamilton was suddenly right on the back of his title rival, as DRS was enabled due to the improving conditions.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Hamilton approached Rosberg but as he braked for the first corner his car snapped sideways, forcing the Brit to take to the run-off. But he quickly regained his composure and on the next lap Rosberg went defensive, forcing Hamilton to gamble by snatching the outside line. Hamilton kept his foot in it and majestically swept around the outside, taking the lead of the race on lap 29. Rosberg was unable to counter his team-mate and Hamilton hammered out an advantage, leaving the German looking susceptible to pursuing rivals.

Those included a trio of drivers, with Vettel heading Button and Ricciardo. Both Red Bull drivers had made gains at the expense of the Williams drivers, who struggled for traction on a wet track. Vettel passed Massa and Bottas into the hairpin – one inside move, one outside, while Ricciardo made his moves through the Esses, despite having to take to the wet kerbs!

Vettel took a trip through the gravel as conditions worsened, but was able to hold onto third, a position he gained when Button had a slow second stop due to a required steering wheel change. Button dropped to fifth just before the red flag when Ricciardo made an assertive move into the hairpin. Button gambled on wet tyres just prior to the red flag as he had a sufficient gap back to his next rival.

Bottas and Massa trailed home sixth and seventh after their initial struggles, while Nico Hülkenberg was eighth despite stopping at the end of the pit lane – he was handed the position on count back.

Jean-Éric Vergne surged from 20th on the grid to ninth place – and thus further staked his claim to a 2015 seat - while Sergio Pérez rounded out the top 10, ahead of Daniil Kvyat.

Ferrari’s difficult day continued as Kimi Räikkönen was unable to make progress from 10th on the grid and lost time in the pits. Combined with Alonso’s retirement, it ended Ferrari’s four year run of races inside the points.

Esteban Gutierrez dragged his Sauber higher than it deserved to be for much of the race and ended in 13th, while Kevin Magnussen was 14th after an unscheduled pit stop due to electrical issues. His charge was scuppered further by a spin exiting the first corner.

Lotus came home 15th and 16th with Romain Grosjean ahead of Pastor Maldonado, while Ericsson was a fine 17th as he recovered from his initial faux pas, to beat Max Chilton and team-mate Kamui Kobayashi.

A race which effectively started 10 laps in was halted seven laps from the flag as a result of Bianchi’s accident. The reaction of Adrian Sutil, both trackside and back in the paddock, said everything.

Few cared for the intricate details of a race which saw Hamilton take his eighth win of the campaign and open up his title lead to 10 points, again showing well compared to Rosberg. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t something which many cared to acknowledge. For the moment, some things are more important than sport.

Forza Jules

Forza Jules


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