The Japanese Grand Prix has provided many exciting races and title showdowns in the past, but has this year’s event lived up to these high expectations? You said absolutely not, with a resounding NO! But just how bad was it, and how did it compare to previous years?
2013 – TJ13 reader score – 6.01
Sebastian Vettel took his 35th career victory, his fifth in a row and his 4th win in five years at Suzuka after a tactical battle with his team-mate Mark Webber and Romain Grosjean. It was probably the best race of Romain’s career, who managed to jump both Red Bulls and lead into the first corner. Hamilton tried to follow but his rear tyre was clipped by Vettel’s front wing end fence, resulting in an instant puncture, dropping him out of the running.
Romain managed to keep his lead until the second set of pitstops, when Mark Webber pushed hard and employed the undercut to perfection. Vettel managed to extend his tyre stint by driving conservatively, pitting much later than the two cars ahead. He rejoined in third position, but his fresher rubber would prove critical. He pressurised Grosjean and passed with DRS assistance into the first corner.
When Mark realised his tyres were not going to last to the end of the race, he pitted again dropping behind Grosjean in third. He aggressively pursued the Lotus driver, making an ambitious (and unsuccessful) lunge into Spoon curve. He finally managed to make a move stick into turn one, but it was too late for him to chase down the imperious Vettel.
2014 – TJ13 reader score – 5.42
Last year saw F1’s blackest weekend since Imola in 1994. The torrential rain saw the race start behind the safety car, with Nico Rosberg heading the pack, before realising that the standing water was too deep for the cars to run safely. The race was postponed for 20 minutes and at the restart Lewis Hamilton tucked in close behind his team-mate but was unable to jump him. He didn’t have to wait until the pitstops to pass as he managed to find a way around the outside into turn one. Daniel Ricciardo pulled off some fantastic moves around the outside of the Esses on both Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas’s Williams in quick succession as the Red Bull demonstrated their superior grip.
The weather conditions were worsening and on lap 43 Adrian Sutil aquaplaned off the circuit into the tyre barriers. One lap later, under double waved yellow flags, Jules Bianchi lost control in the same spot and very unfortunately crashed into the tractor that was in the process of recovering the Sauber. The race was immediately abandoned and the look on Sutil’s face confirmed the severity of the incident. Everybody’s worst nightmare was realised nine months later on 17th July 2015 when Jules passed away, having never recovered from the accident. This undoubtedly and understandably clouded the voting, with many readers giving the race a 1 score to register their dismay at the events of the day.
2015 – TJ13 reader score – 5.11
This year you have spoken in your droves and voted this by far the worst race of the season, even taking the mantle of the worst grand prix for three years from the highly stage-managed and predictable Chinese grand prix.
The race for the victory was over by the second corner as Lewis Hamilton produced a fantastic start and was able to get inside Nico into the first corner, then aggressively scrubbing wide pushing his team-mate off the track (which I’m sure didn’t go down well in the debrief!).
The bulk of the problem for Nico was created on the formation lap, where Lewis was able to manage his car’s engine and clutch temperatures more effectively. A product of the team radio ban, Nico’s car was overheating and this reduced the amount of power available to him, particularly once the second acceleration phase of the start was underway. That allowed Lewis to draw alongside and left Nico high and dry on the outside.
The rest of the race was very dull, punctuated occasionally by the sight of a under-powered Honda being mugged down the straights. Alonso was not amused at the situation, describing it as an embarrassment – “the deficit we have on power is like another category”. That didn’t go down well with Big Ron…
Driver of the day – Max Verstappen (57%)
Max seems to be making a habit of topping our polls recently, but this time he knocked everybody else out of the park with a whopping 57% of the vote. His qualifying mishaps of late have meant he has had to do a lot of work in the races, but as usual he has taken the challenge with open arms this weekend.
A lot of overtakes in general this weekend were DRS assisted into the first corner around the outside of a defending car. Excepting this it was fascinating to watch young Max hassling those around him, particularly with inventive lines through the Esses complex. His attempt to pass around the outside of the infamous 130r was slightly too ambitious and lost him time, but overall it was an excellent performance to go from 17th at the start to 9th, one place ahead of his teammate once again.