Rate the race and driver of the weekend – Suzuka, Japan 2019
Mean reader score: 6.11 Rated 8/17 races so far this season
This year’s race, although ranked the same as last year’s (8/17) was actually the lowest score of the past four years (6.34 for 2018, 6.2 for 2017, and 6.97 for 2016), although it did score higher than 2015’s 5.11, 2014’s 5.42 and 2013’s 6.01.
Thankfully there were no spark plug issues for Vettel (as in 2017) and although no longer in the running for WDC this year he is having to fight tooth and nail to retain his No1 status at Ferrari, and, it has to be said, with a win in Singapore and a blistering Q3 pole grabbing lap here in Suzuka, he’s making a bit of a come-back. Not only Vettel but Ferrari are emerging like a phoenix from the flames, as team-mate Leclerc helped Ferrari block out the front row in this race. Mercedes (who were looking to wrap up the WCC this race) blocked out the second row ahead of the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Albon and the Mclarens of Sainz and Norris.
However Vettel’s moment of glory did not last long, as, having moved before lights out, he had to brake before restarting once the lights had gone out. None of this was lost on Bottas, who took full advantage, and also the lead, where he stayed for the rest of the race.
There were fisty-cuffs between Verstappen and Leclerc as they entered turn 1, with Verstappen spinning off with a ripped side pod. Leclerc made sparks fly as he continued with a broken front wing, ignoring team orders to box, not once, but twice, gaining himself a fifteen second penalty (well a five second penalty for causing a collision and a ten second penalty for ignoring the call to box). Ferrari were also landed with a 25,000 euro fine for his efforts. Having to box early meant Leclerc ended up way down the field but did make some lovely passes as he made his way back to the front. Sadly, there were no such passes at the actual front as Bottas (who, in my opinion, is possibly the best defensive driver in the paddock) kept Vettel (and the rest of the field) behind.
There was some complaining and questioning of strategy from a beleaguered Hamilton, who pretty much declared himself out of contention half-way through the race when he realised (or was told) that a one stop strategy was not going to work for him. Bottas has a hot flush realising that Hamilton May win the race if he was on a one stopper but he was reassured that this was not going to happen.
Noris and Albon had a coming together in lap 4 (they stayed friends afterwards).
At the end of the race there was another collision at the same place as Verstappen and Leclerc, although this time it was between Gasly and Perez. Ah, the end of the race – just when was that exactly? Because on the last lap (53) Perez crashed out of the race (after said collision) and out of the points, but the ‘computer’ had some kind of a glitch and declared the race finished on lap 52, so he did score points after all. Either way, Bottas won, Vettel was second, Hamilton third and Albon finished fourth, his best of the season so far. After said penalties were applied to Leclerc, he finished in P7, behind Sainz (who had an excellent race), and Ricciardo, but ahead of Gasly, Perez and Hulkenberg.
Driver of the Weekend – Valteri Bottas 29.84% of reader vote
And well deserved it was too. He didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, took advantage of Vettel’s error at the beginning, out raced his team-mate and stayed cool as a cucumber until the chequered flag(s). He also won the F1 Driver of the Weekend – Well done Valteri (I do like Bottas).
p.s. Mercedes won WCC for the SIXTH consecutive year. All drivers except Bottas and Hamilton are now out of contention for the WDC- so Mercedes have effectively won the double double six times in a row. Well done Mercedes!!