Japanese GP

Japanese GP power rankings

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Although the frontrunners didn’t deliver anything like the head-to-head between Vettel and Hamilton that we’ve been waiting all year for, there was plenty of action up and down the rest of the field, with plenty of activity and lots to consider in this week’s power rankings.

Moving on up

Daniel Ricciardo gave his fans something to cheer about after a maddening technical issue hampered his qualifying. Starting P15 he finished P4, and although he was never within striking distance of his teammate, but to be one mechanical failure away from finishing on the podium redeemed the weekend for the Australian.

Sergio Perez negotiated a hectic midfield that, thanks to a mix of strategies and safety cars early in the race, was a hive of activity throughout the race. Now equal with Hulkenberg and Magnussen on points, the sins of Singapore were erased with another best of the rest performance.

Lewis Hamilton now needs only to win in the United States, and should Vettel finish P3 or lower, Lewis will claim his 5th World Championship. If Verstappen’s declaration post-qualifying that there wasn’t really any competition left in the title battle wasn’t confirmation enough, the effortless victory this week certainly was.

Backsliding

Sebastian Vettel backed up his team’s regrettable error in qualifying with a sterling assault on the top 6, making short work of the gap between himself and the top 3. In the run up to Spoon, Vettel carried a huge pace advantage and with more patience should have passed Verstappen with ease later on the lap. It’s not that he wasn’t patient enough to wait until Max stopped to serve his 5-second penalty (the win would have been well off-the-cards by then), it’s that after a year of continual unforced errors, Sebastian again got himself into a position where his competitiveness was sacrificed unnecessarily.

Stewards had a busy one ruling on a number of incidents, none more curious than the opening lap contact between Alonso and Stroll. Despite agreeing that Stroll had unreasonably forced Alonso off the track, they also deemed that Alonso had gained an unfair advantage by leaving the track and cutting across the chicane. Both drivers were penalised, including receiving penalty points.

Suzuka’s trophy design…. I mean, I thought the Gorilla one in Italy was bad, but this takes the cake.

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Japanese GP: Winners and Losers

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Winners

  • Max Verstappen was just a few car lengths from Hamilton at the end of the race and kept him honest all day long. It's great to see the Red Bull's taking the fight to Mercedes right as the challenge from Ferrari seems to be self-destructing. Max has been on form and looking hungry since the summer break and came away with another admirable result that could erase some of the hurt from earlier in the year.
  • Lewis Hamilton has the championship all but won, and can lock things up next race if he scores another swag of points and Vettel isn't in the mix. On the whole we've seen a more focused driver in Lewis this year, with far less controversies and meltdowns of the sort we saw in Japan just 12 months ago. 
  • Esteban Ocon delivered P6, which it seems Force India are targeting for their drivers, but what's more he out-qualified Perez and held his ground when the pressure was on. Kudos also to Force India for giving a clear "no" in response to Sergio's request to attack, frankly imho Perez made his bed earlier in the season and now he has to lie in it. 

Losers

  • Jolyon Palmer underlined why he's being released by Renault next year (or even for the rest of the season) with another disappointing weekend in a car that Hulkenberg proved is good enough for reasonable points. But with both Haas cars scoring in the minor point-paying positions and pulling ahead of Renault in the constructors', this is probably the final time we'll get to mention Palmer in these winners/losers lists. All we can do is hope that if he makes a return he shows improved form. 
  • Carlos Sainz is unlucky to fall into the Losers column in a week where the margin for error is slim. His final race for Toro Rosso (for now?) wasn't a memorable one, but sadly for the team doesn't befit the work they've done and the results they've achieved together. Never mind, Carlos. We'll always have Singapore.
  • Sky's Nico Rosberg experiment was an oddity throughout the whole weekend. You'd think even former world champions wouldn't be introduced into the main broadcast without some basic media training. It was also pretty awks to see the presenters that used to become bilious at the thought of the guy having to pat his back and act like they were mates. I'm glad to see Nico contributing, and hope he sticks around, but his unusual dropping in felt unplanned and unmanaged. Better luck next time.

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Tell us YOUR Driver of the Day for Japan