Unfortunately, Ferrari dropped 25 points to Hamilton with Vettel’s retirement due to a failed spark plug, which in turn handed the Briton a 59 point championship lead with just four races left this season.
So if this battle is all but over, attention must shift to the ever changing structure of the mid field. As the season nears its end, standout performances become more crucial than normal – so, who actually put a notable performance in during the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix?
Lewis Hamilton – 9/10
Although Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix, most of his work appeared to come from his stunning pole lap on Saturday. But even then, his car was clearly the fastest, so pole should’ve been expected. Come Sunday, Vettel’s retirement left Verstappen as the sole competitor to Hamilton’s charge. Despite the pair finishing close together, Hamilton was never put under any major pressure by the Dutchman. Quite simply, his race was nothing spectacular, but he still won, so credit where its due.
Valtteri Bottas – 8/10
After a grid penalty forced Valtteri Bottas to the third row of the grid, the Finn really struggled to make progress forward during Sunday’s Grand Prix. With Vettel’s early retirement, Bottas was effectively fifth by the end of the first few laps – a position he’d hold into the finish line. Maybe it was the car, but it was pretty disappointing to see a Red Bull hold back Bottas, even if he was slightly disadvantaged by starting on the softs.
Sebastian Vettel – No rating
Ten minutes before lights out in Japan, it was alarming to see Sebastian Vettel’s engine cover off. Sky Sports reported Ferrari had fixed a minor spark plug issue, but just one lap into the race it was clear that was wrong. First Vettel lost out to Verstappen at the hairpin, then Ocon, Ricciardo and Bottas breezed past him down the straight as easily as if he was using a Honda engine… Ferrari retired the car and Vettel’s day was done, pretty much alongside his championship…
Kimi Raikkonen – 10/10
It was a rough day at the office early on for Kimi Raikkonen. After starting 10th, the Iceman’s day got a bit more difficult when he dropped to 14th after being forced off the road at Spoon by Nico Hulkenberg on the first lap. But from this point onward, Raikkonen beautifully carved his way through the field, overtaking people around the outside and up the inside at the famous first corner. At points Raikkonen made the Ferrari look like the best car in the field, but I guess we’ll never known if that look was deceiving or not…
Max Verstappen – 10/10
You can’t fault Max Verstappen today. The fact that he stayed with Hamilton the way he did was a pure testament to the fighting spirit of the young twenty year old. It’s been clear that the Mercedes is steps above Red Bull with regard to pure pace, but Verstappen certainly questioned that in Suzuka. It was frustrating to see blue flags and backmarkers play a major role in the final outcome…
Daniel Ricciardo – 8/10
Daniel Ricciardo drove a good race in Suzuka, there’s no denying that. But in comparison to Verstappen, it wasn’t the greatest of drives. His pace was somewhat inferior and he was never a part of the front running fight. That was mainly because he spent a majority of the opening stint behind Esteban Ocon, undeniably proving the importance of maintaining position at the start. In the end, Ricciardo did perform well when put under pressure from Bottas, managing to hold him off in the final laps.
Sergio Perez – 7/10
With team orders keeping Sergio Perez behind his team mate for most of the afternoon, the start was the only real part of the race where Perez’s performance can be analyzed. In the end, he held his position the entire way; starting 7th and finishing the first lap there. With Valtteri Bottas ahead, it was understandable that Perez couldn’t progress forward, and by lap 12 Perez was merely shadowing team mate Ocon. In the end, he commented on his P7 finish by saying, “It was a relatively easy race.”
Esteban Ocon – 9/10
It was great to see Esteban Ocon producing such an intriguing first lap during the Japanese Grand Prix. He jumped Daniel Ricciardo at the start and found himself fourth, which quickly changed to third with Vettel’s issues. But, understandably, Ocon’s Force India didn’t have the pace to hold off a Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari – making P6 the best possible position for him today, again taking out the ‘Best of the Rest’ award.
Felipe Massa – 7/10
To be quite honest, the one crucial moment in the Japanese Grand Prix for Felipe Massa made him look very old. After holding up many drivers, which at stages included both Haas’, Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly, Jolyon Palmer and Nico Hulkenberg – the struggling Brazilian was caught off guard by an aggressive dive from Kevin Magnussen. A little bit clumsy, and in the end it cost Williams two positions and three World Championship points.
Lance Stroll – No rating
It was always clear the Japanese Grand Prix wouldn’t amount to much for Lance Stroll. First lap contact forced a pit stop on lap four, which dropped him down to 17th, with just Pascal Wehrlein behind. Although the Canadian battled back up to an effective fourteenth throughout the race, his day ended with an untimely front right puncture on lap 46…
Carlos Sainz – No rating
Given it was his last race for Scuderia Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz will undoubtedly be annoyed that all he could produce was a first lap retirement. Even more unfortunately, it wasn’t because of close racing, instead Sainz simply dropped the car himself going through the ‘esses’ section.
Pierre Gasly – 6/10
Nothing special came from Pierre Gasly in Japan. Despite having raced at Suzuka during Super Formula earlier in the year, his drive in Formula 1 was an unimpressive 13th. Post race, Gasly admitted that his puzzling two-stop strategy, which did compromise his performance, came about because of what he called “a massive lock-up.” Unfortunately, this is driver error, and thus Gasly’s rating has been affected, given the obvious consequences the extra stop had on his race.
Stoffel Vandoorne – 7/10
Despite starting from the promising position of P9, it was a downhill race for Stoffel Vandoorne. At the start, he made contact with Kimi Raikkonen on the exit of Turn 2, forcing the McLaren driver into the unforgiving gravel. This instantly ruined the positive grid position from Vandoorne, and left him in 18th after the first lap. From this point forward, the Honda engine struggled and couldn’t take Vandoorne forward, and he finished 14th.
Fernando Alonso – 7/10
Despite a lowly grid position due to engine penalties, Fernando Alonso recovered enough in the Japanese Grand Prix to miss out on points by just one position. In the end, his P11 finish was actually a little annoying, as Alonso felt he lost ground at the start. In fact, the Spaniard only rose to 17th after lap 1, whereas Jolyon Palmer, who’d also started from the back, was right up to 14th. Not much Alonso could’ve really done, but he was unusually quiet today…
Nico Hulkenberg – No rating
It was unfortunate that Nico Hulkenberg’s day had to come to an end. He’d battled well, but his DRS became stuck in an open position and given the safety risk, he was forced to retire from what looked to be a good set of points. He’d run the alternate strategy by starting on softs, and consequently when he emerged from the pits on lap 38, Hulkenberg was supposed to have a clear run at both Haas’ and Felipe Massa – too bad this didn’t materialize.
Jolyon Palmer – 6/10
Considering Suzuka was most likely Jolyon Palmer’s final Formula 1 race, he didn’t really go out with a bang… Instead, he only marched as far forward as 12th – ahead of him was Fernando Alonso, who originally started two places behind. Palmer wasn’t notable, and that was the problem, it just seemed like another mediocre performance which failed to live up to expectations.
Romain Grosjean – 8/10
Romain Grosjean’s Japanese Grand Prix was rather similar to Sergio Perez’s – he was forced to sit behind his team mate the entire day. For literally the entire race, Grosjean followed Kevin Magnussen, and expertly picked up a key position when Magnussen fought hard with Felipe Massa. All in all, Gorsjean was stoked about picking up a double points finish for Haas, and rightfully so!
Kevin Magnussen – 10/10
In all honesty, there wasn’t much more for Magnussen to achieve in Japan, ahead of him were only the Force India’s, who undeniably sit within a class of their own. The key reason Magnussen could get his stunning P8 finish was a move he made on Felipe Massa. Catching the Brazilian napping, Magnussen used all the space (including the grass!) to barge his way past Massa – and his display of aggression meant Grosjean could slip past too. Move of the race for me!
Marcus Ericsson – 5/10
Driver error eliminated Marcus Ericsson from the Japanese Grand Prix on lap 7. Heading into the second Degner, a corner which had already seen hairy moments for Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, and Sebastian Vettel this weekend, and Ericsson failed to slow and lost his Sauber into the wall. A clumsy incident for a man who could be fighting for his Formula 1 seat.
Pascal Wehrlein – 7/10
When Sauber are forced to race with a 2016 Ferrari power unit which has seen zero development, they understandably have no pace. Wehrlein, despite his efforts, finished the Japanese Grand Prix last of the classified finishers. Even more concerning, Wehrlein finished one whole lap behind even the McLaren’s, which just emphasizes Sauber’s lack of pace…
Be sure to tell us in the comments whether or not you agree with our ratings!
By – Steven Walton