Hamilton equals Senna’s record with imperious win in Suzuka

Order was restored in Japan last Sunday,with Lewis Hamilton leading Mercedes to yet another one-two finish, after the shocking lack of pace they showed last time out in Singapore.

In Qualifying on Saturday it was clear that the Mercedes’ pace was back and stronger than ever around the power hungry circuit in Suzuka, with Rosberg securing pole early on before Daniil Kyvat’s crash brought out a red flag, ending the session.

Off the start Lewis Hamilton jumped up alongside Rosberg going into turn one, steadfastly sticking to the outside line and gaining the lead entering turn two. The overtake  forced Rosberg back into the clutches of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and Valtteri Bottas’ Williams, both of whom moved up demoting Rosberg to fourth.

Meanwhile, on the third row of the grid, Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo were in a battle for sixth place. Ricciardo had a good start and lined up alongside the Williams resulting in contact and punctures for both cars.  Massa’s subsequent fall down the field squeezed Sergio Perez who ran onto the Astroturf.

Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado in the Lotus’s had gained sixth and seventh in the midst of the many battles- a positive place for a team who have been in the depths of financial problems in recent weeks.  Fernando Alonso had also managed to place the power deprived McLaren up in ninth place, from 12th at the start.

Hamilton sped off into the distance up front whilst Rosberg and Bottas took their fight into pit stop strategy. Bottas attempted the undercut on Rosberg by pitting early on lap 12 to the harder tyres, a rare proactive move from the Williams team. The move proved to be right one, as when Rosberg pitted three laps later he returned yet again behind the Williams- the undercut had worked.

However, the joy in the Williams garage did not last long as on lap 18 Rosberg finally caught and easily passed Bottas with a move down the inside of the last corner before the straight, and used the DRS to put further distance between them.

McLaren’s party was also spoilt, as on lap 26 promising rookie driver Max Verstappen cruised up behind Fernando Alonso using DRS and passed him easily to take the last point placing position. Alonso complained on the radio of his, “stupid GP2 engine”, presumably much to the chagrin of the host company, and McLaren’s engine supplier, Honda.

The familiar, and seemingly inevitable, sight of a Mercedes one- two emerged on lap 33 as Rosberg finally moved past Vettel into second place as the Ferrari driver exited the pits.

The battle however, did not end there. Unlike his teammate Rosberg was unable to canter off into the distance and Vettel stuck with him until the very end of the race, with the gap staying at around 1.5 seconds as the pair manoeuvred their way through equally battling back markers.

This battle included Marcus Ericcson and Sergio Perez who were fighting tooth and nail for 11th place. It was clear that Perez had a speed advantage – his teammate Hulkenberg was up in 6th at this point- but was seemly unable to pass the Sauber driver. Perez finally made the pass on lap 49 with a move around the outside going into 130R causing Ericsson to run wide and allowing Red Bull teammates Kyvat and Ricciardo to join the fight behind.

Ericcson showed his inexperience or perhaps the pressure he was under on lap 51, when he adhered to blue flags to let Raikkonen pass him through the chicane. Raikkonen appeared unsure if he was being let through in such an unusual place, and the opportunistic young Russian Kyvat took the opportunity to dive down the inside whilst Ericcson was off the racing line.

All in all it was a very successful race for the Mercedes team, so much so that we barely saw them on screen with battles all down the field holding more attention.

Lewis Hamilton not only increased his championship lead to 48 points with five races to go, but emulated his hero Aryton Senna’s 41 wins, and also looks almost assured of a third world championship.

Ferrari didn’t show the pace that they had last race out in Singapore, but finished well with Vettel third and Raikkonen fourth. Bottas and Hulkenberg came away with good points in fifth and sixth respectively, whilst Fernando Alonso bemoaned McLaren’s lack of progress just out of the points in 11th.

Going into the Russian Grand prix in Sochi this weekend it looks all set to be another Mercedes victory, or can Ferrari find that return to form again? We’ll have to wait to see on Sunday.

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Hamilton’s third consecutive win overshadowed by a horrific head injury for Bianchi in Suzuka

Marussia’s Jules Bianchi is fighting for his life after sustaining a severe head injury after colliding with the back of a tractor which was retrieving Adrian Sutil’s Sauber during the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

The race was red flagged after 44 laps due to the collision and results were counted back a lap giving Hamilton the win, Rosberg second and Vettel third.

Questions over the start time of the race circulated the paddock all weekend as there was knowledge of the bad weather coming in since Friday but the race promoters refused  to bring the race forward four hours.

A safety car was decided on for the start of the grand prix with only two laps being completed before the red flag came out to stop the race after drivers complained of poor visibility and a high level of standing water.

Under the safety car Marcus Ericcson’s Caterham had spun onto the gravel trap with marshals helping to push his car so he could rejoin the race. Shortly after Lewis Hamilton stated that he could not see his teammate Rosberg in the lead due to the conditions.

The teams run out into the pit lane as work on the car was allowed under these conditions and after fifteen minutes the race was restarted under the safety car.

Four corners into the restart Fernando Alonso became the first car to retire from the Japanese grand prix after suffering from a suspected electronics problem.

When the race had been restarted the rain had sufficiently eased causing many drivers to call for the safety car to release them and allow the race to resume well before it eventually did after 9 laps.

Jenson Button, a well known master of changeable conditions, was the first to jump for intermediate tyres coming in just after the safety car’s release on lap 10, a move that proved to be highly successful as he matched the pace of the leaders triggering the rest of the field to come in soon after.

The Williams cars quickly became detached from the Mercedes as they proved the car was not best suited to wet conditions. The Red bull of Ricciardo, which was set up for wet weather conditions, soon closed up on the back of Felipe Massa.

Quickly intermediate tyres proved to be the best tyre with most of the field coming into the pits placing Button in third from eighth. However, the Mercedes duo stayed out longer choosing to pit five laps later with Hamilton unable to jump his teammate for the lead.

Their wet weather set up proved handy for both Red Bull drivers as Vettel passed Massa around the outside on lap 16 quickly followed by his teammate Riccardo around the outside before the Dunlop curve. A few laps later both Red Bulls made their way past Bottas in the other Williams for fourth and fifth places respectively.

The pace of the Red Bull’s began to trouble the Mercedes in front as they began to lap considerably slower with leader Nico Rosberg suffering from oversteer as his teammate Hamilton clung to his rear wing. When DRS was enabled on lap twenty five Hamilton was obviously faster and a move for both the lead of the race and the championship soon appeared inevitable.

That move finally came on lap 29 as Hamilton pulled off a beautifully daring move around the outside of turn one as his teammate heavily defended his line around the previous corner. Hamilton quickly proved that he did in fact have vastly superior speed as he pulled out a two second gap by the end of the lap.

A slow pit stop for Jenson Button on lap thirty two caused him to lose third place to Sebastian Vettel, the issue being an electronics problem which affected both McLaren cars causing the steering wheel to have to be changed during the stop.

The rain started falling fairly heavily again around lap thirty eight with some, such as Kevin Magnussen coming in for extreme wet tyres. As the rain fell a few incidents occurred throughout the grid, with Sebastian Vettel aquaplaning off the track allowing Jenson Button to close in on him for third place.

An almighty fight occurred between Button and Riccardo for fourth place over the next few laps with the Australian managing to pass several times but unable to make the move stick.

Then on lap forty three Adrian Sutil of Sauber suffered an accident on the Dunlop curve colliding with the tyre barrier, Sutil walked away unharmed and a tractor was brought out to clear his car under double waved yellows.

On the next lap Jules Bianchi’s Marussia suffered a similar accident to Sutil, unfortunately however his car made contact with the back of the recovery tractor causing a severe head injury and for him to lose consciousness.

The podium was a sombre affair with Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel refraining from spraying the champagne as it was clear their thoughts, and the rest of the paddock’s, were with their colleague.

As of Thursday afternoon Jules Bianchi had received one operation at a local Japanese hospital for diffuse axonal injury, a severe head injury, and was claimed to be in a critical but stable condition requiring aid to breathe.

Going into the next race this Sunday at Sochi in Russia Hamilton leads Rosberg in the championship by ten points with four races to go.

Rosberg secures pole in Suzuka

Qualifying at Suzuka was overshadowed by a bombshell this morning, with an explosion occurring in the driver market as Red Bull announced Sebastian Vettel’s departure from the team he secured four world titles with.
The action out of track produced slightly less drama with Rosberg storming to pole by two tenths of a second from Hamilton who suffered from a lock up on his final flying lap.
The weekend did not start smoothly for the championship leader Hamilton with a crash in the third free practice session necessitating a repair job on his car that continued up to the very last few minutes before qualifying.
The Williams’ proved yet again that they are the ‘best of the rest’ with Valtteri Bottas putting in a fantastic performance to take third on the grid ahead of his teammate Felipe Massa.
Despite questions over his future as a move to Ferrari by Sebastian Vettel appears most likely, Fernando Alonso yet again put in a good performance to take fifth, five places ahead and eight tenths of a second faster than his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Fernando has stated that he has both a plan and options for his future but nothing has yet been announced, with Ferrari refusing to comment over Vettel’s rumoured arrival at the team next season.
The seemingly only option for Fernando Alonso in 2015 appears to be at McLaren who are hoping to return to the top end of the sport in 2015 with their new engine partnership with Honda. However, after leaving the team in 2007 earlier than he was contracted, will the door at McLaren be open to him?
The apparent feeling is that Honda wish for a driver of Fernando’s calibre to be spearheading their world championship chances so surely this can be the only option for Fernando other than perhaps a year out of the sport, a risky move considering he is now one of the oldest drivers on the grid.
Red Bull have quickly announced their line up for next year shutting down any opportunity for Alonso to make a straight swap with Vettel, with 20 year old Daniil Kyvat promoted to the Red Bull seat after just one season for Torro Rosso.
This leaves a gap in Torro Rosso, with Max Verstappen already announced to be replacing Jean-Eric Vergne for next year surely a driver such as Carlos Sainz Jr will be promoted up through the Red Bull young driver programme to the remaining F1 seat.
Seemingly the future of McLaren’s drivers appears to be on less than solid ground with a chance that Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen may be replaced by the now available Fernando Alonso. McLaren have refused to confirm their driver line up all year, but surely while at Honda’s home circuit there can be no better time to do so.
A storm appears to be brewing over the F1 paddock with both threats of a super typhoon that may affect the race tomorrow and a driver announcement that may just blow the whole driver market into disarray, either way tomorrow’s race has all the ingredients to be a real showstopper.
Qualifying classifications:
1. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1.32.506
2. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes +0.197
3. Valtteri Bottas – Williams i + 0.622
4. Felipe Massa- Williams + 1.021
5. Fernando Alonso – Ferrari + 1.234
6. Daniel Ricciardo- Red Bull Racing + 1.569
7. Kevin Magnussen -McLaren Mercedes + 1.736
8. Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes +1.811
9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing +1.926
10. Kimi Raikkonen- Ferrari +2.042