Another blow came to Sebastian Vettel’s 2017 Championship hopes today as reliability issues struck again, causing him to retire very early on in the race. Insult was added to injury for the German as Lewis Hamilton took his fifth victory in seven races, gaining an extra 25 points in the title battle. The podium was rounded off by the Red Bull duo who showed they could optimse a situation when one of the top two teams fell away.
It was a breeze for Hamilton to take his 61st victory around the Suzuka circuit from pole position, with only a smll threat at the end of the race from second-place finisher Max Verstappen. Vettel’s race started with a panic, similar to that that his team mate Kimi Raikkonen suffered last weekend, with the team having to take off his engine cover on the grid. Ferrari had detected a spark plug failure and believed to have fixed it before the formation lap, but it became clear quickly that the issue still remained. By the end of lap one, Vettel had fallen from second to sixth and the team were fored to retire the car.
The Red Bulls had a close fight on the run to Turn 1, nearly bashing wheels as they fought for position. But it was advantage Verstappen as he pulled ahead of team mate Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen kept Hamilton on his toes throughout the race, but he never realy got close enough to put the Brit under pressure. It was only towards the end of the race that Verstappen closed down, using vibration issues for Hamilton to reel him in. Unfortunetly, traffic of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa not moving sufficently out of the way for blue flags made the gap too big and Verstappen couldn’t challenge Hamilton.
Alonso is currently under inverstigation for ignoring blue flags.
The first of three safety car periods came from Carlos Sainz Jr. In his fina race for Toro Rosso, Sainz got too wide through the first corners and lost the rear of the car, spinning into the tyre barrier. He tried to limp the car back to the pits but it was too much damage for him to get back. He was the second of five retirees before the chequered flag.
Valtteri Bottas had made steady progress from starting sixth on the grid fter a five place grid drop for a gear box change. He was one of the last to pit and, after Hamilton had completed the undercut to mute any threat from the Red Bulls, he was holding his team mate up. Bottas released Hamilton, but stayed out for a few more laps to allow his team mate moe breathing space from Verstappen. Towards the end of the race, Bottas was chasing down Ricciardo for the last step on the podium. But the last few laps proved a lot of drama taht amounted to nothing. Although he got close, Bottas could do nothing to pass the Australian and had to settle for just off the podium.
Raikkonen had looked to be on a mission in the first two thirds of the race. Having dropped down to p15 for the start, he was making fantastic progress of carving through the grid. Proving the pace of the Ferrari this weekend, he got to a comfortable fifth place before his progress stopped. However hard Raikkonen pushed, he could not close in on the top four. He had a substancial lead on sixth place but had to settle for fifth at the chequered flag.
The next four cars came team by team. Sergio Perez followed team mate Esteban Ocon for them to finish seventh and sixth respectively. Romain Grosjean also followed behind his team mate Kevin Magnussen as the Haas duo took eighth and ninth. Massa, although struggling a lot with lack of grip, managed to just hold onto the final point ahead of McLaren’s Alonso.
Only fifteen cars finished the race today, with Jolyon Palmer finishing his last race for Renault and potentially for a while in Formula One in twelth. Pierre Gasly was thirteenth for his second outing in a Toro Rosso, with Stoffel Vandoorne and Pascal Wehrlein rounding off those who took the chequered flag.
Marcus Ericsson was the third retiree of the race as a mistake at Degner 2 saw him drive straight into the tyre barrier and bringing out the first virtual safety car period. The second VSC came when Lance Stroll had a front right failure and was spat across the track, nearly collecting Ricciardo in the process. Nico Hulkenberg had a disappointing day as he failed to finish when his Renault had a DRS failure that forced him back into the pits.