2015 Japanese Grand Prix Review
With Jules Bianchi not far from everyone's thoughts, we return to Suzuka. This time the rain was staying away and conditions seemed a lot better.
Ericsson had a big moment into Spoon on his flying lap, the car snapping suddenly and spinning across the runoff, through the deep sandpit and almost into the wall. Ericsson was lucky to carry on after that incident.
Amid serious financial worries for Lotus, Grosjean managed to beat Vettel's first Q1 lap time to take provisional 5th, Maldonado's sister car only a few tenths further back.
Verstappen parked the Toro Rosso with apparent car failure just after going through the hairpin before Spoon. Rossi failed to set a fast enough time as a result. Button headed up the drop zone, leading Ericsson, Nasr, Stevens and Rossi.
Verstappen was obliged to remain 15th, Alonso 14th, Maldonado 13th, Sainz 12th and Hulkenberg 11th but dropping 3 places for his crash with Massa in Singapore.
The red flag was thrown for Kvyat obliterating the Red Bull. Rosberg took pole from Hamilton, Bottas,Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Perez and Kvyat. The young Russian was OK, which is obviously the main thing.
Verstappen was sent to the back of the grid as a penalty for his mechanical failure in qualifying, while Rosberg assumed pole with a headache. Kvyat started from the pit lane in a quickly assembled spare car.
Hamilton led off the line as Rosberg fell to 4th. Massa took damage from contact with Ricciardo, both drivers suffering as the Red Bull had a puncture and the Williams apparently a broken suspension. It turned out to just be a bad front puncture and a damaged wing as the front dropped down and scraped along the floor. Ahead of them, Alonso was up to 8th after an impressive start, Verstappen also climbing to 13th. Perez, forced off track by Sainz' Toro Rosso, pitted to change tyres after his own puncture, holding 18th place.
Alonso and Verstappen both lost a place by the end of the first lap. Sainz later jumped Alonso while their teammates traded places, Nasr also jumping Button just ahead of the young Dutchman in what looked eerily reminiscent of Hakkinen's legendary overtake on Schumacher via Zonta. Only Nasr holding off the Toro Rosso showed the differences between the moves, but that was only a temporary state of affairs as Verstappen assumed 12th in his last race as a 17-year-old.
Kvyat made an early stop, as did Alonso and Verstappen. On track, Hamilton led from Vettel, Bottas, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Ericsson. Ericsson had an off-track adventure and lost out to his teammate who promptly pitted, followed by Hulkenberg.
Bottas called Mercedes' bluff, switching to the softer tyres again rather than the hards that everyone else chose. The undercut was, in theory, in their favour as Rosberg was told to push. Indeed, the pit stop proved that: Rosberg rejoined behind the Williams on hard tyres. Hamilton, safe in the lead, pitted a lap later. Hamilton, interestingly, took the mediums.
Rosberg managed to jump Bottas into the final chicane, Bottas apparently just caught napping.
Kvyat pitted, releasing Verstappen. On his next set of tyres, temperature proved an issue and mistakes crept in, the overtake button on the engine already not working. The Toro Rosso breezed past Alonso, who reported to the team in sheer frustration that he had a “GP2 engine”.
Sainz pitted for what seemed a routine stop, until the team noticed the wing was broken. He clipped the bollard at the pit entrance and left small bits of carbon on the full-speed kink onto the pit straight.
Raikkonen pitted a lap before Bottas and sped past the Williams while Hamilton complained of bad vibrations. Mercedes managed to make the undercut work against Vettel, meanwhile, giving Rosberg back 2nd place behind the dominating Hamilton.
Perez demanded the bits of Sainz' wing be cleared off the track at the last corner, the fragments still sitting a little way off-line.
Stevens went under investigation for speeding in the pit lane, given a 5-second time penalty to be added either at his next stop or the end of the race. As things stood that would move him behind Rossi and into last place.
Kvyat and Massa both jumped Button, of all places into the 130-R. Massa was only unlapping himself, but still embarrassing for Honda at their home circuit.
Perez alerted the stewards that he felt Ericsson was moving under breaking. Considering his request for debris to be moved was ignored, it was debatable whether he would have any more joy with this new call. Perez nearly made the move soon after but was on the outside and had to givewn in.
Kvyat reported “no brakes” for the third time in the race. At the sister team, Verstappen caught up with Sainz. Team orders were unlikely given the antics in Singapore between the two youngsters.
A huge oversteer moment for Stevens threw up a cloud of smoke, Rossi swerving to avoid his totally camouflaged teammate to take 19th. Meanwhile Verstappen took 9th out of the same corner as Sainz locked up but defended very poorly into the chicane. Brakes may not have only been Kvyat's issue in Suzuka.
Perez took 12th at last from Ericsson who fell into the clutches of Kvyat, Ricciardo not too much further back. The lead Red Bull followed the lapping Raikkonen through to take 13th.
Nasr parked the car with just 2 laps to go for reasons unknown.
Hamilton won from Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Maldonado, Verstappen and Sainz. Beyond the top ten were Alonso, Perez, Kvyat, Ericsson, Ricciardo, Button, Massa, Rossi and Stevens. Nasr was the only car not to finish, although he was classified.
Hamilton returned to a 48-point lead from Rosberg, a further 11 from Vettel. Raikkonen, 99 points behind his teammate, was now officially out of the championship hunt.