Japanese Grand Prix driver ratings

Date published: October 7 2018

Japanese Grand Prix ratings

Who was simply sensational in Suzuka? Which drivers had a weekend to forget? Check out our Japanese Grand Prix ratings.

Lewis Hamilton: Quickest in all three practice sessions, an 80th career pole position in the bag and an absolute walk in the park come Sunday for the World Champion in-waiting. Yep, this is was one of those trademark dominant weekends for Hamilton, made even easier by Ferrari hammering the self-destruct button.

That’s his 50th win in Mercedes colours and has now been victorious in six of the last seven races. With a whopping 67-point lead with just four races to go, Hamilton’s fifth World Championship title could be confirmed at the next round in Austin. 10

Valtteri Bottas: Mercedes boss Toto Wolff did not need to press the wingman button like he did in Russia in the previous race. Valtteri Bottas was never a threat for pole position and, of course, was never going to be threatening for the race win with Lewis Hamilton on the track.

He was coasting in second for much of the race, but a couple of lock-ups almost opened the door for the Max Verstappen to steal the second spot on the podium. Thankfully for the Finn, Mercedes power came to his aid and was then able to play his part in helping the Silver Arrows maximise the damage on both World Championship fronts. 6.5

Max Verstappen:A third consecutive podium finish for Verstappen in Japan after coming out on top in an action-packed battle with Ferrari at the Suzuka circuit. Verstappen landed the first punch with another impressive Q3 lap and got the better of both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in the race despite contact with both.

The five-second penalty for failing to return to the track in a safe manner was justified after making a mistake, but the blame lay firmly with Vettel in their incident.

With the Ferraris then a small dot in his rear mirrors, Verstappen had a good crack at trying to pinch P2 away from Bottas but Renault power is simply no match for what Mercedes have at their disposal. 8.5

More: Verstappen furious with five-second penalty

Daniel Ricciardo:  Ricciardo’s podium drought may have been extended to an 11th race, but at least there was reason for him to smile after more bad luck threatened to derail his weekend.

A throttle actuator problem on the Renault engine side ensured that the Aussie would miss Q3 for the fourth time in six races and set-up another race day of trying to recover from toward the back of the grid.

Similar to Verstappen in Russia, Ricciardo made quick, clean progress at the start this time and was back into the points from P15 after three laps.

With Verstappen’s penalty, Vettel out of the picture and Raikkonen running with a damaged car, Ricciardo also had the pace to perhaps get a faint whiff of the podium and quench his thirst for champagne. However, he will have to settle for P4 in Japan, which compared to previous weeks will probably feel like a victory for him. 9.5

Kimi Raikkonen:After largely anonymous races in Singapore and Russia, we at least saw a little more of Kimi on race day at Suzuka. However, any hopes of claiming a first podium since Italy were quickly dashed after coming into contact with Verstappen on the first lap.

Raikkonen would then go on to lose a place to Daniel Ricciardo as he was fed into a bunch of traffic after being told to pit by the Ferrari crew – but that would be nowhere near the worst call the Scuderia made in Japan.

Unfortunately for the Ice Man, his haikus will be more memorable than his performance in Japan this weekend. 6

Sebastian Vettel:How many more mistakes does Sebastian Vettel want to make? In Japan, it was the Spoon Curve that exposed his weaknesses this weekend.

Ferrari’s wrong tyre choice in Q3 put pressure on Vettel to get it right on his one and only hot lap in dry conditions and his failure to do so left him all the way down in P8 on Sunday’s grid.

Vettel got off to a great start, jumping both Toro Rosso cars and pulling off a fantastic move on Romain Grosjean all on the opening lap to seemingly undo some of Saturday’s blunder.

The German said prior to the race that there was “no sense” in adopting a “do or die” approach, but that is exactly what he did when trying to find a way past Max Verstappen, who had a penalty to serve anyway. It was a completely unnecessary move and one that has put the final nail in his coffin as far as the World Championship is concerned.

Spinning all the way to the back of the field and with a damaged car, Vettel did recover well enough for a P6 finish. But, after putting himself into that grim situation, any praise for that recovery should be kept to a bare, bare minimum. 5

Watch: Vettel and Verstappen collide in Japan

Sergio Perez: Memories of Singapore are fast becoming a distant memory for Sergio Perez, who made up for a disappointing qualifying by finishing best of the rest in P7 at Suzuka. Force India had very strong race pace and the Mexican displayed that as he rose up from P9 and got the better of both Toro Rosso cars and Haas’ Romain Grosjean.

With retirements to both Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen, Perez has now leaped to the top of the fiercely-contested ‘B’ World Championship, although all three drivers are now equal on 53 points apiece. 9

Romain Grosjean:The Frenchman was the undoubted star of qualifying after getting through Q2 on soft tyres and nailing down P5 in Q3, only a couple of tenths away from sneaking ahead of Kimi Raikkonen on the starting grid – that performance made it an impressive 10 appearances in a row in the top-10 shoot-out.

The only small regret for him was that he was unable to convert it into finishing best of the rest in Japan as Sergio Perez managed to overtake for P7 within the final 10 laps. However, Grosjean has still single-handedly narrowed the gap to Renault in the battle for fourth in the Constructors, with just eight points now separating the two teams. 8

Esteban Ocon: Ocon was unable to reach the same heights he managed to climb in Japan last year (qualifying P5 and finishing P6), but still recovered to deliver a fourth double-points finish in five races since Force India became Racing Point Force India.

A foolish penalty for failing to slow down sufficiently during a red flag period in FP3 saw Ocon move to the outside of the top 10 on the starting grid yet, like his team-mate, Perez, he was able to come through a hectic midfield battle to atone somewhat for his practice error and record a P9 finish. 7.5

Carlos Sainz: After Renault firmly established themselves as one of the stronger midfield teams in the early part of the season, their fourth spot in the Constructors’ Championship is coming increasingly under threat.

Hulkenberg’s retirement left Sainz on a solo crusade to try and leave Japan with at least something, and a favourable soft-medium strategy meant that something was a point, taken away from Gasly with the chequered flag looming. 7

Pierre Gasly:It was heartbreak for Honda in their home Grand Prix, especially after showcasing their new Spec-3 engine with both Toro Rosso cars finding their way in to Q3. However, P6 and P7 on the grid was converted into zero points. Gasly had to revert to a less powerful engine mode after a calibration issue and that, coupled with a poor race strategy where four midfield rivals undercut him, left the Frenchman extremely vulnerable.

Gasly tried to make amends in the second half of the race and put himself back into the points again, but that aggressiveness saw his tyres lose all performance and allowed Sainz to gobble up the last point on offer in the closing stages. 6.5

Marcus Ericsson:P20 to P12 would constitute a very respectable race for the departing Swede, but he is in the bad books after managing to crash into his team-mate at the end of the Safety Car period by outbraking himself. That incident caused diffuser damage to Leclerc, who would eventually retire from the race after being in the wars all race long.

Ericsson has said the pressure is off him now that he is without a Formula 1 race seat for 2019, but perhaps he is a little too relaxed after also crashing out in Q1 and condemning him to the back of the grid for the race. 5.5

Brendon Hartley:That was a little bit more like it, Brendon. He started in the lofty heights of P6 after an excellent qualifying performance where he managed to get the better of Gasly for only the fourth time this season.

But the slope down on race day was a very slippery one. He was outside the points already by lap 4 and the slide continued from there, with even Ericsson, who started dead last, able to finish ahead of the New Zealander.

Hartley’s performance in qualifying may just act as part of his saving grace if he is to keep hold of his Toro Rosso seat next year. 6

Fernando Alonso: Alonso said that every race left in his Formula 1 career feels like a “celebration”, but in reality, with a McLaren car that has had no significant upgrades since round four in Spain, it probably feels more like the forced fun we all experience at our office Christmas parties.

Alonso made great progress from a lowly P18 to P13 at the start, but a squabble with Lance Stroll’s Williams put an end to any further progress. The Spaniard, who was slapped with a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage after coming into contact with Stroll, did manage to get his revenge on the Canadian with an aggressive overtake at Turn 1 which translated to “don’t you know who I am?”.

Four races left for Alonso before he is finally free. You would not blame him if he asked for early parole and for the handcuffs to be taken off. 6.5

Stoffel Vandoorne: Standard stuff from the broken Belgian in Japan. Out-qualified by Alonso and unable to finish ahead of his team-mate even with Alonso picking up a five-second penalty. Finishing ahead of the two Williams cars is not much to boast about. 5

Sergey Sirotkin:Sirotkin labelled his home race in Russia as his “most painful” of the season but Japan will not be very far behind that as Williams once again landed the unwanted title of slowest race finishers.

The Russian rookie pitted early under the Safety Car for mediums to try and make something happen from the back but, alas, it didn’t. 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lance Stroll:We saw the good and bad of Lance Stroll in Japan: The good: dragging the FW41 out of Q1 with an impressive lap. The bad: causing a collision with Fernando Alonso which left him with a five-second penalty, firmly confirming him as last of the race finishers. 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did not finish

Charles Leclerc: After back-t0-back points finishes in Singapore and Sochi, Leclerc’s recent resurgence came to a grinding halt on lap 40 when reporting “something had broken” on his Sauber car.

That came as no real surprise given that he came into contact with an overly-aggressive Magnussen, who he called “is and always will be stupid”, and was given a whack by his team-mate Marcus Ericsson during the Safety Car period. We still got a glimpse of his talents with a lovely dummy move on Nico Hulkenberg. 6

Nico Hulkenberg: The Hulk kept up his record of either finishing in the points or retiring from the race in Japan, unfortunately for him it was the second part keeping that streak alive.

A crash in FP3, a shock Q1 exit and an anonymous race driving a real handful of a Renault  car led to a fifth race retirement of the season. Talk about a miserable weekend. 5

Kevin Magnussen:There is arguably no other driver on the grid who defends as aggressively as K-Mag and that proved to be his downfall in Suzuka as his second half of the season slump continued.

Under pressure from Charles Leclerc down the start/finish straight, the Dane moved far too late to cover his position, picked up a race-ruining puncture and damage that proved to be terminal. 4

Follow us on Twitter @Planet_F1 and like our Facebook page.