Japanese GP: Winners and Losers

Date published: October 6 2014

It was a troubled end to a memorable Grand Prix weekend. With the arrival of the new guard and the changing of the old…

Star of the Race
Jenson Button, McLaren, 5th
If ever McLaren needed a stark reminder of the benefits of an experienced driver, then they had it from Jenson Button on Sunday. His audacious early move to Inters had all the hallmarks of the Hungarian GP fiasco, where the McLaren team got the weather prediction badly wrong and threw away a handful of points. Was it going to pay off? Yes. Because this time it was Jenson Button making the call, and as the most experienced driver on the grid, he got it right.
He tried his best to keep the Red Bulls at bay and resisted the irresistible Daniel Ricciardo for as long as he could, but in the end he had to give best. It was the perfect performance to highlight his skills to the Honda management present at the race, on a day when his rookie team-mate plumbed new depths.
Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 29: Lewis Hamilton on Nico Rosberg for P1
Lewis has had a few moments into Turn 1 this weekend, including his off in FP3 and a late-closing of the DRS that almost pitched him into a tank-slapper. So when he closed to within 0.4 of his team-mate, the incredibly risky high-speed Turn 1 didn’t look like the best option to make a pass. That never really puts Lewis off though, and knowing that he had to make it a clean (non-Spa) kind of pass he had to wait for the right moment. That came on Lap 29 when Rosberg had a small wobble under acceleration out of the final chicane and Lewis closed up down the straight, sucking in behind his rival for maximum tow and minimum visibility, then hurling it down the outside and getting it turned in without running wide. As David Coulthard noted: “That is bravery off the scale. I stopped breathing for a second then. That is a pass that all the other drivers will admire.”
As for his race it was another peerless demonstration of his superiority in the W05. Bernie once suggested (yeah, another one of those great Bernie suggestions) that we should have gold, silver and bronze medals to decide the drivers’ title. If that was the case then Lewis would have one hand on the trophy, with eight wins to Nico’s four wins and four races to go.
Winners
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 2nd
Rosberg still hasn’t beaten Hamilton in wheel-to-wheel racing this year, but hung on to take the best points he could. He already had the satisfaction of nailing another fine qualifying performance on Saturday to go 9:6 up in the qualifying battle.
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 3rd
Having won four out of the last five Japanese GPs, this was really the track where Vettel needed to redress some of his defecit to Ricciardo. Which he just about did despite a worrying moment in the Esses when he went ploughing through the gravel and added six seconds to his lap time.
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 4th
Yet more incredible race action from the soon-to-be Red Bull team leader. He picked off both Williams through the Esses, each time taking a generous helping of (on other circuits, lethal) kerb and not even having the decency to wag his back end while doing so.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, Williams, 6th and 7th
It was clear from the opening laps that Rob Smedley’s confidence about the FW36 handling well in the wet was a little premature. In the race, Hamilton, Rosberg and Button opened up a massive gap to them before the Red Bulls could get past. They then set about creating an old school gap between themselves and 5th place – the kind of interval you remember from the 80s and 90s when so many of the cars didn’t finish. The conditions may not have suited the car, but they made no slip-ups and helped consolidate P3 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 9th
JEV used his experience to best effect in a race that saw his stellar team-mate look a lot less confident than we’ve seen of late. Anything to do with the lack of advice from the pitwall …?
Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, 17th
It may not be the highest Marcus Ericsson has finished a race, but the Swede came home over a minute in front of home favourite Kamui Kobayashi, to put a small shimmer of gloss on what has been a difficult weekend for the team. And it’s hard to believe he did all that after spinning the car at the start. No more the moniker Marcus the Milepost.
Losers
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, DNF
Even though this is another technical failure for Alonso and Ferrari, the balance of DNFs over his five-year time at the Scuderia is still very small compared to other teams. It’s rare to have a race weekend when there is a titanic battle in the driver’s championship and for it to become almost a secondary story. In Suzuka we had the Verstappen debut, the Vettel announcement, the conformation from Christian Horner that the four-time World Champion was going to Ferrari, Fernando’s polite avoidance of the subject and then the dreadful accident.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 12th
Given that Kimi is supposed to like his car now, and that the variable conditions should have given him the chance to shine, P12 was a huge disappointment for him and the team. The trouble started when he lost tyre temperature on his F14T and so the car wouldn’t turn in as he liked. Throw into that a botched pit-stop and that was Ferrari’s record-breaking run in the points ended.
Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, 14th
This is the first high-speed race when Kevin Magnussen hasn’t had the benefit of real-time driver coaching and it showed. He had to contend with electronic issues throughout, so maybe the serial spins and run-offs into Turn 1 were a result of the malfunctioning hybrid system and we shouldn’t blame him too much for those. However, if he really was having problems into Turn 1, what was he doing trying to challenge Daniel Ricciardo into that corner when he was a lap down? Had Magnussen lost it in what was a risky move, and collided with the Red Bull, then he would have had all the censure that Romain Grosjean picked up in his year of living dangerously.
Eric Boullier must be having his strings pulled by Ron Dennis because he said afterwards the scarcely believable: “… he [Magnussen] pulled off some good moves, especially his overtake of Daniel [Ricciardo], he was never going to be in with a chance of scoring points here today.”
So if that’s the case why was he trying to nudge alongside Jenson Button into Spoon late in the race when Button was still in contention for a podium place? Sergio Perez may have been criticised for some of his performances in 2013, but none were as ill-judged as Magnussen at Suzuka.
Race Director: Charlie Whiting
On a day when he got a lot of really difficult calls right, it was the one call that he got wrong which everyone will remember. There were eyebrows raised when the FIA’s race director left Adrian Sutil’s stranded Sauber on track on the start/finish straight in the German Grand Prix and let it be recovered under waved yellows. And it was his decision not to throw out a Safety Car when Sutil crashed in Suzuka that ultimately created the situation where Bianchi hit the recovery vehicle.
Media Watch
It’s hard to know why the three men in the BBC commentary box; David Coulthard, Ben Edwards and the very experienced F1 journalist Tony Dodgins, failed to work out why the F1 world feed TV director kept on showing photos of anxious Marussia mechanics and the Marussia pitwall. It wasn’t until the race had been red-flagged and non-resumption confirmed that they finally realised what was going on with Jules Bianchi and why various senior personnel of Mercedes and Red Bull were briefing their drivers as they got out of the car.
Andrew Davies