By Thomas Dodd
- Lewis Hamilton wins Japanese Grand Prix to get one hand on the Formula 1 World Drivers’ title.
- Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo round out podium as title challenger Sebastian Vettel retires for second time in third race.
- Brit Jolyon Palmer drives final race for Renault with Carlos Sainz set to replace him for US Grand Prix.
SUZUKA, JAPAN – A disastrous weekend for Sebastian Vettel leaves Lewis Hamilton on the brink of a fourth World title. Here’s what we learned from the Japanese Grand Prix.
The title race is all but over
Those wanting a down-to-the-wire fight for the Drivers’ World Championship would have had the final gasps of air sucked out of them at Suzuka, as Lewis Hamilton now looks a shoo-in to collect his fourth crown before the final race in Abu Dhabi. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will probably need to win all four remaining races to stand a chance and should Hamilton win next time out in Austin, Vettel must finish fifth to take the fight to Mexico.
Ferrari’s bad luck from Malaysia followed them to Japan and it meant the German has now scored just 12 points in the last three races since the end of the European season, compared to Hamilton’s 68. They’ll now both almost certainly start next year as quadruple world champions.
A case of what might have been for Red Bull
No doubt about it, Christian Horner’s team have been Mercedes’ closest rivals since the summer break, with a win in Malaysia and a second-straight double podium in Suzuka. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo’s pace has been superb in recent weeks and the Australian’s third place on Sunday was another one to add to the already impressive tally in 2017 and both seem to have the number of Mercedes number two Valtteri Bottas.
Reliability and a few incidents have stunted their progress at times but the second half of the season has seen the Milton Keynes team take another step forward up the grid. How they’d love to have the first few races of the season again, as we could have been looking at a three way title duel.
Not the ending Carlos Sainz would have wanted
It was announced on Saturday that the move everyone thought was going to happen, is going to happen. Sunday’s race in Suzuka was Carlos Sainz’s last for Toro Rosso, and he will indeed replace Jolyon Palmer at Renault for the final four races of the year. The Spaniard has been sponsored by the energy drink giant since 2010, but will race under the yellow and black of Renault from Austin.
Sainz has performed more than admirably in his two and a half years with the Italian team and fully deserves his chance somewhere else in the Formula 1 pitlane next season. His final race lasted just a few corners though, as he beached his Toro Rosso on lap one. It was unfortunately, an end not befitting of his talent and time with the team.
Farewell Jolyon Palmer
As Sainz moves on to pastures new, Joylon Palmer bowed out of Formula 1 in Japan, with Renault seemingly finally able to persuade the Briton to vacate his seat before the end of the season and his contract. A sixth place in Singapore a few weeks ago was the sole highlight in 2017, and despite performing marginally better than teammate Kevin Magnussen last year, the son of former F1 driver Jonathan was streets behind fellow Renault man Nico Hulkenberg this time around.
While he remains in the frame for the potential spare seat at Williams next year, it is unlikely we will see the Brit on the grid again. His last race saw him start in familiar territory from the back of the grid before a clean, yet uninspiring drive to 12th.
Force India best of the rest again
Red Bull have firmly cemented their place in the top three on the grid, but Force India are in a midfield class of their own in fourth. Both cars ran high up the front of the race after the start and Esteban Ocon even managed to leapfrog Ricciardo at the start. The pace of Mercedes, Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari eventually proved too much, but both Ocon and Sergio Perez again showed their racing mettle by locking out sixth and seventh.
The pair now sit seventh and eighth in the standings, well clear of the likes of Williams and Toro Rosso and look set for their best ever season in Formula 1. The Pink Panthers have looked race all year, comfortably racking up the points immediately behind the front runners. All that’s missing now is a race win.
The F1 circus now heads to Austin and the Circuit of the Americas for the US Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, where Lewis Hamilton could claim his fourth World Drivers’ title.
The United States Grand Prix takes place between 20-22 October.
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