Nico Rosberg took control of the drivers’ standings as Lewis Hamilton cut a frustrated figure while Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso had a grand prix to forget.
Here’s five things we learned from the Japanese Grand Prix.
ROSBERG HAS UPPED THE ANTE
Lewis Hamilton was already on the back foot heading to Japan, and, following a curious display from the world champion – both on and oﬀ the track – his quest to win a fourth title is now out of his hands.
He could win each of the four remaining races in the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, and still come up short. So, what has gone wrong for Hamilton? Nico Rosberg has certainly upped the ante.
Two crushing victories in the last three races, has left Hamilton bewildered and confused. The Briton also seems thrown by his own belief, however wild, that Mercedes could yet be sabotaging his campaign.
And his erratic display in the pre-race press conference, and subsequent refusal to speak to the written media, are oﬀ-track distractions that he simply did not need to create.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolﬀ has backed Hamilton to bounce back in Austin, but, judging on his demeanour, it seems wholly conceivable that will not happen.
HAMILTON MAY HAVE TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
With the title race now out of his hands, Hamilton may be forced to explore a range of diﬀerent tactics to prevent Rosberg from winning his maiden title. Indeed the German can aﬀord to finish second three times, and third once, and still secure the crown.
But despite winning the constructors’ championship in Japan, and with drivers’ title heading to either Rosberg or Hamilton, Wolﬀ will not be relaxing the team’s so-called ‘Rules of Engagement’.
“If we started to tweak certain details it would open up a can of worms,” Wolﬀ said. “We have never had team orders, so there will be no change.”
FERRARI STRATEGY CALL PROVES COSTLY FOR VETTEL
Sebastian Vettel refused to take aim at his Ferrari team despite a peculiar strategy call potentially costing him the final spot on the podium.
Vettel, whose future with the Italian constructor beyond 2017 has been thrown into doubt by team principal Maurizio Arrivabene after he told the four-time champion to “earn” his next contract, was ahead of Hamilton on track.
But Mercedes utilised their second pit-stop to get Hamilton ahead of the German. “It’s easy to analyse now and say what we could have done and when, but in the moment I think it was the right decision,” said Vettel, who stopped one lap later than the Briton.
TO THE MAX FOR VERSTAPPEN
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has courted controversy this season for his aggressive driving style but he cannot be accused of lacking courage.
When the 19-year-old moved late in the braking zone to block Hamilton’s attempt to pass as the Mercedes swarmed all over him, it enraged the Briton, who subsequently had to settle for third.
Mercedes lodged a formal protest, but withdrew it at Hamilton’s request as Verstappen insisted he had done nothing wrong.
HONDA STILL A ‘WORK IN PROGRESS’
McLaren’s engine suppliers Honda were being tipped as dark horses for next season before their home race at Suzuka, but a year on from Fernando Alonso’s infamous “GP2 engine” rant, little has changed.
An upgraded power unit failed to rev up McLaren as Alonso and Jenson Button never remotely threatened to collect points. Of all the places to flop, Suzuka was not it.
Alonso and Button finished a distant 16th and 18th, results Alonso described as a “nasty surprise.”
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