Japanese Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton is close to clinching a sixth world title and other talking points

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Formula One heads to Suzuka this week for the Japanese Grand Prix.

With just five rounds remaining, Lewis Hamilton holds a 73-point championship lead over Valtteri Bottas.

Here, the PA looks at five talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.

Hamilton ready to deliver knockout blow

Hamilton cannot win the championship in Japan, but a victory would put him in the driving seat to close out his sixth world title at the Mexican Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.

Hamilton needs to outscore Mercedes team-mate Bottas by just five points over the next two races to move out of the Finn’s reach. C

harles Leclerc and Max Verstappen are 107 and 110 points behind Hamilton respectively with only 130 to play for.

Sebastian Vettel is 128 points adrift of the Briton, who prepared for this weekend’s race by watching the Toronto Raptors see off the Houston Rockets in an NBA pre-season match at Tokyo’s Saitama Arena on Tuesday night.

Mercedes armed with upgrades to contain Ferrari challenge

Hamilton may have won last time out in Sochi, but Mercedes have been off the pace of Ferrari since the summer break.

Indeed, the Italian team should have made it four out of four, only for Vettel to break down and the ensuing virtual safety car to deny Leclerc a certain win.

Mercedes, who will wrap up a remarkable sixth consecutive constructors’ championship on Sunday if they outscore Ferrari by 15 points, have won every race staged in Japan since 2014. And they will tackle the 17th round of the campaign with some much-needed upgrades on their car.

“The win in Sochi doesn’t change the fact that Ferrari had a stronger start to the second part of the season than we did,” said Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal.

“We’ll bring some minor upgrades to the car in Japan which will hopefully help us take a step in the right direction.”

What next for Vettel?

Vettel is fighting to save his Ferrari future after he resisted multiple orders to move aside for team-mate Leclerc at the last race.

Leclerc, who could secure a fifth straight pole position on Saturday, has emerged as the team’s main man, and how Ferrari manage their two drivers will prove an intriguing sub-plot for the remainder of the season.

Four-time world champion Vettel will have been wounded by the team orders debacle in Russia, but he must stop the rot in Suzuka.

The German has been out-qualified by Leclerc at the last nine rounds, while the young Monegasque is 21 points ahead of him in the championship, too.

Suzuka braced for super typhoon

The schedule in Japan could be disrupted by super typhoon Hagibis, which is set to hit Suzuka this weekend.

The storm will bring violent winds and heavy rain, and current forecasts suggest it will be at its most disruptive on Saturday.

As such, qualifying could be delayed or postponed until the morning of Sunday’s race.

The FIA is monitoring the situation and liaising with circuit officials.

Five years ago in Japan, Jules Bianchi hit a recovery crane in torrid conditions before succumbing to his injuries nine months later.

Red Bull in spotlight at Honda’s home race

Verstappen has created one of the biggest followings in the sport, and he will take centre stage this weekend when he leads Honda’s charge on home turf.

Verstappen’s Red Bull is powered by the Japanese manufacturer and, in the absence of a home driver, an expected sell-out crowd will be rallying behind the young Dutchman instead.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Jenson Button queries Ferrari’s pre-race ‘deal’ between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc

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Jenson Button has questioned Ferrari’s controversial decision to strike a tactical deal before Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel defied multiple orders to move aside for Charles Leclerc after beating his team-mate to the opening corner here at the Sochi Autodrome.

Ferrari called on pole-sitter Leclerc to provide Vettel, who started from third, with a slipstream to help him move ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

But Ferrari’s pre-race arrangement determined that if Vettel benefitted from Leclerc’s tow to take the lead off his team-mate, then he should concede the position.

Vettel said that he would be in danger of losing third to Hamilton if he slowed down to let Leclerc through. He also argued that he made the move fair and square and without the advantage of a tow.

“I don’t get why they had a deal in the first place,” said Button, the 2009 world champion. “I find it very strange that Sebastian had to give the place back.

“Ferrari have overthought it. It is such a strange deal to have. If Seb gets past, he gets past, and Ferrari wins. It’s just a very strange situation to be in.”

Vettel ultimately retired with an engine failure, allowing Hamilton to take advantage of the ensuing virtual safety car period by taking a free pit stop and assuming the lead.

On a miserable afternoon for Ferrari, Leclerc then dropped behind Valtteri Bottas after a gamble to stop for fresh tyres backfired.

Hamilton went on to claim his ninth victory of the year to move 73 points clear of Bottas in the standings and 107 ahead of Leclerc with just 130 points to play for.

The British driver, 34, could now wrap up his sixth world championship as early as next month’s Mexican Grand Prix.

“We are just trying to take things one race at a time, put one foot in front of the other and not stumble,” said Hamilton.

“When you have a battle like this, you’re working flat out, turning over every stone and questioning every little thing you can do better. We love that challenge and I’m really excited for the next races.”

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Lewis Hamilton leads Mercedes 1-2 and other talking points from Russian GP

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Lewis Hamilton secured his first win in four races when he ended Ferrari’s winning streak with victory in a gripping Russian GP on Sunday.

The five-time world champion came home ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes took advantage of Ferrari’s tactical problems.

Sebastian Vettel, who led for a third of the race, suffered a mechanical issue and was forced to retire, handing Mercedes a chance to increase their six-race unbeaten race in Sochi.

Charles Leclerc came home in third after starting from pole and losing his advantage to Vettel on the opening lap.

Here’s a look at the key talking points from Russia:

HAMILTON SOARS IN SOCHI

Last week in Singapore marked the second time since the end of 2013 that Hamilton went three races without a win.

Ferrari have been the team to beat since the summer break, but Sochi is a venue that has favoured Mercedes over the past five years.

And after struggling for pace early on, Vettel’s retirement on lap 26 played into the Briton’s hands, and he took control after pitting under the virtual safety car.

With Bottas keeping Leclerc behind as much as possible and negating his younger tyres, it was difficult for the Ferrari man to mount an attack.

From there, Hamilton’s lead never looked threatened, and he returned to the winners’ enclosure in style, scoring his fifth victory at the Sochi Autodrome.

Now, siting 73 points clear, it looks inevitable that the 34-year-old will seal his sixth world championship.

DISAPPOINTING FOR VETTEL

Facing a powerful Leclerc, F1 fans around the world finally saw that street fighter figure in Vettel on Sunday.

The 32-year-old stamped his authority early on and began to show his experience and pace around the Sochi track.

Starting third on the grid, he got the jump on Hamilton and was allowed a handy slipstream from Leclerc as per the team strategy. He led for the opening six laps before being asked to let his team-mate pass.

He ignored team orders and said Leclerc would have to catch him first. At one point, he was nearly four seconds ahead of the Monaco man. The Ferrari team deferred their plan and told Leclerc they would make it happen later in the race instead.

With Vettel’s tyres degrading, Ferrari kept him out too long instead of pitting him straight after Leclerc on lap 22. His pit stop on lap 26 was 0.5 seconds slower than Leclerc’s time of 2.5 seconds.

Surprisingly, just two laps later, the German was forced to retire with power failure.

As disappointing as it was for Vettel, Ferrari’s decision to effectively shaft the four-time world champion’s strategy messed up Leclerc’s race, handing victory to Mercedes.

It’s no blame to any of the drivers but Ferrari have to ask themselves questions about their strategy.

CALM CHARLES

The 21-year-old was modest when interviewed on the podium after the race, but deep down, he must have been incensed to not have converted his fourth successive pole into victory.

Starting from the front of the grid, Leclerc conceded first place to Vettel on the opening lap but when his team-mate was asked to return the favour later on, he made no effort to adhere to instructions. The order came six laps in though and that’s far too early as the Italian marque had a nice buffer to the Mercedes and were still pulling away.

Apart from one or two minor strops over the radio, Leclerc looked confident, motivated and had the strategic advantage for parts of the race.

Vettel’s retirement unfortunately played against his strategy and he was unable to pile the pressure on Bottas and take second or even pass the Finn for a late burst at Hamilton.

With Japan in two weeks time, Leclerc will be eager to bounce back with his third win of the season.

SAINZ SHINES

It was a sensational performance from Carlos Sainz to finish sixth – his ninth points finish of the season.

Starting from fifth, he didn’t put a foot wrong and stayed out of trouble for much of the race.

Although he would have been happier to secure fifth ahead of Alexander Albon, the confidence he showed during the race was remarkable.

It was a formidable result for the 25-year-old, who is looking like he is really enjoying life at McLaren and competing against friend and team-mate Lando Norris.

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