Written by Jamie Downes
Lewis Hamilton tightened his grip on the 2019 World Drivers’ Championship with a commanding lights-to-flag victory at Suzuka. The Briton was largely ahead of the action throughout the race, extending his points lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to 67 points. Such is the gap that a Mercedes one-two in the upcoming United States Grand Prix guarantees Hamilton the title.
Vettel, looking to make up for his team’s disastrous performance in qualifying, made up two places to be sixth by the third corner on the opening lap. However, any hopes of challenging the leaders was ended when he spun after diving down the inside of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who himself received a five second time penalty after aggressively positioning his car against Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Although Vettel recovered admirably to finish sixth, he has not helped his quest of trying to chase down the seemingly relentless Hamilton in the Championship race.
Despite this, the real action of the race was to be found in the midfield. Daniel Ricciardo, fresh from his emotional reaction to his engine failing in qualifying, set about carving his way through the ranks. The Australian, who’s set to swap Red Bull for Renault next season, drove well to finish fourth, after starting 15th.
Charles Leclerc also had an eventful race. The Sauber driver tangled early on with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, who the Monegasque labelled “stupid, and (he) will always be stupid”. Despite colliding with Leclerc, Magnussen received no penalties, much to Leclerc’s remonstrations. He would later retire with a mechanical failure.
Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll would also clash at the final chicane, with Stroll receiving a penalty for forcing the McLaren driver off the track, while Alonso was deemed to have gained an advantage for cutting a corner in the aftermath, and given a five second infraction.
Where did it all go wrong for Ferrari?
Six weeks ago, the Championship picture looked very different for Ferrari. At the Belgium Grand Prix, their car was superior to Mercedes’ and Hamilton could do very little as Vettel came home to finish first. However, since then the situation has rapidly devolved for the team from Maranello.
Although Mercedes have certainly developed their car since then, and Hamilton has produced moments of mesmeric quality (such as his pole lap in Singapore), Ferrari have arguably been the biggest orchestrators of their fall from grace. Quite simply their strategies have been second rate for a large part of the season.
In Monza, they elected to put Raikkonen on pole instead of Vettel, which allowed Hamilton to pass Vettel early on and take the eventual win. In Singapore, they ran a significant portion of the race on soft tyres, despite almost achieving no running on those tyres during practice. In qualifying on Saturday afternoon, they sent Vettel out to do his final qualifying attempt on Supersoft tires, despite it starting to pour with rain seconds earlier, rendering the German’s lap pointless.
Although the Championship is not mathematically clinched yet, it is looking increasingly likely that Hamilton will become only the third man in F1 to win 5 WDC’s titles, along with Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel will certainly be asking themselves…what if?