Japanese Grand Prix 2014

Qualifying

Well, I didn’t watch all of qualifying, only catching the latter half of Q2 and Q3, but the dominating news of the weekend overshadowed any qualifying results. Vettel is headed to Ferrari, possibly to emulate Schumacher, or possibly to escape the scrutiny he’s been under ever since Ricciardo arrived at the senior team and made him look ordinary. He could be trying to prove that he’s deserving of that world championships; we’ll see about that.

This particular bombshell also means that Alonso is off to pastures new, with most speculating that he’s going to McLaren-Honda. Is it a gamble? Probably, but it can’t be any bigger than Hamilton’s move to Mercedes. Should Alonso have stayed to see what a James Allison Ferrari can do? Maybe, but he’s been at Ferrari for years and they haven’t delivered at all.

Meanwhile, Rosberg out-qualified Hamilton by nearly 2 tenths of a second, which is a pretty huge margin despite Hamilton edging his teammate out in FP1 and FP2. Of course, he did have the crash in FP3, which would have affected set-up work. But even if Hamilton can try and win tomorrow from the front row, the typhoon might make things difficult, especially if Rosberg is handed the win due to a race cancellation.

Let’s hope the typhoon stays away from the start of the race, and we can have a thrilling Grand Prix tomorrow.

Race

Well, it was a great race in between the start and the finish, but no one would care about any of that as Bianchi was rendered unconscious and rushed to the hospital as he crashed into a recovery vehicle near the end of the Grand Prix. It was already under yellow flags for Sutil’s spin off the track, which the recovery vehicle was there for, but with the rain pelting down once more, it was not much of a surprise to have drivers going off track. All thoughts with Bianchi.

But before the terrible incident, there was plenty of great racing on show. The race started inauspiciously, with cars trundling along behind the safety car for 2 laps, then red-flagged as the rain slowly eased. But as the race restarted under the safety car, conditions improved to the point of changing to intermediates from full wets.

Button was first to jump on it, and he immediately set lap times comparable to the Mercedes. In front, Williams were struggling to keep the Red Bulls back, since they were fundamentally a slippery car while the Red Bulls had a great chassis, downforce and a wet set-up just for the race.

A flurry of pit-stops then occurred as the track dried out even more, with only the Mercedes staying out longer than anyone else. Ricciardo lost out to Vettel during the stops, and Hamilton went wide on the lap going into the stop. Courtesy of his earlier stop, Button was up in 3rd, ahead of the Williams being hunted by the Red Bulls.

Vettel and Ricciardo quickly made mincemeat of both Williams, with Vettel doing them at the hairpin on the outside and inside of Bottas and Massa respectively, while Ricciardo was even more impressive, going on the outside at the end of the Esses for both Williams. Soon, the Red Bulls were free to chase Button, although not at a very fast pace.

However, they were slowly reeling in the Mercedes, who had blinding pace at the start of the race and eked out nearly a pit-stop’s worth in time. Then they had more problems, as DRS was enabled, and Hamilton was suddenly all over Rosberg in these tricky conditions. Rosberg was struggling with oversteer and his rear tires going off, while Hamilton had preserved his tires better. Despite being told to conserve them as it could turn into a dry race later, Hamilton ignored his race engineer again and eventually overtook Rosberg around the outside of Turn 1, after Rosberg went too wide on the defensive.

Rosberg’s car problems were evidently huge, as Hamilton proceeded to carve out big chunks of time on Rosberg. Despite this, Vettel was still going quick, and with a fresh set of tires was reeling in Rosberg. Mercedes had to pit him to keep Vettel from closing in, and thereafter it was practically no contest.

Plenty of cars had issues, both mechanical and from the conditions. Both McLarens suffered from an electronics problem that necessitated a change in steering wheel. Raikkonen had a long pit-stop, and Vettel went too deep into Turn 1 and lost time to a chasing Button and Ricciardo. Alonso never even got to race, as his car stopped from the very first lap.

As the race progressed, Hamilton managed a big 10s lead on Rosberg, who had a similar advantage over Vettel. Ricciardo was harassing Button all the way, and while the Briton put up a great fight in some fantastic wheel-to-wheel battles, eventually Ricciardo got past at the hairpin.

Then, DRS was disabled as the rain started to come down again, and Sutil’s crash happened. Button had pitted for full wets earlier in anticipation of the rain, but the safety car’s arrival ruined his plan, and then the race was quickly red-flagged with Bianchi’s crash.

The count-back due to the red flag meant that even though Vettel pitted under the safety car and came out behind Ricciardo, he was classified 3rd and went on the podium. Hulkenberg stopped at the end of the pitlane too, stranded during this period, but was also classified due to the count-back. But Hamilton finally got his win at Suzuka, and increased his lead over Rosberg to 10 points with 4 races to go.

But no one really paid much heed to the race anymore, as news travelled of the FIA press officer having to force the medical centre’s doors open to let the Marussia team members through. Bianchi was unconscious from the crash, and had to take an ambulance to the nearest hospital as the medical helicopter couldn’t fly in these conditions.

Would it have been better to race earlier? No doubt. But the FIA asked Honda twice about shifting the race up, and the race organisers said no, as they wanted to keep the programme on schedule to avoid disappointing fans. Fair enough, and there was that relatively okay window during which they raced hard and well, but surely, surely it would have been better to start the race earlier.

But what’s done is done, and hopefully Bianchi will be alright.

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