F1 Japanese Grand Prix: Better Lucky than Good

When you make a mistake or get caught up by someone else’s mistake, skill doesn’t really play a deciding factor in getting you through the field. Rather, it’s about the pace of your car relative to the competition and how much luck falls your way. So after complaining about luck in Malaysia, it all fell Lewis Hamilton’s way.

No, he didn’t win the race. That honour went to Nico Rosberg who dominated the entire weekend. Hamilton finished in 3rd which was the best he could have expected after an appalling start.

Rosberg started the race from pole with Hamilton alongside. Hamilton stayed alongside for the first tenth of a second after lights went out but then Rosberg pulled away and Hamilton barely did. He struggled off the line and fell back to eighth while Rosberg charged away from the grid and coasted home to the win.

Hamilton only made one pass prior to the first round of pitstops. He got by Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India for 7th and was able to luck past Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen for net 5th as the pair were impeded after their stops by Jolyon Palmer. He got to 4th by passing Daniel Ricciardo on a straight as he was complaining about a lack of power all weekend. Strategy also allowed him to get by Sebastian Vettel for 3rd.

When he actually had to go toe-to-toe with a driver of comparable speed, he came out on the losing end. He could only muster one overtaking attempt for 2nd against Max Verstappen with the Red Bull phenom cleanly defending from Hamilton and that was all she wrote.

Rosberg’s win was his 9th of the season and puts him 33 points ahead of Hamilton for the World Drivers’ Championship. Max Verstappen scored his 6th podium in 13 races as a RBR driver by crossing the line in 2nd. Lewis Hamilton only has himself to blame for not being able to push Rosberg and largely has luck to thank for only losing 10 more points with his 3rd.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top five in fourth and five, respectively. Daniel Ricciardo finished 6th. The two Force Indias were next with Perez leading Hulkenberg home in 7th and 8th, respectively. And Williams rounded out the points with Felipe Massa ahead of Valtteri Bottas in 9th and 10th, respectively.

As is often the case with back-to-back race weekends, there wasn’t a lot of major news that occurred between the Grands Prix. However, the news that Renault is very close to signing Nico Hulkenberg to lead the French manufacturer’s factory team started a cascade of news from Enstone.

If Hulkenberg leaves Force India, that’s a top-five constructor seat that opens up to a Mercedes-backed driver. Until now, it was assumed that Pascal Wehrlien would get the next fastest available seat should one open without a better backed replacement (see Williams and Lance Stroll). Political turmoil at Renault means that team principal Fred Vasseur is reported to be on his way out from the team. As the loan arrangements for Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon was made between Toto Wolff and Vasseur, it’s believed that the deal could fall apart and Ocon won’t return to Renault in 2017 for the expected race seat.

This results in a few moving parts for Renault, Force India and Manor. Between Mercedes and Force India, there is a choice between Wehrlein and Ocon for the second FI seat alongside Perez. It’s entirely possible and certainly likely that both with be at Force India in 2018 if Perez jumps to Ferrari. The second Manor seat will go to the highest bidder. Who will have the lead car will be up to decision makers further up the grid.

That also leaves two incumbent drivers fighting over one remaining seat at Renault with some other options as a possibility. Sure, K-Mag and Jo-Pal could come back next season but Renault are interested in some local representation with French drivers Jean-Eric Vergne (formerly of Toro Rosso and currently of Formula E) and Pierre Gasly (Red Bull junior driver and GP2 frontrunner) as leading candidates for the 2nd seat at Renault.

The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship is two weeks after the most recent round. The Asian portion of the season is over and so it’s back to the Americas for the fourth-last Grand Prix of the season through the penultimate round of the championship. It’s time for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

Nico Rosberg looked good quality to win the US GP last year but was foiled by what was called a “gust of wind.” Lately, all the gusts of wind have been hitting Hamilton. If he’s struck by another, it would be game over for his championship hopes. He needs to win the next four races and have some luck go his way because Nico wins the championship by finishing 2nd for the next four races.


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