Japanese GP 2018: Superior Hamilton ruined Sebastian's hopes of winning the championship!

After five years of total Mercedes dominance at Suzuka, nothing had changed in this year's qualifying. As the Silver Arrows had stamped their authority all over the place in the free practice sessions, they could easily afford to send their drivers out on the yellow-walled middle compound in Q2. In spite of the tyre choice, Bottas went fastest, edging his teammate Hamilton by three thousandths of a second only. Although Sebastian had set his lap time on the red-marked softest rubber, he was already three tenths down on the Mercedes duo. Kimi was already six tenths shy of the ultimate pace. The most unfortunate driver in Q2 was Red Bull's Ricciardo, who was hit with engine woes, and was therefore unable to set a lap time. There had been light drizzle already in Q1, but the rain intensified at the end of the second session. The conditions turned slippery, and no one was able to improve his lap time in the end.

The conditions were mixed and challenging, as the final decisive segment was kicked off. It was all about making the right tyre call. As there had been a shower of rain at the end of Q2, Ferrari sent their drivers out on the green-walled intermediate tyres. Red Bull and Mercedes, on the other hand, opted for a different tactical call, sending their drivers out on the slicks. Ferrari's tyre call proved to be the wrong one, as the track was too dry for the intermediates. The red-suited drivers lost valuable time, as they had to pit again to get the slicks on. After the pit stop Ferrari had a difficult day in the office. Sebastian made a mistake on his first flyer, going wide and failing to set a competitive lap time. It was a mistake, which Sebastian couldn't have afford to! Flawless Hamilton took provisional pole by three tenths to his teammate Bottas. Red Bull's Verstappen was third, already 1.3s off the championship leader. Kimi's first attempt was tame as well, and the Iceman was massive 1.7s off the pace. After the first runs the conditions took a turn to worse, as the rain intensified significantly. Due to the bad track conditions no one was able to improve his lap time at the end of the session. My heart was aching, seeing Sebastian in P9, 4.4s down on dominant Hamilton! The race wasn't going to be easy for the Ferrari drivers…

Japanese GP 2018

The conditions were sunny and dry, as the lights went out. Both Mercedes aces took a flawless start, and Hamilton held on to his lead. Verstappen was third and Kimi fourth. Sebastian had started to the race from P8, as Force India's Ocon had been given a 3-place grid penalty for ignoring the red flags in the qualifying. Sebastian's start was absolutely mesmerising, as the German jumped two positions right away. However, there was drama between Verstappen and Kimi already on the opening lap. Verstappen made a mistake coming to the last chicane, and ended up off track. Kimi, who had been right at the Dutchman's tail, smelled his chance and dived into the outside. But when re-joining the track, Verstappen hit the left sidepod of Kimi's SF71-H. There was debris flying off Kimi's Ferrari. Stubborn Verstappen maintained his 3rd place, but Kimi lost a position to his teammate. The incident was taken into investigation by the stewards, and Verstappen was handed a 5-second time penalty for re-joining the track unsafely.

Meanwhile, Haas' Magnussen and Sauber's Leclerc were having an incident of their own in the midfield. Leclerc had made it in the tow of Magnussen's Haas, lurking for a chance to overtake the Dane. Magnussen, however, changed his line twice, which caused Leclerc to crash into the rear of Magnussen's car. The Dane ended up off track and suffered a rear-left puncture. Safety car was deployed, as there was so much debris on the track.

Japanese GP 2018

At the re-start the order of the top five remained unchanged. But there was more drama to come on lap 8. Sebastian was right at Verstappen's tail, and he was desperate to chase down Hamilton. Coming to the spoon, Sebastian saw a gap and dived alongside Verstappen. However, the stubborn Dutchman wasn't going to give up on his 3rd place. Sebastian's move led into contact between the two, and the German span. The move proved extremely costly, as Sebastian dropped down to P19. This definitely wasn't the turn I would have wanted to see in the race! My heart was bleeding, as this was the moment, when Sebastian's realistic chances of winning the world championship were fading away for good. The stewards took the incident into investigation, but it was considered a racing incident, and no penalties were given.

There were varying tyre strategies in terms of the top drivers. Both Mercedes aces opted for a fresh set of medium Pirellis, as did Kimi and Red Bull's Ricciardo. The Australian, who had started to the race from P15, managed to get ahead of Kimi, thanks to a well-planned pit stop strategy. Red Bull's Verstappen and Sebastian, on the other hand, opted for a fresh set of soft Pirellis. Hamilton was in a class of his own, as he had been leading the race right from the start. Bottas was second, followed by the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Ricciardo. After his pit stop, Sebastian was back down in P16. He had to start the overtaking roulette all over again… But gutsy Sebastian made his way through the field again, climbing up to P6 in just seven laps! Kimi in P5 was 40 seconds ahead of his teammate, so unfortunately this was the end of the overtaking show for the German.

Japanese GP 2018

Flying Hamilton had made everything perfectly, and the Briton took his fifth consecutive victory. It tells all about the Briton's superiority, that he has now won six races out of seven, which is a remarkable statistics. Bottas made it a sweeping 1-2 for the Silver Arrows. Verstappen, who had collided with both Ferrari drivers in the race, completed the podium for Red Bull. Teammate Ricciardo made an outstanding job by finishing 4th after starting from the back of the grid. Kimi finished 5th, and Sebastian had to settle for tame P6 after his venturesome overtaking move on Verstappen. This was definitely bad news in terms of his hopes of winning the championship!

Sebastian is now 67 points down on Hamilton in the drivers' championship standings, which means, that a miracle would be needed to keep Sebastian's championship hopes alive. The same implies to the constructors' championship battle. Ferrari are already 78 points off Mercedes, which is practically a light year. Ferrari's situation is extremely sticky. Setbacks and difficulties seem to build up one after another. Changing the course will be extremely difficult. But with success or no success, Sebastian, Kimi and the Red Team will have my support, always! We win together and we lose together. Forza Ferrari!

With passion for racing red,

Iina Huhmarniemi

Oct 10, 2018