After concluding the Russian Grand Prix, Formula 1 moves to Japan to take part in the fifth last round of the World Championship. Mercedes arrives at Suzuka occupying the first position in both the drivers' and constructors' standings. Lewis Hamilton is at the top of the World Championship with 73 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas, but, despite this, a possible victory with a flying lap and a retirement by the Finnish driver would still not mathematically ensure him the title, while precisely on Japanese territory could end the fight for the Constructors' World Championship, which sees the Anglo-German team at the top of the standings, 162 points ahead of Scuderia Ferrari. However, delaying the title victory by the Mercedes team could be a completely uncontrollable factor: Typhoon Hagibis. The danger of one of the biggest cyclones of the season looms in Japan, expected right on the race weekend. This is a major issue for the organizers and the FIA, so much so that, after the cancellation of two rugby matches, even the Grand Prix is at risk. Typhoon Hagibis is expected to be the biggest typhoon of 2019 causing transportation disruption in the Tokyo, Yokohama and Tokyo City areas throughout Saturday. As Susuka is located about 400 kilometers west of the capital, as of Thursday 10 October 2019 some changes have not yet been made to the race weekend, but meteorologists and the FIA are working to find the best solutions:
"The FIA, Formula 1, Suzuka Circuit and the Japan Automobile Federation are monitoring Typhoon Hagibis and its potential impact on the 2019 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix. Every effort is being made to minimize disruption to the Formula 1 programme, however the safety of the fans, drivers and everyone at Suzuka Circuit remains the top priority. All parties will continue to monitor the situation and provide further updates in due course".
A spokesman for the Federation adds:
"It's not the first time a typhoon has threatened the Suzuka weekend, so there are already plans underway to react if the threat becomes more realistic. We are obviously monitoring the situation together with the FIA, the promoters and the local authorities. We will continue to monitor the weather during Formula 1 events and will work with the circuit organisation, the Japan Automobile Federation and Formula 1 to react if changes to the schedule become necessary. This is, of course, not the first time the weather has shown inclement with the Japanese Grand Prix, so we have experience with all the procedures to put in place".
But pressure comes from the riders, eager to have news about the fate of the Grand Prix. On Thursday 10 October 2019, the communication relating to the cancellation of the Formula 4 race is issued, and possible changes to the Saturday program regarding Formula 1 are discussed. In the event that qualifying should be postponed or even cancelled, Friday would become fundamental, because it would decide the starting grid for Sunday's race. Teams and riders believe that the decision must be taken as soon as possible and no later than Friday evening. For example, Daniel Ricciardo insists on requesting information not only for his own safety and that of the other drivers, but also for that of the spectators and workers present on the Japanese circuit. His opinion is shared by many insiders but it is not, however, a simple choice. In this regard, Kimi Raikkonen says:
"Everyone says there will be really bad weather. But I've been here other times in the past when they had to cancel a day and then actually the weather was totally sunny. It's hard to make the right decision".
In the past, only four qualifying sessions were moved to Sunday, but two of these were held in Japan, on the Suzuka circuit: in 2004 it was the cyclone Ma-On that forced the postponement of qualifying, and in 2010 the same scenario recurred. The other two cases of postponement of programs due to bad weather date back to 2013 and 2015, respectively in Australia, in Melbourne, and in the United States, in Austin. Japan is Honda's home Grand Prix, which from this year is also linked to Red Bull Racing, but expectations are rather low. After the summer break, the Japanese company was only able to celebrate third place in Singapore. Max Verstappen, still battling for third place, is now feeling more pressure, but the Dutch driver admits that both Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes are more competitive right now:
"I don't want to create false hopes. I don't expect it to be a magical weekend at Suzuka. We are not as competitive as Mercedes and Ferrari. I don't know if I can aim for victory, we'll see what happens. I think the first part of the season went better than expected with the two wins in Spielberg and Hockenheim. Obviously we also expected to take one more step after the summer break, but unfortunately this did not happen. The last two races haven't been great, but that doesn't take away from a positive start to the championship. I'm happy mainly because, in general, we maximized our points compared to last year. In 2018 we dropped a lot of points by the wayside in the first six races, something that didn't happen in 2019. To be honest, I expected to run into some retirements due to technical problems. I don't mean in a bad way, but during the first year of working together, things can always go wrong. Luckily it was good on the reliability front. Honda has done a great job with this, but the goal is to improve further, especially in terms of performance. I'd rather continue like this rather than have time penalties. In this way you immediately discount your penalty and you can play your match freely".
Suzuka is the circuit on which the Red Bull Racing driver, in 2014, made his debut in a Formula 1 race weekend, at the age of just 17, aboard the Toro Rosso:
"I remember it well. I was seventeen… Impossible to forget it. Since then I've had good results in Japan, with some podiums, but never a win sadly. The fans here are special, so I'll do my best to give them a win, as it's Honda's home race".
While his teammate, Alexander Albon, will race for the first time at Suzuka with a Formula 1 car:
"I only raced in karts at Suzuka, but obviously not on that track. The weekend ended well in Sochi with the comeback, but this time I hope to qualify better to immediately start the race close to the top cars. The warmth that the Japanese fans will give us will be special, I already had a taste of it at the beginning of the season. I will bring many pens with me to be able to satisfy all the fans who want our autographs".
For its home Grand Prix the Japanese company has made sure that, in agreement with the Red Bull Racing team, a Japanese driver can take part in the event. Therefore, Super Formula and Super GT driver Naoki Yamamoto will take part in FP1 in place of Pierre Gasly. This is a recognition that Honda wanted to give to the Japanese rider. Naoki Yamamoto had trained on the Toro Rosso simulator and had attended the Faenza team to get to know the technical staff at the beginning of 2019 and finally, thanks to the results obtained in the categories in which he is involved, he obtained the super license to be able to drive a Formula 1 car 1. Yamamoto won the Super Formula championship for the first time in 2018 and is fighting for his second title this year:
"I take this opportunity to race in Suzuka, on a very important circuit for us Japanese riders, and in front of the Japanese fans. It will be a unique and very special experience. My main objective in FP1 will be to do a good job for the team, collecting useful data and information for them for the rest of the weekend. On a personal level, I want to enjoy this experience of driving a Formula 1 car as much as possible and I will do my best to get the most out of it. It will be a special moment and I'm happy to be able to share it with the fans on this incredible track, where I saw Formula 1 in action for the first time twenty-seven years ago".
The last Japanese driver to race in Formula 1 was Kamui Kobayashi in 2014, but the last to race in a Honda-powered car was Takuma Sato in 2008, in Spain. Honda has always expressed its desire to bring a Japanese driver back to Formula 1, but it hasn't been easy, despite the recent relationship established with the Red Bull Racing team. Obviously being able to let Naoki Yamamoto test a Formula 1 car is a great satisfaction for Honda, as confirmed by Katsuhide Moriyama, Chief Officer Brand and and and Communication Operations Honda Motor:
"We are very happy that Japanese fans will have the opportunity to see Yamamoto, a Honda driver at the wheel of a Formula 1 single-seater at our Suzuka circuit, on the occasion of the Japanese Grand Prix. I would like to thank Toro Rosso and Red Bull for giving Yamamoto this incredible opportunity. Let's hope that Naoki gives his all in this opportunity, for which he has prepared a lot and that can help him for his driving career. We also hope that seeing Yamamoto on the track will be an inspiration for young Japanese drivers, who will be able to compete again in Formula 1 in the near future".
But, as mentioned, the attention of the world public is more directed towards the Mercedes team, which is preparing to definitively close the fight for victory in the Constructors' World Championship. The one-two in Sochi boosted the Anglo-German team's morale, given that after the summer break, Scuderia Ferrari seemed to have become unbeatable. In this regard, the team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, says:
"We will be bringing some small updates to the car to Japan, hopefully helping us take a step in the right direction. However, we know that we have to get absolutely everything out of our car and tires if we are to be able to challenge for the win. We have won all the Japanese Grands Prix in the hybrid era, but we expect this year to be a different challenge given the strength of our rivals".
And he adds:
"It will be a very close battle on track, which we are looking forward to. Our goals for the final quarter of the season are clear and it's up to us to make sure we achieve them. Making it 1-2 in Sochi after three games without a win was a great feeling. We had a great race in Russia, made the most of our opportunities and both Lewis and Valtteri drove flawlessly. We brought home 44 points, widened the gap in both championships and are highly motivated to keep our foot on the gas for the remaining five races. However, the win in Sochi doesn't change the fact that Ferrari had a better start to the second half of the season than us".
The performance of the Scuderia Ferrari engine seems to cause concern for everyone, even Lewis Hamilton:
"Ferrari's engine is making a huge difference. In Sochi they were 0.7 seconds faster on the straight and I can't step on the accelerator more… they changed something to make their engine better than all the others. We are working hard to understand how to be faster, we need to find a way to gain through the corners, reduce drag and have more power".
But the Maranello team gives the idea of having other problems to solve. The competitiveness of the car and tire management have improved compared to the beginning of the season, but other problems have emerged as the technical aspects have resolved. For two Grands Prix now, unusual dynamics have been taking place between the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers: in Singapore strategy favored Sebastian Vettel's victory and in Russia a misunderstanding between the two drivers created even more tension within the team.
There is always a certain duality in the relationship between the riders of the same team: you certainly want to get good results for the team, but at the same time the riders participate in the Grands Prix to win. Usually a hierarchy between the two drivers within a team is immediately clarified, and in Ferrari it is assumed that the so-called first driver must be Sebastian Vettel and not Charles Leclerc, being in his first year within the Maranello team . But this agreement seems to have not been respected since the Belgian Grand Prix, despite the fact that the German driver helped his team-mate to obtain the first victory of his career at Spa. When there are difficulties related to strategies and lack of internal communication, having a functioning machine is of little use. Once in Japan, the questions addressed to the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers concern their relationship. But the team principal, Mattia Binotto, is the first to answer:
"Both drivers were in Maranello this week and we resumed the Sochi topic. I think managing drivers is not an easy exercise, there's always something to learn from mistakes but I think it's right to try. You can leave the drivers free to fight, but I think at the end of the season we can gain an advantage from trying to handle this situation. We are getting to know each other better and they are getting to know each other better. It's a learning process, but we will come out stronger. It will happen. still that between two strong riders who want to fight and win, you look for your own advantage in certain situations, but the important thing is that there is honesty and transparency between us".
While Charles Leclerc reassures the fans:
"Everything is ok with Sebastian after the misunderstandings in Russia. There were some misunderstandings on my part but we discussed and now everything is clear, from the outside it looked like a huge thing, but obviously it wasn't like that. Since the beginning of the season we are aware that team orders must be obeyed, but the situation was not clear for both drivers at the start of the Sochi race. The important thing is that we all talked about it so that this situation does not happen again. I spoke to Binotto that the he had seen Sebastian the day before. Everything has been clarified. The priority is always to do good for the team, but like in any team, Seb wants to beat me and I want to beat him, but the priority is to do good for Ferrari and that's that we all work for".
Speaking of the Suzuka circuit, the Monegasque driver says:
"For all the riders, Japan is a special place to go to compete, especially because of the local fans who are very passionate and always give us enormous support, which makes this round of the championship unique. Having said that, I won't deny that last year it was very difficult for me to take to the track here for the first time, because in my mind there was the memory of Jules Bianchi who had the accident that killed him right at Suzuka. For me this place is inextricably linked to that memory, but from the point of view of the circuit I really like it. The track is very demanding and technical, in this sense I would say one of the best ever on the calendar since you can find us from the high speed corners to the very slow hairpins and chicanes, all characteristics that contribute to making this track iconic. As far as we're concerned, once again it's a circuit with different characteristics from those we've raced on recently. Also in Suzuka, therefore, it will be interesting to see how the upgrades that we have recently introduced on the SF90 will behave".
But the main concern of the pilots is the weather:
"Friday will be important in view of Sunday, also because perhaps you won't be able to drive on Saturday. Personally, I've only been in Formula 1 for a year and a half, but we've always lapped in complete safety, so I'm calm from that point of view. We won't take risks. In any case, there's no reason not to be competitive this weekend too. The car is going well, it's been like this since we came back from the summer break. In the last two races I expected more, but things are still going well".
For his part, Sebastian Vettel prefers to talk about the potential of the car and the fans in Japan:
"Here the fans are special, it's particularly pleasant for me to meet them, I feel their affection and their passion. I think that if we have wind at 80mph and rain falling sideways, it's unthinkable to get on the track. Not so much for us, as for the enthusiasts in the stands and all the personnel present on the track. However, it is not the first time that the forecasts prove too pessimistic and in the end we manage to lap without too many problems. After the latest updates, the car gives me sensations positive and the pace maintained in the last few races, both in Singapore and in Sochi, I think demonstrates my greater confidence. I have to improve my work in qualifying, because I still can't exploit the full potential of the SF90. We hope to succeed starting this weekend".
Daniel Ricciardo arrives at Sukuza with far different expectations than the drivers of Scuderia Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing:
"We know it will be tough in Suzuka, but we won't give up. The track has some characteristics that make it special, almost old school, and I really like that. Suzuka is fast and rhythmic, but also dirty and sometimes bumpy. I like the combinations of corners on the circuit, it is certainly one of the best in Formula 1 because it presents a bit of all the challenges that we drivers prefer. Our aim is to do a good job and finish Sunday with something that will allow us to continue fighting for fourth place in the constructors' standings. There is no other place like Japan. The entire Japanese culture is fantastic, unique and interesting. The food is wonderful and the people are crazy, but in a good way".
A thought that is easy to find even in the meantime of Nico Hülkenberg:
"Japan is a unique Grand Prix, and one of my favourite races of the season. Everything here is special: the track is one of the best, the fans are really passionate and get excited about everything. We lost points in Singapore and Russia, which is frustrating as we are competitive in race pace and on Saturdays. We are still fighting for fourth place: on Sunday we have to be perfect, more effective. But there are so many factors that neither I nor the team can control. The only thing is to go hunting for all possible points".
But Renault's technical director, Nick Chester, seems to have clear ideas on what it takes to be able to achieve a good result:
"The challenge is to get a strong front end to have a lot of grip in the first sector, and enough speed when changing direction to give the riders more stability and confidence. For this reason we have brought a new front wing and new aerodynamic appendages to the chassis; changes not very visible, but substantial because we expect more overall downforce. Suzuka is a beautiful track, with lots of climbs and descents, long straights and tight chicanes, fast corners and other tight ones".
For Renault, the challenge for fourth place in the standings of McLaren now seems like a utopia. Especially now that the British team seems to have managed to resolve some issues that emerged after the summer break. Carlos Sainz Jr., in this regard, says:
"After a difficult start to the second half of the season, I'm happy to have scored important points in Russia. I think the whole team deserved it, although we managed to extend our margin in the mid-pack battle, the competition remains tight. I know I have to keep pushing until the end of the season. I want more, this is the mentality we need to maintain throughout the year. The Japanese Grand Prix is another of Formula 1's great historic races and it is one of my favourite circuits. The Japanese fans are some of the most passionate and entertaining in the world and the circuit is fast paced and challenging. The legendary 130R is one of the most impressive corners on the calendar".
While Lando Norris simply says he is happy to be able to return to Suzuka, after he had done a practice session in 2018:
"I can't wait to go back to Suzuka after taking part in FP1 last year, it's a fun track and hopefully it will also allow some overtaking. I have prepared for this race at the factory for a long time and I am working hard to make the most of these last few Grands Prix and consolidate our position in the standings".
The Haas team also hopes to be able to extend the positive momentum after scoring points in Sochi, but above all after making improvements to the cars. As Romain Grosjean confirms:
"We are trying to keep improving the car, learn as much as possible and do the best job possible. Suzuka is a big circuit where we have always been quite competitive. I hope it is the same again this year. We can probably have a good performance due to the nature of the circuit: it's high speed, and there's no room for error, which is becoming more and more rare with the new tracks. Furthermore, it has a different shape than all the other tracks, having a figure eight layout with a bridge and a tunnel".
And even Kevin Magnussen is of the same opinion as his teammate:
"The work done by the whole team since the start of the season has been really good. We started out interesting, but then lost our way a bit, resulting in a sequence of difficult races. Now we seem to be slowly getting back on our feet. It's great to see and a testament to the great work the team has done. Suzuka is great, because it's a smooth, high-speed track. Every track we race at has fast corners, and it's always quite fun. We could pick up some points, our car is usually strong on tracks like this. Let's see how it goes".
After the good result obtained by Sergio Perez in Sochi, with a seventh place which also contributed to relaunching the Mexican driver in the standings, Lawrence Stroll's team is preparing for the Japanese trip with the hope of being able to overtake Scuderia Toro Red in the constructors' standings.
"Suzuka is definitely one of the best circuits in the world. It is a track that all the riders like because of the high speed corners and the first sector is probably the most beautiful of the whole year. It's a place where a Formula 1 car really shows all its performance thanks to the rapid changes of direction. In qualifying, with low fuel, you have a very special feeling. It's not just the first part of the circuit that is spectacular; finally there is the 130R, which is impressive and can be done at 300 km/h. Even with the level of downforce we have on cars nowadays it's really important to be precise, because it's easy to make a mistake or go wide. When I think of Japan, I think of the fans. They are amazing. When we leave the hotel in the morning they are already there waiting for us. It's really nice to see how much they love our sport. They are very respectful and polite and even give us gifts".
Sergio Perez's teammate, the Canadian driver Lance Stroll, also expresses his opinion on the driving emotions that the Suzuka circuit transmits:
"I am a great lover of Suzuka. It's one of the best, if not the best, track on the calendar. It's where you really feel an F1 come to life and every part of the ride has something special. There is a combination of low and high speed corners but above all the pace and speed are incredible. It is what we describe as an 'old school' track, without too many escape routes. There is very little margin for error and it requires even greater accuracy than most other circuits. You have to use every inch of asphalt to be fast. That's why pilots and enthusiasts like it. My favorite corner is Degner, which in my opinion is the most impressive of the year. It's probably one of the tightest corners on the circuit, but you take it in fifth gear at over 260 km/h. In qualifying the sensation of speed is incredible. In general, the whole first sector is special and it is here that you can feel a Formula 1 car working at its best. It's all about pace and precision. Throughout the weekend you try to gain confidence and to be able to put the car in the right position. The Japanese enthusiasts then make this event special thanks to the energy they bring to the track".
Before the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, the FIA World Council approves the calendar for the 2020 season on Friday 4 October 2019: there are 22 races, a new record, with the debut of the Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Grand Prix of Holland. Then comes the German Grand Prix. It was also decided to reduce the pre-season tests from four to three days, from 19 to 21 February, and from 26 to 28 February 2020, to be held at the Circuit de Catalunya. There is also the possibility that, in some races, there will be changes in the qualifying format. From this race, the Mission Winnow logo returns to Scuderia Ferrari cars, which had previously also been used in Bahrain, China, Azerbaijan, Spain and Monaco, but removed in Australia and starting in Canada until the previous race, to avoid the accusation of indirect advertising for a brand of cigarettes. Still on the subject of Scuderia Ferrari, after retiring from the Russian Grand Prix, the Maranello team replaced Sebastian Vettel with the hybrid system control unit, without this entailing any penalties on the starting grid. On the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, the Federation establishes that the riders will be able to use the Drag Reduction System only on the pit straight, with the point for determining the gap between riders indicated before turn 16. Suzuka is the only track in the world championship , together with the Monte-Carlo Circuit, where there is only one DRS zone, in both cases located on the starting straight. The Danish driver Tom Kristensen is appointed assistant commissioner by the FIA; he has already performed this function in the past, most recently at the Austrian Grand Prix. For this race, Pirelli, the sole supplier of the tyres, offers the choice between C1, C2 and C3 compound tyres, the three hardest in the range among those available. Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, says:
"Suzuka has always been one of the most unpredictable and exciting races of the year: an old school circuit that rewards the commitment and courage of the riders. We have named the three hardest compounds in the range, given the demanding loads imposed by the track. A choice that should allow the riders to push hard, even with a one-stop strategy, the most used tactic last year. In 2017 the new all-time record was set in qualifying, and it will be very interesting to see if it will be lowered this weekend given the cornering performance of the current cars. Suzuka is also famous for its changeable weather, so we could see wet tires on track at this particularly demanding circuit".
In the first free practice session, which takes place on Friday 11 October 2019, the fastest is Valtteri Bottas, who with Soft tires sets a time of 1'28"731. The Finn is 0.076 seconds faster than his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, penalized by overheating of one of the front brakes. The Scuderia Ferrari drivers, no longer able to count on Saturday's session, which has already been cancelled, prefer to try the solutions to bring to the race. Sebastian Vettel closed qualifying with the third fastest time, at almost a second behind Valtteri Bottas. Followed by the two Red Bull Racing drivers, Max Verstappen and Alex Albon. Carlos Sainz Jr., who in the first part of the session was forced to abandon his single-seater on the track due to a technical problem, resolved in during the session, he is seventh.It goes worse for Antonio Giovinazzi, who is forced to end the session after only four laps, due to a hydraulic failure.
The two Mercedes drivers are also the fastest during FP2. Valtteri Bottas sets a time of 1'27"785, 0.4 seconds from the absolute record of the track, using Soft tyres, preceding Lewis Hamilton by just 0.1 seconds. The Finn is also the author of a spin, without consequences, on the launch lap. Max Verstappen was third, almost 0.3 seconds behind Valtteri Bottas.The Dutchman ranks ahead of the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers, conditioned by their cars' strong understeer.During the practice session, the teams concentrated their efforts above all on tuning point of the car in conditions of extreme speed, as it is possible that, due to worsening weather conditions, the qualifying session will not be held, and therefore the times of the Friday afternoon session will be kept valid. as far as the race weekend is concerned, it comes just after the conclusion of the first free practice on Friday.The circuit will remain closed on Saturday with the consequent cancellation of FP3 and postponement of qualifying to 10:00 a.m. on Sunday 13 October 2019, four hours before the race. Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas says he is satisfied with the work done so far:
"It was a very positive day for us, driving these cars at Suzuka always gives great satisfaction and from the very first outing our car gave excellent sensations. We still have a couple of things to fix, especially in terms of balance, but we were effective both over the single lap and over the long run. We were able to take advantage of the tire sets reserved for FP3 today and it was definitely fun to be able to do all these outings. We will have to fight on Sunday both in qualifying and in the race, so we have to be sure to show up in the best conditions possible. Tomorrow we have an unexpected free day, but I'm sure the engineers will know how to keep me busy, we'll have to dig deep into the data to find the best performance".
Lewis Hamilton is also pleased with the performance of his car on the Japanese circuit:
"It's truly intoxicating to drive here in Suzuka, in the first sector the sensations that being behind the wheel conveys are unique. Overall it was a positive day, we followed our schedule and there is still some work to do to get the most out of it because on this track you can always do a little bit better and a little bit more. Bottas showed great speed and I'd say we're in good shape in the light of what we've expressed in these two free practice sessions. I really like driving here and I can't wait to get back in the car, tomorrow we will analyze the data in detail to be 100% on Sunday".
The results of the free practice instead lowered the expectations of the Scuderia Ferrari drivers. There are many problems to be solved, as Charles Leclerc confirms:
"Honestly, I'm not sure what we're missing. Personally, in terms of riding, I have to do something more. The balance doesn't seem so bad, but in general we have little grip compared to what we expected. I didn't look at everyone's pace, I think that mine wasn't so bad, especially when compared to that of Red Bull. Mercedes, on the other hand, seems objectively further ahead. Sunday will be a special day, I hope the track conditions will turn out to be particularly complicated, the wet could help us, because the Mercedes is ahead of us in the dry and Red Bull is dangerous".
Sebastian Vettel also expresses a realistic opinion on the performance of his car, ahead of qualifying and the race, which will both take place on Sunday:
"Honestly, I'm not sure what we're missing. Personally in terms of riding, I have to do something more. The balance doesn't seem so bad, but in general we have little grip compared to what we expected. I didn't look at everyone's pace, I think mine wasn't that bad, especially when compared to that of Red Bull. Mercedes, on the other hand, seems objectively further ahead. Sunday will be a special day, I'm not sure what the conditions will be like, but I hope they are a little crazy because this could help us. It will be an intense battle with both the Silver Arrows and Verstappen".
And the Scuderia Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, adds:
"I think it's a bit excessive to talk about clarification. In any case, both Vettel and Leclerc should have been in Maranello for simulator activities and we took the opportunity to return to the Sochi topic. We talked, we always do, it wasn't just after Sochi. I believe that trying to manage the riders isn't an easy exercise: you can leave the riders free to fight, but I think trying to manage them is right for the good of the team and for the good of the riders themselves. We're all getting to know each other better, even Seb and Charles are getting to know each other, it's a simple learning process and we'll come out stronger. What we saw in Sochi will never happen again and above all so trivially. Being two strong riders who want to win, they both try to turn any kind of situation to their advantage. What matters is that there is honesty between us, that we always find a way to talk about it, to re-discuss it and to improve ourselves. The riders aim to win on an individual level, but everything must be done with clarity and transparency".
During the first tests it was possible to notice that Red Bull Racing, and in particular Max Verstappen's car, managed to distinguish itself and improve its performance. The Dutch rider confirms the perception of insiders, and jokes about what he will do on Saturday, given that all the riders will be forced to stay closed in hotels:
"I think it was a good recovery, but Mercedes is still very strong at this track. We worked a lot on the Medium tyre, but above all in view of the race, trying different long runs. I'm not completely satisfied with the balance, even if we made some progress between FP1 and FP2 as demonstrated by the lap times in the afternoon. The new Esso fuel also appears to be a good step up in terms of power, and that's a really good thing. What will we do tomorrow? If we have a good Internet connection, I think we'll play a little FIFA. I'll see about organizing a tournament with the other riders".
Alex Albon confirms that the feeling with the car has improved, but there is still a lot of work to do:
"It wasn't too bad today, I feel much more comfortable in the car than in Sochi. It was a good Friday for me, a shame not to ride tomorrow, let's see how Sunday goes. It won't be easy for me to do qualifying and the race on the same day, especially if it rains it will be even more difficult because this track seemed dangerous to me. We'll try to do my best anyway, it's clear that losing a free practice session as a rookie isn't the best, but conditions are the same for everyone. Balance plays a key role here, we have to optimize things to gain a couple of tenths".
Carlos Sainz Jr., despite a technical problem that slowed him down, still managed to do a good job:
"I think it was a positive Friday after a small heart attack at the start of FP1. We still managed to get the car back to the garage, the mechanics did a great job sorting everything out and we were back on track to complete our work programme. FP2 was also intense, but I'm happy with how both sessions went. I feel good in the car and we looked pretty competitive. However, not racing tomorrow means plans were different for everyone today, so we can't say for sure where our rivals are. There is some uncertainty, but I am confident that we will be ready for Sunday".
And Lando Norris also confirms that the team managed to do all the work they set out to do:
"Has it been a good day. We completed everything we had planned, with several tests with full load and unloaded car, collecting all the necessary data. In terms of riding, I only tested the track in last year's FP1 before today, so I still have to work on that a bit. I'm not as sure as I would like, so we'll make some changes before Sunday for qualifying, if that's the case. By improving my riding and set-up we can take another step forward".
In Suzuka Naoki Yamamoto was able to participate in FP1. The Japanese driver thanks Scuderia Toro Rosso for this opportunity:
"It was a real honour for me to make my debut in Formula 1. These cars are incredible and the power they deliver to the ground is truly impressive. Compared to SuperFormula, the main difference is that. I would have liked to finish a little further up in the standings than in seventeenth position, but I collected important data for the team and the important thing was not to be the protagonist of an accident. I thank the team so much and in particular Pierre Gasly for the opportunity that was given to me".
Special thanks are also directed to Pierre Gasly, who only had one practice session available to prepare for his race weekend:
"Driving in Suzuka is always a pleasure, with only one session available we tried to maximize the time available by dividing ourselves both on the work dedicated to qualifying and on that with a view to the race. The result obtained today is promising, but we certainly need to improve further and it won't be easy on a different Sunday than usual, which will be quite hectic".
While his teammate, Daniil Kvyat, had to take advantage of both sessions to be able to solve the problems initially encountered:
"In FP1 we weren't satisfied with the car, but in FP2 the situation definitely improved after making the right corrections to the car. It will be very interesting to immediately jump into qualifying on Sunday, without taking measures beforehand. A windy day awaits us, which will make it even more difficult to get a good lap on a track as selective as Suzuka".
As expected, the Renault team had to face quite a few problems in preparing for the weekend. Nico Hulkenberg admits:
"It was a really difficult Friday for us. We made some changes between the two sessions which helped, but we also have some balance issues with a general lack of grip, particularly in the first sector. The day started badly but the progress during the day made us happier in the end. The times are not strictly representative, given that we ran out of time compared to the other teams. We will also look at everything in detail on Saturday to be ready for the race".
And Daniel Ricciardo goes into more detail about the work done by the French team:
"We focused on doing a large number of laps knowing that Saturday would not be available to us. We improved the car in the afternoon after a difficult morning and there has been some interesting progress. We decided to do some long runs in the beginning of the afternoon and then some short runs at the end. Unfortunately all the low fuel laps were compromised by traffic: we are in better shape than the times say. I don't think we are too far from where we would like to be. I hope to have a good qualifying and to start from a good position".
At the end of the first and only day of practice, Romain Grosjean says he is satisfied with the work done, and believes that this practice and race format could be a good idea to apply in the future:
"I think it was a super exciting Friday. In general, it would be nice to have a Saturday like this, with FP1 in the morning and FP2 in the afternoon with a few more sets of tires and the final standings valid for establishing the starting grid for the race. This way you can work on the car and at the same time push hard, trying different things. Obviously there was also a bit more pressure than on a normal Friday. As for the car, however, I had good sensations but I expected something more in the afternoon, like three or four tenths. Unfortunately we weren't able to make progress and it's a shame in this respect, but we'll keep working trying to figure out if we'll be able to play qualifying on Sunday morning".
Kevin Magnussen seems a little less at ease, given that FP3 will not be held, always useful for obtaining further information for the race:
"It was a bit of a strange day, considering that we won't be on the track tomorrow. We had to push in FP2 to set a good time in case qualifying is canceled due to bad weather. It was interesting to have more tires to use in the afternoon, but we weren't too fast. Our pace wasn't that interesting, let's hope it goes better on Sunday".
Tests that Antonio Giovinazzi would have gladly carried out, given that he found himself in difficulty during FP1 due to a technical problem:
"We basically lost all of FP1 due to a hydraulic leak, and that's never the best way to start a race weekend. Suzuka is a new track for me and it's one of the most difficult, so it would have been important to do as many laps as possible. At least we tried to recover in the afternoon which is good. After just two sessions I can say that Suzuka is the best track I've ridden in F1 to date. Unfortunately the weather will force us to miss the third free practice, and that won't improve my weekend for sure. However, we will work to have the best setup on Sunday, both for qualifying and for the race".
Fortunately, for his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, there were no unexpected events:
"It was a normal Friday for me. We did more laps than originally planned, as there won't be free practice on Saturday, but in the end the change of plan didn't bother us too much. We are just outside the top ten and the gaps are really minimal. We will try to find some performance together with the engineers, as you can always make some progress after practice, but now it's impossible to say where we will be in qualifying. We just have to wait and see what happens on Sunday, we will all be close".
Sergio Perez releases his thoughts on the tests carried out before the Federation decides to carry out the qualifications and the race on Sunday:
"I think we can be rather satisfied with today's performance, if compared to the teams we will be fighting against on Sunday. With the rain arriving tonight and tomorrow being cancelled, there is a possibility that qualifying will also not be held on Sunday morning. If this happens, the results of FP2 will set the grid. And in that case, eighth place isn't bad at all to start the race. The battle in the midfield is always close, with ten cars in half a second, so it will be a good fight regardless of what happens on Sunday".
Lance Stroll, on the other hand, after learning of the cancellation of the programs that should have taken place on Saturday, assumes that he will spend the day watching films at the hotel:
"Has it been a good day. I think the car is working well but we will have to see what happens with the weather on Sunday. There are still question marks over the qualifying dispute, because we don't know if there will be a typhoon on Sunday morning. This made things more interesting in FP2 and we had to think about qualifying already today. Tomorrow there won't be much to do in the hotel and you won't be able to go outside. I guess we'll have to pass the time maybe watching movies until the weather improves".
Finally, George Russell says he is enthusiastic about the work done during the tests. A work directed above all towards a continuous aerodynamic research:
"It was nice to experience Suzuka for the first time. It's an incredible circuit, one of the best I've ever ridden. I was quite satisfied with my laps, even if the pace was probably not as strong as I expected. We did a lot of work on aerodynamics in FP1, comparing the two front wings to gather as much information as possible. We still need to have a complete picture, but we will have the whole Saturday available after the track sessions have been cancelled".
While Robert Kubica complains that the team was forced to ask both riders not to climb the curbs and more generally not to take unnecessary risks, given that the material available is really limited. Indeed, the front wing used during the winter tests held in Barcelona was mounted on the Polish driver's car.
"The front wing that I will use in the race was used during winter testing in Barcelona. George and I both avoided doing stupid things all season, and that allowed us to hide the problem for a long time. Unfortunately, the weekends in Singapore and Sochi proved to everyone that the team is not ready for what is called racing risks. Nothing unusual happened - we lost some front wings, but that can always happen".
On Saturday 12 October 2019, as expected, Typhoon Hagibis hit the Suzuka circuit, forcing the riders to stay closed in hotels and find curious ways to pass the time. Suzuka Circuit remains closed to riders, teams, information workers and fans, and activities in the paddock are kept to a minimum. Some circuit and team workers remain on site to keep the generators active but all the TV stations are dismantled, which would otherwise remain at the mercy of the wind. In Suzuka, sandbags are also ready to be left in front of the motorhomes and garages to prevent them from being flooded, should the amount of water brought by the typhoon be greater than expected.
Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean builds a model of the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34. A classic model from Tamiya, found in a local shop, which forces him to be very patient and use glue.
"I bought a model of the six-wheeled Tyrrell to build. There was also a radio-controlled car in the shop, but I didn't have the equipment to build it, so I chose a traditional model to put together with glue. I don't have the paint, but the stickers are there, and while the glue dries I'll move on to the Xbox".
While Carlos Sainz Jr., not having a ball at hand, plays FIFA 19 together with Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Max Verstappen. An idea that Nico Hulkenberg had already proposed.
"I propose that we all go to Max Verstappen's room to play FIFA 19".
The Suzuka Circuit Hotel has a bowling alley, set to become the meeting point of the day. Daniel Ricciardo explains:
"I heard that the wifi won't work, I'll have two beers and go bowling, or… we could meet for an old-style day, without technology, and tell each other stories in front of the fire, what do you think?”
George Russell also prefers bowling:
"I already went there on Thursday, and then... since we can't leave the hotel, I don't think we can choose between much".
While Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat feel too old for a day to spend in front of video games.
"I'm too old for that, I'll have time to rest and play sports, but definitely not outdoors".
While the Russian pilot says:
"I'm not into video games, I prefer to relax in the sauna and maybe watch some movies".
And Lewis Hamilton?
"Not quite decided yet, there is a location three hours away called 'The Grotto' where they are slaughtering many dolphins. If I can I would like to go there, to draw attention to what is done in that place, but I don't know how long it can take to get there considering the weather conditions that will be there. It's not the best example of Japanese culture, but otherwise it's a beautiful country".
After a day off, Formula 1 is preparing to play the qualifying postponed to Sunday 13 October 2019. In Suzuka the sun is shining and the chances of rain are minimal. The only factor that could affect the performance of the cars is the wind. However, the first phase was interrupted with a red flag after Robert Kubica went off the track at the last corner. Williams is damaged, so much so that the Pole cannot continue the session. The strong wind that hits the area of the track also affects the runway exit. At the restart of Q1, Pierre Gasly sets a time of 1'29"614. The French driver leads his teammate, Daniil Kvyat, by a few tenths of a second. The Racing Points of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, however, are further behind. and the Alfa Romeo Racing cars of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen. The session was interrupted again with the red flag, shortly after, due to Kevin Magnussen going off the track. The Dane went out in the same spot where Robert Kubica had gone off, after a spin, but unlike the Pole, he can restart to return to the garage. Valtteri Bottas sets a time of 1'29"413, but shortly after Max Verstappen brings the limit to 1'28"754. , is lowered by Charles Leclerc, who laps in 1'28"405. Teammate, Sebastian Vettel, is third. Subsequently, the Mercedes drivers improved, and took second and fourth place, while Sergio Pérez improved, temporarily eliminating George Russell. Romain Grosjean climbs to eighth position. In the final minutes several drivers manage to improve their times, including Nico Hülkenberg, who eliminates his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo. In addition to the Australian and the crashed Kevin Magnussen and Robert Kubica, Sergio Pérez and George Russell did not make it to Q2. In the second phase, the Scuderia Ferrari drivers immediately set the first two reference times. Charles Leclerc laps 1'28"179, beaten however, by 0.005 seconds, by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel. In turn, the reference of the German driver is improved by Lewis Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas is further behind, who remains behind the Ferrari, as well as Max Verstappen.
After making a first attempt Carlos Sainz Jr., Kimi Räikkönen, Lando Norris and Romain Grosjean complete the to-ten, with the Toro Rossos of Pierre Gasly, Daniil Kvyat and the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi not far from the tenth best time, the last useful time to enter the decisive phase of Q3. The Renault team informs Nico Hülkenberg that the car has a gearbox failure, forcing him to interrupt qualifying. The drivers take to the track to make one last attempt: Alexander Albon, the McLaren drivers, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris, and the two French drivers Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean improve, unlike the Alfa Romeo drivers, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen. In addition to the two Alfa Romeo drivers and Nico Hülkenberg, Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat are therefore eliminated. At the start of Q3 Valtteri Bottas sets a reference time of 1'27"696, improved a few moments later by Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel who, with a time of 1'27"212, also sets the new track record. The two Red Bull Racings of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon follow by 0.7 and 0.8 seconds, but are positioned ahead of the two McLaren drivers, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris, two seconds behind Sebastian Vettel's time. Romain Grosjean chooses to make only one attempt, which places him in eighth provisional position. In the second attempt, Charles Leclerc is faster than Sebastian Vettel, in the first sector, and Max Verstappen also improves his time in the first section. The two McLaren drivers also completed the lap, moving up to seventh and eighth place. Charles Leclerc finishes the lap and sets a time of 1'27"253, without being able to beat his teammate, while Max Verstappen remains fifth, although improving his time. Sebastian Vettel also improves again, lowering the track record again and bringing it to 1'27"064. Alex Albon sets the same time as his teammate, Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas improves and remains third, while Lewis Hamilton is fourth. Sebastian Vettel takes pole position number 57, the fifth in a row for Scuderia Ferrari. The German driver ended a run of five consecutive pole positions obtained by Mercedes at this track. For Ferrari it is the front row number 64; this allows it to join Mercedes at the top of this standings. Sebastian Vettel is incredibly happy with his pole position at the Suzuka circuit, and as soon as he gets out of the car he admits:
"Certainly the conditions weren't easy, very different from those of Friday. It's sunny, the people are happy and so are we. We are very surprised by this unexpected front row. I am very happy. The car was very light on the tyres. Maybe I didn't even use the brakes, except in turn two. It's an incredible feeling, but it's only part of the work. Now we have to look at this afternoon. Before Q3 I closed my eyes to visualize the main points of the track in my head. But in the car I had my eyes open to go fast".
the German driver surprised everyone, even his teammate, Charles Leclerc, who will start second:
"Pole wasn't possible, Seb was too fast. Congratulations to him. I struggled a bit from the start and I'm still happy to have done a good lap. I made a few mistakes in the last sector. This one-two was a surprise after free practice. The Mercedes will be strong in the race and we will be focused on maintaining the one-two finish".
Following this result, the prospects for the race change. The strategy that will be agreed between the drivers and the Maranello team will be very important, especially after the events in Sochi. In this regard, the Scuderia Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, says:
"There was a lot to do compared to Friday. The car was not right. Getting five poles in a row, and doing it here at Suzuka, was important for us. But the race will be this afternoon and we have to keep our feet on the ground and concentrated. We've had speed since Q1. Today we unloaded the car compared to Friday and this helped with the overall balance of the car. There has been a step forward and this is positive. This pole is worth a lot in the general economy of the moment, in which we confirm that we have the fastest car. Now we need to focus and build on that. The race will be long and reliability is important. Now let's go to work. Briefing with the pilots? No need, they know what to do. We clarified, the two talk to each other, they are two valuable professionals. Two stops? We have recorded high degradation, so we are not ruling them out. With this in mind, we have preserved a set of new Softs".
The performance of Scuderia Ferrari upset the plans of Mercedes, which had given various indications in FP1 and FP2. Valtteri Bottas is particularly disappointed. The Finn seemed destined to take pole position, but qualifying had a different outcome:
"We looked pretty strong before qualifying but we knew Ferrari had something up their sleeve especially with the engine. In Q3 they were unapproachable especially for straight-line speed. In the corners we went well. The new package gave us good sensations but it wasn't enough. We will try in the race, nothing is lost. It's not the ideal starting point, but we'll see what happens in a few hours".
Even Lewis Hamilton admits he was surprised by the final result, which will see him start from fourth position:
"It could have been better, but it did. It's still a beautiful day, everyone is safe and we hope to have a good race. The car was fine, but Ferrari obviously 'turned on' and they showed a different level that we can't compete with in terms of the engine. But our car went well and the first run of Q2 was really solid, the second a little less so the next two in Q3".
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is angry:
"I am angry. This should have been a favorable track for us. The Ferraris came out of nowhere after Friday. Once they put it all together after free practice they are really fast. As far as we are concerned everything worked and overall the car was well balanced. We lack speed on one lap at the moment. The race pace seems good, but when you're behind it's a problem".
Max Verstappen had warned his fans about him, in Suzuka he didn't expect to be able to perform miracles with his Red Bull Racing team. And so it was:
"Qualifying wasn't great and fifth place isn't what we hoped for. I had a problem with the boost provided by the energy recovery in Q2, but in Q3 everything went well. I think maybe we weren't aggressive enough and not having a slipstream on the straight was not an ideal choice. There was a lot of wind, especially in the second sector and on the main straight, but it was like that for everyone and we can't complain. I'm a little disappointed but I'm confident that we can do much better in the race".
On the other hand, Alexander Albon surprises positively, who scored the exact same time as his team mate, but will start behind him:
"It was a clean qualifying run for me and I'm happy about it. I don't know where the times of the top four cars in the standings came from, they seem to have made a clear step forward, but personally I'm happy. Losing a track day was a nightmare and today's conditions weren't ideal. The car is completely different, but it was like that for everyone. In Q1 the wind was constantly changing and every lap it was difficult to be precise, but that's how it went".
The pilots won't have time to get out of their cars, because in fact they will have to get back on them after a few hours. As Carlos Sainz Jr. admits:
"It was difficult out there, but we managed everything well and came away with a solid seventh position. Just enough time for a coffee and we'll be back on track. I have been very happy with the car all weekend".
Antonio Giovinazzi is not satisfied with the work done in qualifying, but he hopes to be able to make up for it in the race. And in the meantime he celebrates yet another qualifying closed in front of his teammate:
"It was a difficult qualifying, I'm a little bitter because I made a mistake on the last attempt. But given the conditions, there is a small mistake. Now we can choose the tires for the race trying to bring home some points. The partial 4-0 on Raikkonen? It's a positive note, but it's the race that brings the points and we have to be up front there. The wind was annoying, choosing the right tire will be essential to have a good feeling in the first laps".
Daniel Ricciardo will start sixteenth in his Renault. Certainly not a great result, but the Australian driver shifts his attention to the race.
"Going out in Q1 is disappointing, but that's how it went. The morning was quite short and we didn't have time to put things right especially after aborting two attempts. I'm not sure where we lost time, but overall we lacked a bit of pace. We will try to recover for the race".
Robert Kubica was unable to finish qualifying due to an accident which compromised his work. As mentioned, a strong wind was blowing in Suzuka during the morning, affecting the drivability of the cars. Among these, the Polish driver's Williams Racing is the one that most of all found itself compromised by the situation:
"I'm not angry about the conditions, which are the same for everyone. We knew it wouldn't be easy, but the problem is that this mess started already this morning, even if I don't want to go into details. In this team, the rider's job is not made easier, on the contrary, it is complicated. I don't know if they do it on purpose. Instead of helping each other, people like to complicate my life. I only did one out lap. The wind didn't help me at that time and surprised me a bit. I think it was a combination of factors. The race? If there are spare parts, I will be able to do it".
The fate of the Japanese Grand Prix has not yet been decided, given that the qualifying sessions held a few hours before the race have overturned all expectations. Scuderia Ferrari managed to conquer the entire front row. Valtteri Bottas is now hoping for a mistake by his opponents to be able to take the sixth victory of his career. Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, hopes he can win for the sixth time in Japan, equaling Michael Schumacher's record. Mercedes showed more competitiveness on the race pace than the cars produced in Maranello, and this could represent a big advantage for the Anglo-German team, but the speed of the Ferrari engine and the tenacity of its drivers could change the fate of a race that it seemed already decided. Sunday afternoon, moments before the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel gets his Ferrari moving before the traffic lights go out. The German stops his single-seater immediately, but this penalizes him at the start, given that he is overtaken by Valtteri Bottas, who started third. Behind Charles Leclerc, who started second, must defend himself from Max Verstappen. The two cars come into contact at the second corner and the Dutch driver is forced to stop in the pits, while the Monegasque decides to continue, even if with a visibly damaged side skirt of the front wing. Further behind the car of Lewis Hamilton, slowed down by the contact between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, is touched by Carlos Sainz Jr., without however suffering consequences. During the second lap, the wing strip mounted on Charles Leclerc's car detached, hitting Lewis Hamilton's car, which was allowed to continue. The Monegasque, on the other hand, has to stop on lap three to replace the front wing. Valtteri Bottas therefore remains in command of the race, followed by Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz Jr., Lando Norris, Alexander Albon, Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll.
On the fifth lap the cars of Lando Norris and Alex Albon come into contact, and the McLaren driver who is forced to stop in the pits. Meanwhile, the left mirror also detaches from Charles Leclerc's car. The other driver involved in the accident at the start, Max Verstappen, retired on lap 14. Sebastian Vettel was placed under investigation by the marshals for the false start, but the commission decided not to inflict any penalty on him. Valtteri Bottas, always in the lead, manages to widen the margin of advantage over the German driver. On lap 15, Alex Albon and Kimi Räikkönen stopped in the pits to put on Hard tyres. Sebastian Vettel also stops on lap 16, who is on Soft tyres, while Valtteri Bottas, who returns to the pits on lap 17, switches to Medium tyres. Lewis Hamilton took the lead of the race, followed by Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jr., Sebastian Vettel and the two Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo. During lap 18, Sebastian Vettel overtook Carlos Sainz Jr.. Race direction announced that the incident between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen would only be investigated at the end of the race. The Monegasque, for his part, is the author of a long comeback, which takes him back to the top ten as early as lap 19. Lewis Hamilton stops in the pits during lap 21: the British rejoins the track in third place, ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., after mounting Medium tires. Behind the Spaniard are Alex Albon, Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc. Valtteri Bottas, once again in command of the race, extends the advantage over Sebastian Vettel to over ten seconds. Charles Leclerc, on lap 25, makes his second stop on Soft tyres. One lap later, Carlos Sainz Jr. also returns to the pits and mounts Medium tyres.
On lap 28, Daniel Ricciardo stopped in the pits, who was fifth. Sebastian Vettel waited two laps to make his second stop: the German mounted Medium tyres, rejoining the track in third position, behind the two Mercedes drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. Alex Albon awaits lap 34 to make his second pit stop, one lap ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who is on Soft tyres. The Finn is second, with a seven-second margin over Sebasian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton returns to first position, ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Alex Albon, Carlos Sainz Jr., Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly. The World Champion, with an advantage of more than seven seconds over Valtteri Bottas, makes his second pit stop on lap 41. Valtteri Bottas takes the lead again, followed by Sebastian Vettel. Charles Leclerc pits for the third time on lap 47 to put on Soft tyres. The Monegasque, who is looking for the additional point of the fastest lap, remains in sixth position. Lewis Hamilton, on new tyres, approaches Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps of the race. The Ferrari driver, with a car equipped with a good top speed, also taking advantage of the DRS of some lapping, managed to resist the attacks of the Mercedes driver. On the last lap Sergio Pérez went off the track at the first corner after a contact with Pierre Gasly, forcing him to abandon the race. In reality, due to an error in the indication on the race stewards' display, the electronic checkered flag is waved one lap before the end of the race, which is brought forward. Article 43.2 of the Formula 1 sporting code is quite clear on this:
"If for any reason the end-of-race signal is given before the leading car completes the scheduled number of laps or before the time limit, the race result will refer to the previous lap, the last one in which the leader made a cut the finish line before the exposure of the signal".
And this allows the Mexican to remain classified in eighth position. Valtteri Bottas wins the Japanese Grand Prix and takes his sixth career victory in Formula 1. The Finn precedes Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton at the finish line. Thanks to the race results, the fight for the drivers' title is reserved for only the two Mercedes drivers, thus making the Anglo-German team the only one in the history of Formula 1 to win six consecutive World Drivers' Championships. Mercedes also won the sixth Constructors' World Championship in a row, equaling the record held by Scuderia Ferrari from the 1999-2004 seasons. Lewis Hamilton receives an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race. At the end of the race, Charles Leclerc receives a 15-second penalty on the race time: five seconds for the accident that occurred at the start with Max Verstappen and 10 seconds for driving in unsafe conditions after the collision. The Monegasque, sixth on arrival, climbs one position. Ferrari is also fined 25,000 euros. Subsequently, due to the disqualification of the two Renault drivers, Charles Leclerc will maintain the final sixth position. Two points on the Superlicense are also deducted from the Monegasque. However, no measures were taken due to the contact between Pierre Gasly and Sergio Pérez during the last lap. Both drivers maintain eighth and ninth place as the race was declared over with one lap to spare. Furthermore, thanks to the future disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg, both will gain a position in the final standings. In fact, at the end of the race, Racing Point presents a complaint against Renault, for an alleged violation of the technical and sporting rules of Formula 1, in particular concerning the brakes of the cars of Daniel Ricciardo and Nicolas Hülkenberg, which allegedly have a sort of distributor automatic braking system which acts according to the position. During the afternoon, the French team issues a press release acknowledging what the British team presented, but due to the complexity of the complaint, the representatives of the transalpine team establish that the matter will be addressed in another meeting which will take place on a later date. to be destined. Due to this, the final arrival positions of the two riders of the French team will be subject to confirmation by the stewards.
"Renault is aware of the decision of the Commissioners of the Japanese GP, on the protest of Racing Point, which concerns the regularity of the braking system of the Renault F1 Team, used during the Japanese GP. Although the FIA recognized that the system was entirely legal, compliant with the technical regulations, it was judged a violation of the sporting regulations, as it was an aid to the driver. Both cars were disqualified from the Japanese GP, and the team lost the 9 points obtained. However, we consider the attribution of a system as a driver aid subjective and the inconsistency of the associated penalties recently, Renault F1 Team, will consider as a counter-move to be presented, within the deadline set by the FIA. Having no further evidence to provide, beyond that already produced to demonstrate the regularity of our system, we do not wish to invest any more time and effort in a sterile debate before the International Court of Appeal, regarding the subjective judgement, which produced the sanction, on the fact that a driving aid reduces the driver's workload without improving the performance of the car. We have therefore decided not to appeal the Commissioners' decision".
The hearing, held in Geneva on Wednesday 23 October 2019, accepts the appeal presented by Racing Point. The marshals, after having examined all the data collected, found that the braking system of the two French cars was not pre-set and dependent on the different sections of the track, but that it was in any case of help to the driver: in the light of this, a infraction of the sporting regulations, and the stewards decided to exclude both drivers, who arrived at the finish line respectively in sixth and tenth position, from the final standings of the Japanese Grand Prix. The French team will decide not to appeal to the Court of Appeal, accepting the judgment of the stewards. Returning to the events of the race, Valtteri Bottas wins in Japan. In a weekend where expectations for a winning Mercedes had been turned upside down by Ferrari at the end of qualifying, a driver from the Anglo-German team finally won. The Constructors' World Championship won by Mercedes is more than deserved, especially after a season in which its direct rivals were unable to ensure technical and strategic reliability, not to mention communication problems. But, above all, now the fight for the victory of the Drivers' World Championship will only concern the Mercedes drivers. At the end of the Japanese Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas admits:
"I am happy, very happy. On this track it's never easy when you start from the third box, but I believed in it and didn't give up throughout the race, knowing that there would be opportunities. I had a very good start, passing the two Ferraris and then the pace was super, I was able to control and I also had fun from the first to the last lap. On strategy, we knew there wouldn't be much difference between one or two stops, but luckily it went well and I was able to push when I wanted and manage when needed. I'm really happy to be part of this team, the sixth title is something incredible. Today's start reminds me a bit of the one in Russia in 2017. Back then too Sebastian was in front and I overtook him from the left, it was deja vu. I had a good shot, he evidently didn't, and from there I took a good lead. Then, throughout the race I had good sensations. The car was very strong today and it allowed me to check when I needed to. Taking the position on the track was essential to take the win. I never approach any race thinking I can't win: there is always an opportunity. Two opportunities presented themselves today and we took them. This has been the real strength of the team, especially in the first part of the season, and even if we are not the strongest in qualifying now we are still able to score many points in the race, on every occasion. Perseverance and ability to seize every opportunity and to be truly reliable: this is what made the difference".
The greatest satisfaction, however, is that of the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, who was able to lead the Anglo-German team to victory for the sixth consecutive time:
"I am very happy for the team, we have equaled the Ferrari record of Schumacher and Todt. For the sport and the record we are very happy because it is very difficult to motivate yourself every year, stay innovative, push and continue to develop. Winning here? Not there I was hoping because we lacked speed per lap and it's difficult to overtake here, but I'm very happy because the team reacts in these difficult moments".
Instead, Lewis Hamilton is a little more disappointed, smiling for the team but annoyed by the strategy adopted in the race:
"First of all, congratulations to the whole team on their sixth title. As for the race, it wouldn't have been any different if the Constructors' title hadn't been at stake, because we've always been able to battle on equal terms since the start of the season and it will be the same in the last four races. As for today's race, it wasn't a great result for me. I'm not very happy with how my race developed, but that's how it went. Valtteri did a great job, congratulations to him. I think it would still have been possible to focus on just one stop, but today I don't want to talk about myself, I want to talk about the team that won and this is the most important thing. The ability to make decisions, strategy, performance in all weekend, communications: these are the real strengths of the team. We communicated better, we had a better approach both as a team and in terms of work as riders. The collective and our philosophy that makes us always push beyond the our limit have made the difference".
However, the most disappointed should be the Scuderia Ferrari drivers, who once again failed to win the Grand Prix, despite the extremely competitive cars from Maranello. Scuderia Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, says despondently:
"There is regret, certainly. We have not reaped what we sowed. The start compromised the rest of the race. Today the pace in the race, as well as tire degradation, was not up to Mercedes. But I think if we had stayed in front we could have defended ourselves. Sebastian was anticipating the start, then luckily he wasn't penalized, which means that the numbers were in the sensor times. Leclerc's unhappy shot was a consequence of Sebastian's movement I guess. I haven't talked to him yet, but I think he saw Seb and got distracted for a moment, losing his reaction time. What happens in turn 2, when you find yourself in the fray isn't easy, the episodes are tight. Bottas got off to a good start, we had to start just as well. In terms of balance of the car we still have to improve, because we had too much degradation. But when you start up front, even with that little difference, then you manage to stay there. Today we have to grasp the positive aspect which is the front row in qualifying. Then the departure compromised everything else. Hamilton? Already from the first laps we had intuition that the race was for two stops. Going to the end on the tires was unlikely, we expected Hamilton's second stop and we knew he would come out behind us with used softs. We had to defend ourselves on the straight and we did. Seb did well, he did a good race from that point of view, apart from the start. I think he rode well today. Leclerc's stop after the start was imposed by the FIA. We tried to insist on the fact that by now he had lost the pieces, but it is true that he had already done a lot of damage, by losing the pieces he had damaged Hamilton's mirror and the FIA told us to stop for safety's sake, all we had to do was execute the order".
Sebastian Vettel, who started in pole position, made a mistake at the start of the race with a false start, risking a penalty. However, the German driver made up for his mistake by not making another one for the remaining 52 laps and defended himself until the end, conquering second position:
"At the start the lights stayed on for a long time and I missed the right moment, losing a lot of time. It was then difficult because the Mercedes were really very fast and had a better pace than ours. Valtteri literally flew between the half and the finish of the first stint, as did Lewis who first tried a one-stop strategy. I knew he would catch me in the end, but I tried to find the right pace and contained him in the places where he could try to overtake. Even without making a mistake at the start, I don't know if we would still have been able to fight for the win. Mercedes still had some strategic cards to play and we had a slightly slower pace than theirs. We're here to win, so obviously it's not a great weekend, but we we came very close".
"We took pole this morning, we were in front with both cars, we have to see what happened at the start, I made a mistake on my part, I don't know what happened to Charles. We lost our minds early, otherwise Maybe we could have used more strategy to fight against Mercedes, while in this way we were quite vulnerable. We have to admit though that they were faster than us today. There is however a positive trend in the last few races, but today they were too fast".
The German driver concludes by saying:
"We are working very hard, I don't think there is anyone else who works harder than us, but we still have room for improvement and we need to strengthen ourselves as a team. There have been too many small details this year that have not allowed us to have the performance we wanted. Clearly if you have the speed you can correct things and it started working more in qualifying. But you see that the races are longer and you need to have the pace for the whole race and in many GPs we didn't have a good enough pace. Overall, Mercedes has had a very good year. There are still four races to go and they have already won the constructors' championship so there is still a lot of work ahead of us. We have the ingredients, the intelligence and the commitment, but we have to try to do something better".
Charles Leclerc, misled by his team-mate, made a mistake at the start and collided with Max Verstappen's car, contributing to worsening a race result that Scuderia Ferrari had to avoid.
"I made a mistake at the start, I saw Seb move and this disoriented me, then I touched Max at the first corner, compromising his and my race. The result wasn't what we wanted or what the team deserved, I'm sorry".
The mistake made by Charles Leclerc ruined the race of Max Verstappen - who retired - who was racing at Honda's home circuit.
"I'm disappointed, we started very well. I was already third, I tried to keep to the outside but suddenly Charles understeered and ran into me on the side. After that the car was totally damaged and the only thing to do was to retire. On my side, I had no way to avoid contact other than going off the track. I was already on the outside so there was nothing I could do. On the decision of the commissioners, I think it can only go in one direction".
Saving the honor of Honda and the Red Bull Racing team was Alex Albon, praised by team principal Christian Horner:
"Alex didn't make a good start and ended up behind the McLarens, but then he recovered well. He passed Norris with an aggressive but clean maneuver, making up time on Sainz. Leaving Suzuka with a retirement and a fourth place is disappointing as it is Honda's home race".
After moving from Toro Rosso to the Red Bull Racing team, Alex Albon has never disappointed. The Thai driver finished fifth in Belgium, sixth in Italy, sixth in Singapore, fifth in Russia and now fourth in Japan, finishing ahead of his team-mate three times out of five. The sensations around Max Verstappen's teammate were positive from Friday and the final result proved it:
"This was undoubtedly my best race with Red Bull, but perhaps not the best of the season. I still think I'm in an acclimatization phase, but I'm happy with my pace and the weekend in general. I probably could have achieved even more in the race: I lost some time, but I'm happy with my progress, I took a big step forward. I had a good feeling with the car and it's strange because this is a track where you need a lot of confidence, but already from FP1 I felt very comfortable. I missed that a bit in Sochi, so it was easier and that's why the whole weekend went better. A bit of everything is still missing for the podium, from higher speed in qualifying to better pace in long runs. It's going better, but I'm taking small steps".
Carlos Sainz Jr. was the author of another masterful race. The Spanish rider finished the race in fifth position, but he could have finished with an even better result:
"At one point we were third for a while, but we knew it was for reasons unrelated to us- The important thing today is that we were very fast, for the first time in the whole year we managed to keep Albon and Leclerc behind with fresher cars and tires and I'm very happy for that. We had a very long first stint, which helped us to be stronger in the second part of the race and finishing fifth in the end is good news. Before arriving at Suzuka, I knew that McLaren was strong here. In fact, fast corners are our strong point and there are several here. However, we finished almost a minute off the podium and more than a minute off the leader, so there are still many seconds left to catch up with the top teams, but for the first time almost in the whole year we haven't been lapped. This is a good start and, as I said, we had very strong pace in the second stage of the race which gave us fifth place".
For Lando Norris, the end result isn't nearly as satisfying. The British driver was unable to go beyond eleventh position, due to an early stop which effectively compromised the race strategy:
"It was a frustrating day. I had a really good start and was able to get on the outside of a few riders in front of me into the first corner. Then there was contact up front, with a car spinning and pieces flying off. I had to slow down, also picking up some debris and this led to an early stop which compromised everything. I did what I could, but I always fought until the end with the tires and couldn't make enough progress to recover enough. There are some positives, some negatives, but I'm happy with the points brought home by Carlos".
Before the complaint presented by Racing Point, Nico Hulkenberg had been author of an authoritative race. The German driver, in fact, had managed to finish the Grand Prix in the top ten:
"I had fun, it was a fun race. I've been busy, battling a lot. I was in traffic for a large part of the second stint and suffered a bit there, but all in all it went quite well after a very difficult morning and problematic qualifying, it was a good comeback. I'm happy that we can reward ourselves with a double points finish. I had a good start and an excellent first lap. I think fifteenth to tenth, or something like that. That was fun. It went well, I'm happy. Reasons for the difference between qualifying and race? We failed to show our full potential in qualifying, we both had technical problems which pushed us back and slowed down the pace, that's one reason. But we've seen that sometimes we're faster in the race than in qualifying".
As well as his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo:
"This morning I felt that something was wrong. Then we discovered, partly during and then after qualifying, that we had a problem with the rear suspension. It was frustrating and obviously it wasn't our true pace in the end. We knew we'd have better pace in the race but to come back up to sixth, we didn't expect to get so high. I'm really happy to be back in the points and finally had a positive race. There were some problems for us. We went wide with the medium tires and this helped us to be able to push to the end with the softs. I think we went a little too long with the medium tyres, because I was losing a lot of temperature on the front. I felt my last few laps were a bit too slow, but the team said we were still on target. In the end, I listened to them and we had a good opportunity to attack at the end. This morning I didn't feel the car well, obviously it was very windy but I felt it wasn't in good shape. Then I put on new shoes and they are not made for walking but for overtaking".
Albeit for different reasons, the Japanese Grand Prix did not convey positive sensations to Kimi Raikkonen, who finished twelfth due to lack of grip in the first two stints of the race:
"It was definitely a boring day. I don't know why, but in the first two stints we simply didn't have a good level of grip, either at the front or at the rear. When we then switched to the Softs the car was quite good, I think we were like 3-4 seconds quicker so it's all a blur. Let's see what we can come up with from the data collected. We ran the two cars with two different aerodynamic packages this weekend. We need to see what worked where and get back to where we should be".
And Antonio Giovinazzi also agrees with what his teammate said:
"I agree with Kimi. The race pace here was really slow. We were faster in qualifying, especially seeing the teams in the middle of the group, but we struggled a lot in the race, so we have to find solutions for the remaining four Grands Prix".
Pierre Gasly is clearly more satisfied with the race than him, as with his Honda-powered Toro Rosso he managed to finish the Japanese Grand Prix in seventh place, after starting from ninth on the grid:
"I am very happy with today's race. I had a very good start this morning managing to get to Q3 and qualifying ninth. We didn't really expect to get there, having had so little time to prepare the car and having missed both the first and third free practice sessions. I spent a good part of the race between seventh and eighth, it was very intense with the Renaults and the Racing Points pushing a lot. We had a problem with a suspension around the middle of the race which made life difficult for us, but I gave everything I could to keep the position. There were some intense duels and I really wanted to go all the way for the team, for Honda and for the Japanese fans. I'm happy to have scored some points here in Japan, it's a special feeling. We can only be satisfied with today and we can't wait for the next races".
Sergio Perez recriminates for having arrived at the finish line with the car damaged by a contact with Pierre Gasly. However, the Mexican driver still managed to finish eighth, taking advantage of the penalty inflicted on the Renault team after Racong Point presented an official complaint to the Federation:
"Our pace in the race was better than in qualifying and I was more confident in the car. I started well and the team did a fantastic job with the strategy. We stopped a second time to put on the soft tires at the end of the race and I was able to get back into the points. There was confusion because the checkered flag came out too early, so when I was thrown out by Gasly the race was already over. With the new tires I was much faster than him. I was in front and left him enough space so there was no need for the contact. It's disappointing to finish the race like that, with the car damaged, but at least we got some points for the team".
Even Lance Stroll, despite having lost several positions in the final stages of the race, still manages to finish the Japanese Grand Prix in the top ten:
"I struggled with the tires at the end of the race, this was the main problem. I spent the whole race a second behind Gasly and my tires were dead, both front and rear. The riders at the two stops were decidedly faster, that was undoubtedly the best strategy today. Perez and Ricciardo eventually flew into the peloton. Yes, it was a bit of a shame, I was running seventh or eighth and then I lost those positions finishing tenth (he'll go down to ninth), but the last few laps on those tires were really difficult".
After conquering the tenth potion in qualifying, Romain Grosjean was convinced he could lead a good race and eventually be able to return to the top ten, to score valuable points for the Haas team. But that was not the case, given that the French driver finished the race in thirteenth position, after being the author of a non-exceptional start, which made him lose several positions:
"The start was terrible, I don't know why, but I was behind Kevin in turn 1 which shows how bad it was. Then from there it is very difficult to reassemble. We tried to push hard, we put on hard tires to try and make a strategy at one stop. Honestly, I also made a couple of nice overtakings, both on Russell and Giovinazzi on the outside of turn 1. This was the highlight of my race. After that it was just about managing the tires but we didn't have enough pace. We'll work and see what the next race can bring. Unfortunately, the race was a kind of mirror of Friday, where the race pace wasn't too good. I think that in qualifying we achieved a result beyond our expectations, which is something we do most of the time. Then in the race it's harder. We will try to work to come back stronger and look forward to next year".
A problem at the start that his teammate, Kevin Magnussen also encountered:
"I mashed the accelerator and had maximum power, then suddenly the wheels spun and I spun. It was an unfortunate and rather embarrassing episode actually, but these things happen. I don't connect today's result to the pit stops and the strategy, it didn't go badly in terms of tires and pace. If I had started where I should have made a good start like I did, I could have been in a much better position and at that point with a better strategy I could have scored some points. It's frustrating".
Thus concludes the seventeenth round of the Formula 1 World Championship. Mercedes has ended the fight for the Constructors' World Championship early, and at this point all that remains is to wait to understand when and if Lewis Hamilton will win the Drivers' World Championship early. Or if for some particular reason Valtteri Bottas manages to recover the disadvantage in the last four races, and to steal the champion's sceptre from his teammate. Whatever happens, it seems at the moment that neither Scuderia Ferrari nor Red Bull Racing can stop the Mercedes team, albeit for different reasons. In the Maranello team, the misunderstandings between the two drivers continue, while as regards the Anglo-Austrian team at the moment the cars seem to lack competitiveness, therefore neither Max Verstappen nor the surprising Alex Albon can aspire to contend for the victory with the Mercedes drivers. The only factor that could change these prospects, and provide competitiveness to Honda-powered cars, could be the altitude of the Mexico City circuit, site of the eighteenth Formula 1 Grand Prix, which however could already crown Lewis Hamilton World Champion for the sixth time in his career.