Our F1 Technical Partners, SportPesa Racing Point, rescued a couple of points from the barriers, following a dramatic weekend at Suzuka.
The race weekend had a slightly different format to usual with Qualifying being held earlier on Sunday, for only the 5th time in F1 history, due to the approach of Typhoon Hagibis. Thankfully, it missed the Suzuka area but inflicted a lot of devastation around Greater Toyko, affecting several Rugby World Cup games as well.
Ferrari were looking promising with a front row lock out ahead of the Mercedes, but it all went pear shaped for them at the start after polesitter Sebastian Vettel did a double start – momentarily setting off before the red lights went out, before stopping aagin. He wasn’t penalised as he didn’t cross the line, but he was slow to get moving again and was quickly passed by Valtteri Bottas. Charles Leclerc also had a poor start, and whilst trying to make up the lost places, he collided with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Leclerc was given a 5 second penalty after the race for causing the collision, compounded by a 10 second penalty because his team didn’t bring him in for repairs quickly enough.
The Racing Points of Lance Stroll and Sergio “Checo” Perez started in 12th and 17th respectively, but as usual both drivers got a good start and made up several places on the opening lap, Lance up to 9th and Checo up to 11th. They gained another couple of places when Leclerc pitted for a new nose and McLaren’s Lando Norris had to do the same after contact with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon.
A short while later on Lap 15, Checo was under attach by Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, whose overtaking prowess left our Mexican driver “honey badgered”. But a lap later, Verstappen was forced to retire due to damage from the Lap 1 incident and both Lance and Checo gained a place.
Up at the front, Vettel came into pit – the timing showing Ferrari was going for a 2 stop strategy – and this was covered by race leader Bottas a lap later. A few laps later Racing Point brought in Lance, who came out in 13th. Then a lap later in came Checo after his tyres started to drop off and he was taken by Albon. Checo came out just behind Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who was sandwiched by Lance ahead.
Mid way through the race, Lance had made his way into DRS range of Norris, but locked up when he was making an attempt to pass and had to back off. Once his tyres were cooler he came back and this time made the move stick, taking 10th place. Hulkenberg also made it past the slower McLaren, but Checo was forced to tuck in as the car train approached a corner. Norris took the hint and ducked into the pits, as did Leclerc who came out behind Checo, elevating the Racing Point pair to 8th and 11th, with a realistic shot at a double points finish.
Ahead of Checo, Toro Rosso’s Danil Kvyat was battling to keep Hulkenberg behind him. Hulkenberg lined him up to take him under DRS, and Checo saw an opportunity to get past too, following in Hulkenberg’s slip stream like a shadow and sneaking past Kvyat ninja style and claiming his place in the points positions.
By now, Leclerc had closed up on Checo and was getting close to DRS range. Ricciardo finally pitted, moving both Racing Point drivers up another place on the track, but for Checo at least the gain was only temporary, as Leclerc’s "prancing pony" soon came screaming past. A few laps later he was already up behind Lance and took 7th place off him too.
Up at the front, both Vettel and Bottas had already come in for their second stops. Mercedes then decided to pit race leader Lewis Hamilton, despite his tyres still being in good condition, so they could give the place back to Bottas. This mean he came out behind Vettel, but with fresher tyres and a bit of “hammer time”, he quickly started reeling in the German.
Further back, Lance, Hulkenberg and Checo were all being held up by Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso. This was good news for Renault as Ricciardo was on his second surge up through the field and soon joined the party. Seeing his pace, Racing Point took a gamble and brought Checo in for fresh tyres too. But Ricciardo was able to switch places with his slower teammate Hulkenberg and went after Lance, who he managed to get past a lap later, leaving the Racing Points down in 9th and 11th.
With only a few laps to go, things were starting to get interesting. Lance’s tyres started to drop off and he was finally overhauled by Hulkenberg. His teammate, meanwhile, was on much younger tyres and soon managed to catch up. Determined not to lose momentum, Racing Point switched their cars too, freeing up Checo to chase after the Renaults. And he soon did some damage, taking back 9th from Hulkenberg and setting his sights on Gasly’s Toro Rosso. On the last lap, with no time to spare, he managed to get past him to take 8th, but then in a tragic twist of fate, Gasly came back at him and there was contact, sending Checo spinning across the gravel and into the barriers. Although this meant Lance got a point as a consolation prize, it was heartbreaking for the team and for Checo after all that effort.
Up at the front, Vettel was desperately trying to keep Hamilton behind to hold onto 2nd place. He was given more power by his team, whilst Hamilton’s tyres were finally starting to fade. Amazingly, Vettel managed to hold off the incumbent World Champion to keep his own hopes alive, if just for one more race. Bottas crossed the line ahead of him to take the victory, allowing Mercedes to take the Constructors’ title for the 6th time.
Then in a bizarre twist of fate, it transpired that the chequered flag had been waved a lap too early. In accordance with F1 rules, the finishing positions were taken on their Lap 52 positions, when Checo was still on track, so he ended up with 9th place and two points for the team. Unfortunately for Lance, this meant losing out on 10th place, but after all the drama with Typhoon Hagibis and the action on track at Suzuka, it’s still a good result for the team.
Next up is Mexico in 2 weeks’ time on the 27th of October, where our resident Mexican superstar Checo will be gearing up to shine at the F1esta. We’ll see you then!