A Review of the Japanese GP

Max Verstappen celebrates his race win. Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1 / Formula 1 via Getty Images
The return of racing at Suzuka saw Max Verstappen claim the 2022 Driver’s World Championship 

Summary of the race

Yet again, rain played a big part in this race as it started to rain heavily once the lights went off. Max Verstappen started the race on pole, who initially didn’t have a great start but was fast. Sebastian Vettel went off into the gravel as he got hit by Fernando Alonso, but he remained in the race. Sergio Perez overtook Carlos Sainz since he crashed and aquaplaned. Alonso also overtook Lewis Hamilton on the first lap but it didn’t last for long. Pierre Gasly got some of the advertising board stuck on his car from Sainz’s crash. This led to the deployment of a safety car. Alex Albon retired on the first lap due to engine failure. Gasly pitted for a new nose and full wet tires as the rain got stronger.

Start of the race with Verstappen and Leclerc side by side. Photo by Mark Thompson / Getty Images 

There was a tractor on the track, which was very weird considering Jules Bianchi’s accident. Zhou spun a full 360 as well but managed to recover. A red flag was issued on lap 2 as visibility was very poor. Drivers compared it to driving blindfolded, showing the severity of the track conditions and the necessity of the red flag. Some drivers had very good starts, showing their talent racing in the wet. Mick Schumacher was up to 10th. Daniel Ricciardo was up to 8th and Norris down to 13th. Lance Stroll went from 18th to 11th. Furthermore, home star Yuki Tsunoda went from 13th to 9th. 

Pierre Gasly’s car with an advertising board on the front wing. Photo by REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon

They wanted to restart the race, but it was suspended as it was still raining. The race resumed at 4:15 PM local time with a rolling start behind the safety car. Full wet tires were mandatory under the FIA, so all drivers had the same tires. Vettel and Nicholas Latifi were the first to pit, which proved crucial in the end with their change to intermediate tires. Kevin Magnussen passed Stroll in the beginning. Lando Norris and Valterri Bottas also pitted a lap later. Soon after everyone else pitted, but Alonso, Ricciardo and Schumacher stayed out and were the top three for a short while. Consequently, a lap later Alonso and Ricciardo pitted. 

Verstappen overtook Schumacher who led a race for his first time, even though it was only a couple of metres. Charles Leclerc overtook Schumacher on the next lap. Zhou was the penultimate driver to pit for intermediate tires. Schumacher kept getting overtaken and went wide so he finally pitted with 28 minutes of the race left. Esteban Ocon held back Hamilton for the whole race as there was not enough speed. Tsunoda held back George Russell, but he overtook him with 21 minutes left and soon after Norris as well. 

Mick Schumacher in action. Photo by Steven Tee / LAT Images

Zhou was the first driver to pit for a second time with 15 minutes left. Stroll and Gasly also pit, trying to get into the points with fresher tires. Alonso was the last to make a second pit with 8 minutes left. Alonso overtook Russell and was 7th. On the last corner of the last lap, Leclerc went through it and got a five second time penalty. This meant that Verstappen is officially world champion. Vettel was voted driver of the day and Zhou got the fastest lap, his first ever.

My thoughts

Red Bull had a very strong race with a 1-2 podium and most importantly, Verstappen winning his second world championship. The last time this was the case was Azerbaijan back in June. He now equals Alonso’s two titles and 32 race wins. Verstappen proved his dominance once again winning the race by over 20 seconds. Perez yet again challenged Leclerc and won the ultimate battle, now overtaking him to be second in the driver’s championship. The RB18’s speed was evident in this race as Leclerc was unable to get close to Verstappen. There was some confusion as to whether Verstappen would be granted full points with the disruption. After going through the FIA rule book, Red Bull found that he did have enough points even though there are four races left.   

Ferrari had a poor showing this week with Sainz’s DNF and Leclerc’s penalty. Similar to Singapore, no strategy errors were made, it was just due to the performance of the F1-75. It particularly struggled on the intermediate tire with severe degradation. As aforementioned, Leclerc has now dropped to third but still has a chance to rise since it’s only a single point between them. Leclerc still had a great performance as he has never stopped fighting in delaying Verstappen’s ultimate win. Mattia Binotto, team principal of Ferrari, who was not present at this race was upset with the penalty. Binotto argued that the credibility of the FIA is decreasing due to inconsistent application of penalties. He particularly mentioned Perez’s penalty that was only given after the race last weekend in Singapore.

Max Verstappen driving the RB18 in qualifying. Photo by Peter Fox / Getty Images

Mercedes had a better week compared to Singapore, but still had their own struggles. Hamilton was unable to overtake Ocon, but both driver’s thoroughly enjoyed the battle. This to me is the highlight of racing, competitive yet respectful. The W13’s straight line speed was simply not enough, contrasting to their great performance in Practice 1 on Friday. Russell was much more unhappy with his race and the strategy of the team, finishing out of the top five yet again. Russell, as the leader of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association was outspoken against the FIA. He was one of the few driver’s who released a tweet about the tractor on the track. 

McLaren went down yet again after their high in Singapore. Norris managed to score a point for the team coming in 10th, whilst Ricciardo finished in 11th just outside the points. Norris was the first driver to tweet about the tractor incident, with a clear condemnation that received over 275,000 likes. Their closest competitors, Alpine, had an excellent weekend. Ocon had his highest finish this season in 4th. Ocon said: ​​“I enjoyed it [racing against Hamilton] a lot … It was definitely good fun [and] I’m very happy with the outcome.” Alonso finished side by side with Vettel, and came out in 7th. Alpine took a risk pitting him near the end, but he was able to finish ahead of Russell. This means that Alpine has overtaken McLaren in the driver’s championship, so it’s an interesting ongoing battle.

Max Verstappen driving side by side against Charles Leclerc. Photo by Peter Fox / Getty Images

Williams saw Latifi score his first points of the season with his 9th place finish. Albon’s consecutive DNF must have brought frustration, but there are still four races left of the season. Haas had poor strategy by choosing not to pit Schumacher when everyone else did. They wanted to wait for a safety car, but this was arguably the wrong call. Schumacher was just a sitting duck as everyone overtook him at the beginning. Alfa Romeo had a no points finish with Bottas in 15th and Zhou behind him in 16th. Even though Zhou got the fastest lap in the race, he did not receive a point for this as he didn’t finish in the points. Nonetheless I’m sure he and the team are still happy to have this achievement.

Aston Martin had a good weekend, but it feels as if nothing could compare to their great performance at Singapore. Vettel continued his streak of finishing in the top 10 at Suzuka, finishing in 6th. Vettel’s favourite track is Suzuka, so I’m sure his last race here was memorable with the strong fan support and love. Stroll had an excellent start, overtaking seven cars, but was unable to keep this pace throughout. This is rather unusual for him as he is a master in the wet.

Alpha Tauri had an eventful race to say the least. Pierre Gasly was the subject of controversy after footage was released that he drove by a tractor and a marshall on the track. Gasly was given a 20 second drive through penalty for speeding. He was also given two penalty points on his super licence. Fans, including myself, were frustrated at the actions of the FIA for this severe punishment. It seems as if they were punishing Gasly for his actions rather than owning up to their mistake of having a tractor on the track. Everyone passed the tractor which is very dangerous as anyone could have lost control as Sainz did and injured themselves or someone else. It is unfathomable to believe that the FIA has learned nothing since Bianchi’s fatal accident, which at the time they also placed blame on him for driving too fast. Tsunoda finished 13th in his first home race, yet still had an enjoyable weekend considering they were able to do some racing and that Verstappen won in front of fans of Honda of his sister team. 

Race winner and 2022 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen. Photo by Clive Rose / Getty Images

In conclusion, I would rate this race a 4/10. The amount of racing we got was quite lively and amusing to watch but the tractor incident left a bad taste in my mouth. I could feel Gasly and all the other driver’s disappointment at the FIA for letting a tractor be on the track. This can be no better explained than Gasly himself who said: “We lost Jules eight years ago in similar conditions, with a crane on track … I don’t understand how eight years later we can see a crane on the racing line. I am extremely grateful that I am still standing. Still able to call my family, my loved ones, and nothing happened. I was two metres away from passing away today, which isn’t acceptable as a racing driver.” Lastly, the confusion as to whether Max Verstappen won was an anti-climax as he wasn’t sure, but eventually celebrated with his team into the night.

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