Valtteri Bottas wins F1 Japanese Grand Prix as Mercedes clinches 2019 constructors’ title
Polesitter Sebastian Vettel settles for second, Lewis Hamilton not happy about third place finish
Valtteri Bottas won the F1 Japanese Grand Prix Sunday while Mercedes clinched the 2019 constructors’ championship title. Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen were knocked out of the drivers’ championship race in one swoop.
Ferrari, having completed a front row lockout in qualifying just a few hours prior, suffered an all too familiar feeling at the start of the race as they shot themselves in the foot. Pole sitter Vettel looked to have jumped the start but as he managed to stop before the lights went out and remain in his grid box, the German managed to escape a penalty.
It was worse news for Charles Leclerc though. Having started second and made a poor getaway, Leclerc left himself open to an attack from Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver was narrowly ahead at turn two on the outside line; Leclerc refused to give up the position and made contact, damaging his own front wing and ultimately causing Verstappen to retire several laps later.
Ferrari continued to commit race suicide by putting Vettel onto a second set of soft tires in the pits, forcing him onto a two-stop strategy. Mercedes reacted to the stop by pitting Bottas choosing to put him on medium rubber. There was no guarantee that the tires would make it to the end of the race, but it did mean that a second stop would not be mandatory.
Bottas was comfortable at the front and despite being on the harder rubber extended a three-second lead to an 11-second chasm and Ferrari’s error became yet clearer still.
Lewis Hamilton, who had pitted several laps after Bottas for medium tires, was less than pleased with the team strategy to put him on the compound, wanting the hard tires to ensure a one stop. Until Bottas made a second stop, he was second by a good margin, but after Bottas stopped again, Hamilton had a ten-second gap.
Now it was Bottas’s turn to be concerned. Asking the team repeatedly if they were certain Hamilton would pit a second time, something he refused to do in Silverstone, he was relieved to see the championship leader pull into the pit lane with ten-laps remaining.
However, this was a mix of good and bad news for the Finn. On the one hand, Bottas was now leading. On the other, Hamilton was on fresh softs and was going a lot faster.
It was too little too late for Hamilton though, and he got stuck behind Vettel’s Ferrari, unable to pass due to the superior straight line speed at Vettel’s disposal.
Bottas took his first victory since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and Mercedes guaranteed another constructors’ and drivers’ championship double – a record sixth in a row.
“I’m happy, very happy,” said Bottas. “It was a pretty close qualifying and starting third here is never easy, but there’s no point ever to give up on anything and I knew anything was possible today. Opportunities were there today.
“The first one was at the start. I had a really nice start and Sebastian had an issue, so I managed to get the lead and then the pace was super-good. I could really control the race and I really enjoyed it. That was fun.”
Having fended off Hamilton, Vettel could be happy with his late race performance, but the start cost him the win and arguably put Leclerc into position for his accident. He was asked about the start first.
“The lights were on for a long time, but there was my mistake, so I lost momentum there,” said Vettel. “I ended up worse than just having a poor start. It was a really poor start.
“The it was difficult, because Mercedes were really quick in the race. I think, especially the back of the stint, they had more pace than us. Valtteri was flying at the middle and end of the first stint and Lewis tried to one stop, I guess it didn’t work. I knew that he would come out behind and I just paced myself around all the bits of the track I could and tried to get good exits to places where he could be a threat.”
Hamilton, despite playing a large part in winning the constructors’ title for Mercedes, was in no mood for talking after the race.
“Firstly, it’s congratulations to the team,” said Hamilton. “To win it six years in a row, that’s the main points. I just wanted to get the best points for the team today.”
|1||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport||21:46.8||25|
|2||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari||13.343||18|
|3||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport||13.858||15 (+1)|
|4||Alexander Albon||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||59.537||12|
|5||Carlos Sainz||McLaren F1 Team||69.101||10|
|6||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari||+1 Lap||8|
|7||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team||+1 Lap||6|
|8||Sergio Perez||SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team||+1 Lap||4|
|9||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda||+1 Lap||2|
|10||Nico Hulkenberg||Renault F1 Team||+1 Lap||1|
|11||Lance Stroll||SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team||+1 Lap|
|12||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda||+1 Lap|
|13||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team||+1 Lap|
|14||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo Racing||+1 Lap|
|15||Romain Grosjean||Rich Energy Haas F1 Team||+1 Lap|
|16||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing||+1 Lap|
|17||Kevin Magnussen||Rich Energy Haas F1 Team||+1 Lap|
|18||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing||+1 Lap|
|19||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing||+2 Laps|
|Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||DNF|