Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas has added his third victory of the season and sixth of his F1 career this Sunday at the Japanese Grand Prix 2019. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and his Mercedes’ teammate, Lewis Hamilton completed the podium.
Another Sunday race and another sensational performance by Carlos Sainz who has finished fifth behind Alex Albon‘s Red Bull. Thanks to this result, the driver from Madrid has knocked Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly off of the sixth position in standings.
With this result, the German team wraps up its sixth consecutive constructors’ title, making history as the only F1 team to ever achieve such a feat. A disappointing day for the Maranello team. Vettel and Leclerc were first on exit but a bad start ruined their chances.
A bad start from pole-holder Vettel
One of the crucial moments of the Japanese Grand Prix 2019 came as soon as the lights went off at the start. Vettel, on the pole, made another of his trademark mistakes.The German driver jumped the gun and got ahead a few millimetres just moments before the official exit. In order to avoid a penalty, he stopped again but was then passed by Valtteri Bottas.
Similarly, his teammate Charles Leclerc was off to a bad start which allowed a sensational Max Verstappen – up from the fifth position – to attempt a pass on him. Both ended up brushing against each other on the first curve.
After the crash, the Dutch driver had to go to boxes while the young Monegasque stayed on the track with the front wing hanging down. Some fragments of the SF90 wing did actually come off and into Hamilton’s helmet. Thankfully the Briton was unharmed.
Bottas was commanding the race with great authority, unbothered by the many battles that were taking place behind him. At just four laps into the race, the Finn was a whooping 2,489 ahead of Vettel, followed by Hamilton and Sainz in third place.
Meanwhile, Leclerc had to go through boxes to repair the damaged on his car which included the loss of his front left mirror. After replacing the missing part, Leclerc returned to the track in the 16th position just ahead of Verstappen. The two men involved in the initial incident were together again!
15 laps on and the #77 from Brackley had doubled his advantage to six seconds. The great rhythm of the flying Finn proved impossible to follow for the #5 of La Scuderia.
At that time in the race and very much to the disappointment of the Japanese public, the Dutch driver was forced to retire because of the damage sustained by his car.
Early pit stops: A change of strategy
Vettel went to pits two laps later and Bottas followed suit during the following lap (nº 18) when he had the soft compounds bolted on. It was obviously too soon to stretch the life of those tyres until the end and so different strategic possibilities suddenly opened up for all teams.
Hamilton had no choice but to replicate his teammate’s move four laps later, on the 22nd. He re-joined the track in third place just behind Vettel and Bottas. He had taken too long. After that move, the five-time-champion had virtually lost all of his winning chances at the Japanese Grand Prix 2019.
It was a completely different story for the Scandinavian who managed to open a 10-second gap with Vettel, who protected himself against Hamilton by going to pits on lap 32.
As for the middle of the grid, Sainz was containing Albon for fifth in an intense duel until it was decided from the wall that he changes his tires on lap 27 to try and continue holding the Anglo-Thai from Red Bull back.
The latter, however, with a much superior machine than that of the Spaniard, completed a great pit stop to re-join in fourth, ahead of Sainz.
A decisive moment: Bottas and Hamilton’s pit stops
At that point of the Japanese Grand Prix 2019, Bottas and his team knew full well that in order to take the win they had to replace their tires again and so they did on lap 36, mounting on some fresh soft compounds. That move left Hamilton on the lead followed by Vettel.
Hamilton’s joy, however, was short-lived as seven laps later, he too had to go to pits. It was goodbye to his dreams of victory as he re-joined the race in third place behind Vettel and a whole 15 seconds from the Finn.
Despite Hamilton putting pressure on Vettel during the last few laps, positions remained unchanged until the end. Bottas got his third triumph of the season, since the last one in Azerbaijan, and the sixth victory of his F1 career. Vettel saved face for Ferrari with a second position, while Hamilton closed the podium of the Japanese Grand Prix 2019.
Albon was fourth after another great performance, followed by Sainz, fifth. As incredible as it might seem, the #55 from McLaren had the Ferrari of Leclerc on his rear-view mirror as he crossed the finish line. The Monegasque was sixth and a whole lap behind the Spaniard.
After that result, and with Hamilton taking the fast lap, Mercedes has secured its constructor’s title this season, getting a seat at the Olympus of the F1. This is the sixth consecutive title for the silver arrows. Their reign of the hybrid era is unparalleled.
Images of ‘Japanese Grand Prix 2019’: Mercedes & F1.com