The Japanese Grand Prix was a lengthy affair of waiting between the initial two laps and then the actual restart. After a big safety issue early on, 40 minutes of racing enabled Verstappen to seal an easy win as Perez finished second and Leclerc third.
As expected on Saturday, a wet track and rain made for a interesting scene for the start of the Japanese Grand Prix.
As the lights went out, Leclerc seemingly made the best start but with Verstappen on the outside line on the quick first right-hander he managed to maintain the advantage. Leclerc stuck to second place as they seemed to run impressively quick through heavy spray but on the intermediate tyres.
In the top 10 only Perez manage to gain a position as Sainz dropped to 4th. Vettel meanwhile dropped to last as he got a touch by Alonso. His car wasn't damaged and he could continue after a spin in Turn 1.
Ricciardo meanwhile gained 3 places inthe start, Tsunoda 4, Schumacher 5, Stroll 8 and Magnussen 5. Norris and Bottas lost ground.
Thoughout the first lap several drivers found there were some tricky wet patches on the track. First Sainz lost control and crashed out at Degner 1. Then Zhou spun without damage on the exit of the hairpin and Gasly collected a advertisement board, leading him to pit and actually switch to full wet tyres. Williams' Alex Albon retired with what seemed like a technical problem also in the first lap.
While Sainz was lucky to not get hit by anyone else while standing still, his car's position triggered a safety car for a single lap before the race got red flagged. Again an interesting decision given drivers all had the ability to switch to full wet tyres if the track proved to be too wet. The FIA defended the red flag due to worsening conditions but as history proved, dusk falls quickly at Suzuka.
As everybody stood still in the pitlane Perez and Gasly were seen furious. Images revealed that under race conditions there was a recovery truck on the track. Having in mind what happened to Jules Bianchi years ago at the same track it is nothing more than logical that drivers get angry because of this.
The FIA commented: "The Safety Car had been deployed and the race neutralised. Car 10 (Gasly), which had collected damage and pitted behind the Safety Car, was driving at high speed to catch up to the field. As conditions were deteriorating, the Red Flag was shown before Car 10 passed the location of the incident where it had been damaged the previous lap."
On the back of this statement, the consensus among drivers was very different. After Sainz commented this shouldn't happen if there was going to be a red flag anyway, GPDA chairman Alex Wurz said: "I think we need to discuss a tractor on track..... we can keep it short: this must NOT happen guys"
To make matters worse, the FIA then response by summoning Gasly to the stewards to explain why he had passed the scene of the incident "at speed of up to 250km/h". Crucially, it was the FIA who decided to allow a vehicle on track before every racing car was queued up behind the safety car.
20 minutes into the stoppage, a rolling restart was announced 50 minutes after the initial starting time. Positions were: Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Ocon, Hamilton, Alonso, Russell, Ricciardo, Tsunoda, Schumacher, Stroll, Magnussen, Norris, Bottas, Latifiy, Vettel, Zhou and Gasly. Sadly, two minutes before this was scheduled to happen, race control reported to suspend the restart, meaning all drivers could again leave their cars and mechanics rebuilt the tents.
Many many minutes later with absolutely nothing to report on, another restart was announced, this time 2 hours and 15 minutes after the original starting time.
This time, the start actually happened with everybody leaving the pits on full wet tyres in a queue behind the safety car. That first lap showed how the Esses appeared considerably more dry than before while the back of the circuit at the hairpin and spoon curve were still very very wet. Esteban Ocon though quickly reported improved visibility. Perez reported some improvements as well while Bottas said visbility was not good enough when running behind other cars (which he obviously was).
Halfway through the second lap, the safety car lights went out, readying the pack for an actual restart. As the leaders recommenced the race, Vettel and Latifi both returned to the pits immediately to change to intermediate tyres.
With visibility in the spray still poor, nobody attempted an eary overaking move. Leclerc was very close to Verstappen while Perez immediately left quite a big gap, just like during the safety car where it clear he once again left more than 10 car lengths of space between himself and the car ahead (Leclerc).
As Norris and Bottas also pitted for intermediates, Magnussen was the first to make a passing move on track, taking Stroll for 11th.
At the end of that lap almost the entire field returned to the pits to change to intermediates. Alonso, Ricciardo, Schumacher and Zhou were the only ones left on full wets on lap 8. Alonso and Ricciardo pitted the next lap, bringing Schumacher in the lead. The Haas driver though was passed by Verstappen before he crossed the finish line.
Vettel's and Latifi's early tyre switches meanwhile paid off as they were 7th and 9th on lap 10.
Schumacher meanwhile continued to bet on a possible safety car but was rapidly losing ground on his full wet tyres. The German lost two positions in lap 11 and lapped 6s a lap slower than his teammate and 10s per lap slower than Verstappen and Leclerc. When Schumacher finally switched to intermediates he ended up dead last, 14 seconds vehind the car ahead of him (Zhou).
In front, Verstappen steadily built up his lead on Leclerc, increasing to 8.8s by lap 15.
In that same lap, Russell passed Tsunoda for 10th on the outside of the final section of the Esses and went on to quickly pass Norris for 9th through the chicane. Hamilton in the other Mercedes was similarly challenging Ocon for numerous laps but failed to make a move stick. Hamilton clearly lacked top speed compared to the Alpine, a problem that he highlighted after qualifying already. The same was valid for Alonso as he chased Vettel without an obvious opportunity to get past.
Russell meanwhile made another pass and moved up into 8th place after passing Latifi on lap 21, again in the same location as he caught Tsunoda.
Zhou on the other hand pitted for fresh intermediate tyres and set the fastest lap going a massive 3 seconds quicker than what any other car managed at that time. With 9 minutes left on the clock before the race ended the clock was ticking for anyone who wanted to do the same.
On lap 23 with 8 minutes left, Alonso pitted from 8th and rejoined the race in 10th place. The Spaniard immediately had a purple second sector and passed Norris for 9th and soon also got Latifi to move up into 8th.
Leclerc meanwhile struggled badly on the intermediates and was losing at 1.5s a lap to Verstappen while Perez had up come right behind him.
As Verstappen easily took victory, Leclerc eventually only just held on to second while pretty much missing the final chicane and making his car as wide as possible to prevent the Red Bull getting past. Leclerc though was later demoted to third for gaining an advantage by leaving the track.
Alonso made it back to 7th by passing Russell at the start of the final lap and nearly got Vettel for 6th but stranded at 0.011s of the Aston Martin.
Funnily, this also makes Verstappen World Champion as the FIA awards full points for this shorted race, noting the rules for reduced points only apply for a shortened race that could not be resumed.
|1||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Rbpt||28||3:01:44.004||25|
|2||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Rbpt||28||+27.066s||18|
|4||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||28||+39.685s||12|
|6||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||28||+46.358s||8|
|7||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||28||+46.369s||6|
|9||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||28||+70.143s||2|
|10||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||28||+70.782s||1|
|11||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Mclaren Mercedes||28||+72.877s||0|
|12||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||28||+73.904s||0|
|13||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Rbpt||28||+75.599s||0|
|14||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||28||+86.016s||0|
|15||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||28||+86.496s||0|
|16||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||28||+87.043s||0|
|17||10||Pierre Gasly||Alphatauri Rbpt||28||+88.091s||0|
|18||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||28||+92.523s||0|
|NC||23||Alexander Albon||Williams Mercedes||0||DNF||0|