By Clemmie Hatfield
This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix saw Nico Rosberg tighten his grip on the championship title, extending his lead to 33 points with only 100 points available in the remaining four races. Rosberg dominated the weekend; he was fastest in all practice sessions, secured pole position from Hamilton and then cruised to victory on race day. The Mercedes first and third finish meant that Mercedes, rather unsurprisingly, secured the constructors championship for the third year in a row.
Hamilton had needed to win this race to put himself realistically back in contention for the championship title after last weekend’s disastrous engine fire in Malaysia. Hamilton had managed to claim second position in qualifying, however he was not able to capitalise on this dropping to eighth after a slow start. Toto Wolff claimed: “our first assessment is it didn’t function well on the clutch release.” However, Hamilton himself put it down to driver error and said that he simply had made a mistake off the start.
An inspiring move from Mercedes’ team strategists to keep Hamilton out slightly longer than the other front runners, coupled with controlled, expert driving from Hamilton allowed him to climb back to second with nine laps to go. Hamilton managed to close in on Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with nine laps to go but the Dutchman emphatically defended his position. On the penultimate lap Hamilton made one, final attempt at overtaking but overshot the corner and missed his chance. Mercedes lodged a complaint against Verstappen after the race claiming he’d “moved under braking” but they later withdrew their complaint with Hamilton later tweeting that it was not “what they do” and that they are champions and move on.
Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel drove strongly having suffered a 3-grid place penalty for shunting Rosberg at the preceding Malaysian Grand-Prix and in the end just missed out on a podium finish having been held back in traffic behind slow back markers. Daniel Ricciardo, who won in Malaysia, came sixth while Force India pulled further away from Williams in the battle for fourth place in the Constructor’s championship with their seventh and eighth finish.
Hamilton now needs Rosberg to have retirements while he himself wins races; Rosberg can afford to come second to Hamilton in all the remaining races and still win the championship title. Questions have been raised about Hamilton’s behaviour off the track this weekend; he was criticised for snapchatting during a press conference and walked out of another without answering any questions, claiming he wanted to limit his press conferences in the future. Whether this behaviour is a frustrated reaction to his dwindling title hopes or more simply just a frustration with press and media conferences is anyone’s guess. Either way, with four races remaining anything could still happen. The end to the season looks to be shaping up as an exciting finale with all the drivers back on track in Austin on 21-23 October.