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2016 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX

 

Can Nico smell victory?SMELLS LIKE – VICTORY

 

 

 

  It may have been a line from one of my favourite films but surely Nico Rosberg must be able, if not to taste it, but be able to detect the faint aroma of a world championship after his dominant performance at Suzuka on Sunday. Nico topped all three practice sessions, the second and third qualifying sessions and led all but five laps of the race to push his championship lead out to 33 points. The only session he did not top was first qualifying where he still came in third on the harder and slower “medium” tyres, saving his softs for later use. With just four rounds to go, even if he came home second behind Hamilton in every race he would win the title. Hamilton needs Rosberg to have a terrible weekend somewhere to bring his championship hopes back from the brink.

 

 

  But the luck you need to become a champion just keeps going Nico’s way and the terrible weekends just seem to keep falling on Hamilton’s shoulders. OK Lewis was out-performed by Nico at Suzuka but it was still another bit of bad luck that required him to battle back from an early eighth place instead of chasing Nico hard in second and possibly forcing an error. For whatever reason after overnight rain, the track on the inside line of the main straight did not dry completely by race time and all the front runners on that side of the grid slithered away from the line dropping placings like hot dog turds in the summer. Hamilton and Ricciardo copped it worst while really only Vettel made a reasonable start from that side of the grid. And that set the tone of the race.

 

  So long as Nico kept going there was no real chance that Mad Max was going to catch him and Max’s fight early in the race was more about keeping Vettel behind than eyeing off Rosberg. Ricciardo was blighted by an engine issue that left him struggling to hit top pace after exiting tight turns; ie the hairpin and spoon bend so he was always looking behind him while Lewis fought back to fourth by lap 15 after the first round of pit stops. From there he was just whittling down the gap to the V twins. Ferrari were intending to send Vettel out on softs for the final stint hoping not only that he would be the faster of the trio but that they would last as much as 18 laps. They didn’t. And so although Seb led for five laps he lost out to the undercut as Hamilton pitted earlier and he eventually dropped about 15 seconds by the end as Hamilton closed on Verstappen.

 

  With not long to go the Silver Sling was with the Red Rag and Max was defending second doggedly. The traction of the Red Bull onto the start finish straight was so good that even with DRS Lewis was not able to be in a position to attempt a pass into turn one and the Red Bull had been mega through the twists and turns of sector one all weekend. For lap after lap, by the time Lewis was able to get back into an attacking position the pair would be entering the final chicane and upon exit, Max would apply that traction and the dance would start all over again. It was all clean and hard and fair. Until the second last lap that is. Lewis got a better run out of the Spoon bend and was tucked up Max’s tushy through 130R. As Max took the normal line to enter the chicane Hamilton went for the gap on the inside. As Max has unfortunately done too often he then swerved in the braking zone to block Hamilton who had to stand on the brakes and jink to his left to avoid a collision, and went skittering down the escape road. So Max finished second – in very dubious circumstances, and Lewis third.

 

  Every so often I have had a go at Hamilton for not being the best of sports when he hasn’t won, but for once I am going to have to whinge that he has been too good a sport. Poor bastard can’t win sometimes. Mercedes immediately, and I believe quite rightly, appealed Verstappen’s driving and the stewards were going to hear the appeal before the next race in Austin. And Max’s defensive driving needs to be brought into line before someone gets hurt so a hearing before the stewards where he may have been given a penalty would have been a good thing for the long term. Unfortunately this will not now take place because Lewis did what I have wanted him to do for so long and took his defeat in good grace and asked Mercedes to drop the appeal saying, “this is not what we do”. Timing, as they say, is everything.

 

  In other news, don’t be surprised to hear by the end of the week that one of Force India’s drivers will be off to Renault next year. But not Perez. A little birdie tells me that Hulkenberg has agreed terms and just needs to negotiate his exit from Force India which should not be too much of a problem. That is probably why Magnussen has been left dangling for the last few weeks. My gut feeling is that if Renault is going to keep either of their existing drivers it is more likely to be Palmer or try to get Esteban Ocon. Ocon however, being contracted to Mercedes, is now more likely to head to Force India than Renault. Mind you, Williams are twiddling their thumbs somewhat in exercising their option over Bottas who apparently is also in talks with Renault just in case. Who said the silly season was over?

  One concrete piece of news is that as of season end, Mark Webber will be hanging up his helmet as a professional racing driver. A bit sad for all of Mark’s legion of fans as he seems to have really started to click as a sports car driver but hey, he is going out on while still at the top of his game and with at least one World Championship to his name. Thanks for the memories Mark, pity about Le Mans.

 

Sam Snape

 

11-10-2016

 

For full results go to; http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php/the-database/formula-1-races/2010-2019/2016-formula-1?limit=20&limitstart=20