In the end, Lewis Hamilton made it look like a routine drive. He suffered no drama this time out, after taking the lead at the first corner to take his 41st Formula 1 win from team mate Nico Rosberg and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. This was a victory with even more personal significance as it leaves him level with his all-time idol, Ayrton Senna.
This year’s Japanese Grand Prix thankfully didn’t throw up the tragedy of last year, this weekend a painful reminder of Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash nearly one year ago. However, it didn’t provide as much excitement as years gone by, no flashpoints or drama to really speak of after the first turn.
Saturday qualifying was a little more dramatic, with pole position being decided by a red flag caused by Daniil Kvyat’s huge accident in the Red Bull with just 36 seconds to go. Almost by default, Rosberg seized the top spot, with many having to halt flying laps. And bar an anomaly last time out in Singapore, it was the familiar sight of a Mercedes front row lock out, with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas waiting to pounce on any troubles in third.
And so to race day, the iconic Suzuka circuit bathed in glorious sunshine after a little overnight rain, the fanatical crowd ready to see an action packed race. And once Hamilton shuffled and squeezed his way past Rosberg at the exit of Turn 2 on the first lap, it looked like they’d get it, however to no avail; Hamilton controlling the race with supreme ease, always keeping Rosberg or Vettel at more than an arm’s length with no Safety Cars or altercations to be seen for 53 laps.
But, I promise you the racing elsewhere wasn’t as processional. Just 50 yards into their respective races, the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and the Williams of Felipe Massa made wheel-to-wheel contact, both suffering punctures for their troubles, all but ending their race instantaneously.
And there was more drama for McLaren at the home of Honda, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button fighting to eke some power from the woefully underdeveloped power unit, Alonso at one stage shouting down the radio “This is a GP2 engine, GP2 engine”. His exasperated sigh at the end summarised his race as he fought tooth and nail for eleventh, only one place away from a precious World Championship point. For Button it was much the same, frustrated and stifled for the whole race, seeing everyone bar the Manor cars passing him with consummate ease. One feels this will do nothing to convince him to stay for just one more year.
Elsewhere, the Toro Rosso duo of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz enjoyed a little more action in their races, Sainz running as high as 4th at one stage, spending the rest of his time battling Alonso, Sergio Perez and Verstappen. In the sister car, the young Dutchman in his last race before turning 18 recovered from the adversity of having a grid penalty for parking in a dangerous place in Qualifying, producing some incisive and daring moves that has become his trademark in his rookie year on his way to ninth, just ahead of Sainz. It won’t be too long before he would be able to walk into a top team and give anyone a run for their money.
In the end, the double World Champion won by a gap of around 18 seconds over Rosberg back in second and Vettel claimed the final podium position. Kimi Raikkonen had an uneventful race in fourth and Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top 5 with again, a quiet but very solid drive.
But on a day that Rosberg said he “had to win”, he simply couldn’t do enough to overhaul the supreme Hamilton who now extends his championship lead to a massive 48 points over the frustrated German and a further 11 points over Sebastian Vettel who is clearly the biggest threat to the Mercedes dominance.
So, the Formula 1 road show moves to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks where who knows, Mercedes could wrap up the title, their mysterious lack of form in Singapore looks all but a mere one-off.
Full race standings: http://www.formula1.com/content/fom-website/en/f1-live.html#leaderboard
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/therealjeagles