JAPANESE GP DRIVER RATINGS

1y ago

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Remember the fuss when Lewis Hamilton missed London Live for a few days of downtime? Before then, Hamilton's victory in Canada accounted for his only trip to the podium in four races. Since then, however, he has taken victory in five of the last seven races - and a firm grip of the title race.

His excellence since the break has been unrelenting, capitalising on every mistake and misfortune of Sebastian Vettel, to transform what was a seven-point deficit five races ago into a 59-point lead. "I could only have dreamed of having this kind of gap," he said after Sunday's win.

It was a victory the Mercedes driver was made to work hard for by Max Verstappen but the shame remains the contest was bereft of Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton, one suspects, would have fancied the fight. He has surely never been in better form or driven better and his pole lap on Saturday was nothing short of a masterclass.

Rating out of ten: 9

He has some competition from a certain championship leader, but is Max Verstappen F1's most in-form driver? The Dutchman followed his Malaysia win with an impressive second place here - and very nearly claimed an unlikely back-to-back victory.

What's more, Verstappen continues to dominate Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. He was out-qualified on this occasion, but quickly made amends in the race with a daring move down the inside of Turn One, and was soon past a struggling Ferrari as he chased Hamilton.

Hamilton kept a two-second buffer in a much stronger Mercedes for much of the race, but Verstappen was there to attack late on when the leader struggled with his tyres. But for traffic, he may well have got closer to overtake Hamilton for the second time in as many weeks.

He's had his fair share of bad luck in 2017 - but it sure is fun to see Verstappen battling at the front again.

Rating out of ten: 9

Suzuka proved a familiar tale to Malaysia for Daniel Ricciardo. Another podium, another third place, but cut adrift of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the front after losing ground at the start.

The one difference on the second leg of F1's Asian double-header was that Ricciardo qualified as the lead Red Bull, something he hadn't managed since July. But Verstappen has an unassailable 11-5 lead in that particular head to head and, in any case, the Dutchman got ahead of Ricciardo by Turn One on Sunday, with the Australian unsighted in his mirrors and leaving the door just a little too wide open. Predictably, his team-mate didn't need asking twice.

Ricciardo also dropped behind Ocon, but was back ahead by lap 11. He was six seconds behind Verstappen at that stage and only dropped two more seconds over the concluding 52 laps, although defence rather than attack became his priority in the closing laps as Valtteri Bottas homed in. Ricciardo didn't wilt and his ninth podium of the season already represents a career high.

Rating out of ten: 8

Out of form and out of confidence, this was a modest improvement from Valtteri Bottas. But it's hard to be too positive when considering the pace of his team-mate in Suzuka.

Bottas would have been pleased to qualify on the front row before his grid penalty was applied, but that must be tempered with the fact Mercedes had by far and away the most dominant qualifying car - and he was still more than three tenths of a second behind Hamilton. The only wider intra-team gaps were at Ferrari and Williams.

Bottas improved to fourth in the race after starting from sixth on the soft tyre, but didn't overtake anybody you wouldn't expect him too - and crucially couldn't find a way past Ricciardo.

"I would have hoped for him to be on the podium," admitted Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.

Rating out of ten: 6.5

Kimi Raikkonen only had himself to blame for failing to compete for a podium at Suzuka.

It was his mistake which necessitated the change of gearbox that demoted him to eleventh on the grid and into the danger zone at the race start. Off the track at the second corner, Raikkonen did a solid enough job thereafter to take fifth, but it was an average result in the context of possessing a car which had the pace to claim victory.

Rating out of ten: 6

Only Lewis Hamilton has claimed more points finishes than Esteban Ocon this season and the reliable - and very talented - Frenchman produced one of his strongest weekends yet at Suzuka to snare sixth.

The quickest Force India in qualifying by a tenth, Ocon ran third for the race's opening 10 laps before being overtaken in quick succession by Ricciardo and Bottas' faster cars. But, although Raikkonen also got by on lap 20, Ocon kept hold of sixth ahead of the quite-possibly-faster Perez as the consequence of the pair's argy-bargy earlier in the season - team orders - played out for the first time.

Rating out of ten: 8.5

Sergio Perez's radio outbursts provided some much-needed entertainment on race day, with the Mexican angry that Force India weren't allowing him to attack and overtake Ocon. But at a narrow track, this is what you get for failing to out-qualify your team-mate. And what you get for crashing twice with your team-mate in Belgium.

This was just the fifth time Perez had lost out to Ocon on a Saturday this season and it proved crucial in the race, but he still brought back valuable and impressive points for Force India. Perez hasn't finished a race outside the points since Monaco.

Rating out of ten: 7.5

Kevin Magnussen, fast becoming the 'bad boy' of F1, continued to ruffle the feather of his peers in Japan. His wheel-banging barge past Felipe Massa was so robust that it knocked the Williams so far wide that it left the door open for Romain Grosjean to sail through as well. But any criticism of the manoeuvre can only be because of Magnussen's reputation; it was legitimate, it was fair, and it was a race highlight.

Eighth place at the chequered flag accounted for Magnussen's first points since Baku on a weekend when he also had the measure of his team-mate in qualifying as well. A job very well done.

Rating out of ten: 9

Romain Grosjean has had some big crashes at recent races and the latest at Suzuka in Q1, when he dropped his car on the exit of the Esses, looked likely to compromise his weekend.

So ninth place on Sunday as part of a rare Haas double top-10 finish was a surprise, although not seemingly to the Frenchman who reckoned he would have made Q3 had he completed qualifying. He also reckoned he was faster than Magnussen in the race, but his attempts to negotiate a position swap fell on deaf cars and he followed the sister car for nearly the whole race.

​Rating out of ten: 7.5

Felipe Massa is eager to remain at Williams in 2017 and the Japanese GP was a reminder of his battling qualities. In a far from optimal car, Massa scrapped and fought for a single point.

"Felipe took a lot of damage on his car during the race," confirmed Paddy Lowe. "Even though it was only one point, it feels like one of the more difficult points we've scored."

Massa rolled back the years with his defence of 10th from Fernando Alonso in the closing stages - but it's still appears unlikely he will still be in Formula 1 next season.

Rating out of ten: 7.5

Sometimes you don't get what you deserve in Formula 1. Fernando Alonso was typically tenacious in Japan, swatting aside the inconvenience of an engine penalty to the back of the grid, to join the fight for points. And his reward? The worst final position in F1 - eleventh, one place away from the points - and a reprimand for holding up Hamilton. Talk about hitting a man when he's down.

​​​​​Rating out of ten: 8

So it's goodbye to F1 for at least the time being for Jolyon Palmer, whose 12th-place finish at Suzuka effectively summed up a nearly-but-not-quite 35-race stint on the grid. A 20-place grid penalty meant points were always a long shot when he started 18th, but he nonetheless had a solid weekend by qualifying within 0.2s of Nico Hulkenberg and then finishing on the tail of Massa and Alonso in the fight for the final point.

Rating out of ten: 6

Pierre Gasly continues to gain experience behind the wheel of an F1 car, but he will hope for much more impressive races in the future.

The Frenchman took on the baton for Toro Rosso after Carlos Sainz's early crash and was close to the points when following the Haas, but a costly lock-up at the hairpin both allowed Nico Hulkenberg through and damaged his tyres sufficiently that he needed to make an extra pitstop.

13th place was all he could manage, and it remains to be seen whether Gasly will be at the US GP with a Super Formula title up for grabs.

Rating out of ten: 6

After two consecutive seventh-place finishes - results which have propelled him above Alonso in the standings - Stoffel Vandoorne had, in his own words, "one to forget" in Japan.

A collision with Raikkonen at the first corner sent Vandoorne, promoted in the top ten after qualifying when his team-mate was demoted, to the back of the field. And that was pretty much that. Worth highlighting, though, that even though he was out-qualified by Alonso at Suzuka, there was less than a tenth between them.

Rating out of ten: 5

This was a weekend Pascal Wehrlein will want to forget in a hurry. An unbalanced car left him struggling in qualifying, with the Grosjean-triggered red flag at the end of Q1 ultimately condeming him to the slowest time. Wehrlein was the only Sauber to finish on Sunday, but a race-long struggle with the brakes left him two laps down on the leaders.

Rating out of ten: 4

DID NOT FINISH

This may be the most frustrating weekend Lance Stroll has experienced in his short time in F1.

Eliminated in Q1 after claiming to have been blocked by Perez, Stroll made a storming start and was up to 11th before being forced to pit after contact with Magnussen. That pushed him onto a two-stop race and Stroll was never truly in contention before a car failure through the Esses caused a puncture and scarily threw him off the circuit. Stroll actually did a fine job in avoiding Ricciardo's Red Bull after running over the gravel and back on-track.

Rating out of ten: 5

Sunday's second-longest first stint - 38 laps - had put Nico Hulkenberg on course to join the battle for the final points, but what should have been an attacking final stint on the supersofts was scuppered inside two laps by a broken DRS flap.

He's joined by Carlos Sainz from Austin and it'll be interesting to see if Hulkenberg's season-long superiority at Renault continues unchecked.

Rating out of ten: 7

If qualifying brought some cheer for Marcus Ericsson after he outqualified team-mate Wehrlein by 0.3s, the race certainly didn't as the Swede's interest in proceedings ended when his Sauber went nose-first into the barriers on lap seven. Ericsson was running 14th ahead of the McLarens, but in the end it counted not one jot.

​​​​​​​Rating out of ten: 5

You have to feel for Sebastian Vettel. While he quite rightly attracted criticism for his antics in Baku earlier this season, the last two weekends were completely out of his control - and his title hopes have surely slipped away as a result of Ferrari's failures.

Vettel's qualifying lap may not have been enough for the front row before Bottas' penalty, but it was as inch-perfect as Hamilton's, the master of Suzuka extracting the most out of his under-performing Ferrari.

The battle between Vettel, Hamilton and Verstappen would have been fascinating in the race, but sadly we never got to see that happen after another engine problem. But the four-time world champion, while evidently disappointed, still handled it with good grace and refused to criticise his team.

​​​​​​​Rating out of ten: N/A

A sad and rather undignified manner for Carlos Sainz to bow out from Toro Rosso as the Spaniard crashed out on the opening lap, launching an over-optimistic move in a desperate and back-firing attempt to recover from being demoted to the back of the grid.

But Renault's determination to race Sainz as early as next week's US GP, with only three practice sessions available for acclimatisation, speaks volumes about how highly they rate a driver who leaves Toro Rosso having scored 48 of their 52 points this term.

​​​​​​​Rating out of ten: 4

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Comments (8)
  • What do you have to do to get a 10/10?

    1 year ago
  • The most worrying one for me is Bottas. After signing that new deal he has just struggled so badly. Makes you realise just how good Lewis is, by comparison

    1 year ago
    • And how good Rosberg actually was, i mean i'm not a fan of the guy, but even when you take hamilton's bad luck in consideration, he still gave Lewis a run for his money. in any case more...

      Read more
      1 year ago
    • Yes, that's true. I think Rosberg was a very good driver. Not a 'great' but still very good and the perfect foil for Lewis in many ways - fast enough to push him as hard as possible

      1 year ago

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