The Undercut: The Lewis vs Seb title battle loses its spark in Japan
The saying says that, it ain't over until the fat lady sings, so right now we can assume she is having a gargle and giving her throat a good clear in readiness. The drivers' championship, looking so good for Sebastian Vettel before the summer break, is all but out of his hands now.
The maths are simple, if Lewis Hamilton wins next time out in Austin and Vettel is lower than fifth, then Lewis joins Sebastian as a four time world champ. It is just a shame for the fans that what was promising to be a down-to-the-wire battle has been decided by spanner problems.
It has to be said, especially for those of us who got up in the small hours to watch it, that the Japanese Grand Prix was a bit of a dull affair, wrecked by a £25 spark plug going wonky on Seb’s Ferrari. Things go wrong of course, this is complicated stuff but you have to wonder if the guy in charge of quality control at Maranello actually came back to work after his holiday.
As you’ll know by now, unless you were on the Moon over the weekend, Vettel was out by lap six leaving Lewis to canter off to an easy win. For us in TV land, already struggling to stay awake it all became a bit predictable.
Only on lap 51 of 53 did it come to life when Max Verstappen began to close in on Hamilton but it came to nothing, Hamilton on the top step and the Red Bull pair filling the remaining podium spots.
Elsewhere, Marcus Ericsson, perhaps out of sheer boredom, contrived to crash out all on his own, while Lance Stroll stuffed his Williams in the barrier after a wheel failure and then nearly collected Daniel Riccardo as he bounced back on track. New underpants probably required for both there.
Talking of bouncing back, the Haas team had a pretty good weekend after a pointless and very expensive, damage-wise, Malaysian race. Eighth for Kevin Magnussen and ninth for Romain Grosjean, a handy double points finish but not before Grosjean had further added to Gene Haas’s carbon fibre bill with a big shunt in qualifying.
Honda’s home race was as dire as can be expected, in fact the less said about it the better. Even Fernando Alonso didn’t seem to be bothered with his usual complaining on the radio. The end of this nightmare cannot come soon enough.
The race apart, we saw a few changes on the driver front. Carlos Sainz will leave Toro Rosso early and will put Jolyon Palmer out of his misery at Renault. Palmer being interviewed by Sky F1 in the paddock after another pointless (in more ways than one) race actually seemed relieved to be out. You can assume that a large financial sweetener is helping here.
As for what exactly is going on at Toro Rosso on the driver front for the next race is anybody’s guess. Daniil Kvyat’s replacement, Pierre Gasly, was confirmed by the team for Austin, with Kvyat, who must feel like an inter-changeable part coming back in.
However, not long after the announcement, it was suggested that Gasly was under contract to finish the Japanese Super Formula season for Honda, who stand to lose that title to fierce rivals Toyota. Then, Honda said they didn’t mind if he stayed on in F1. Confused.com should sponsor this lot.
Anyway, we’ll let them worry about that. We have a couple of weeks respite before the action kicks off again in what could be the title decider. Bring it on…
PS: Don't forget to join in the live video chat with the Lake Braking boys to discuss the Japanese GP and all things F1, at 7pm BST in the F1-Live chat channel.