Lewis Hamilton re-asserts Mercedes dominance with easy Japanese win
Lewis Hamilton has eased his way to Japanese Grand Prix victory in a sedate race in Suzuka.
Hamilton duelled teammate Nico Rosberg into the first corner, seizing the racing line and demoting the German to fourth in the process, from where his victory was guaranteed.
Rosberg was left to strategise his way forward, using the pit stops to jump Valtteri Bottas for third and Sebastian Vettel for second, but was incapable of outpacing his dominant teammate for the lead, crossing the line 18.9 seconds behind him.
“I’m so happy right now,” said Hamilton. “The team did a fantastic job this weekend.
“It’s great to be back up here as a team and to get a one-two. Thanks to the teams for working so hard to make sure we got good starts.”
The win takes Hamilton level with his idol and Japanese favourite Ayrton Senna’s win tally — albeit over the course of one additional race.
“To come here to a place I used to watch Ayrton drive and equal his win, I can’t describe [the feeling].”
It was an important result for Mercedes after appearing to be genuinely lost for a cause for its dramatic lack of pace at the Singapore Grand Prix just seven days earlier.
Mercedes established an internal team to reach the bottom of the problem, and its solution to a variety of undisclosed minor problems paid dividends.
“It was definitely important for us to strike back,” acknowledged Hamilton. “The Ferraris were incredibly quick in the last race and we didn’t bring our A game.
“We had to make sure we brought it here. It’s remarkable what [the team] has done. The car was beautiful to drive today.”
Rosberg, through his podium brave face, admitted losing pole and the win was as serious blow to his title challenge, which received a small shot in the arm after Hamilton retired from the last race.
“It’s going the wrong way, definitely,” said Rosberg of his points margin to his teammate. “I had to win today, it was important, but it didn’t work out.
“I’ll have to try to win next time out.”
He took heart in his recovery from fourth, however, after ceding the racing line to the sister car.
“Lewis just got a better start,” he admitted. “It was a good battle into turn one, but in turn two he got the inside line made it stick.
“It was great to fight back to second place because fourth would not have been acceptable. Happy with the fight back, and it’s great for the team.”
Sebastian Vettel finished a quiet third, unable to challenge the Mercedes but comfortably ahead of his Ferrari teammate and chasing pack.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” said Vettel about his car, which powered him to victory in Singapore. “We knew at the start of the season these [Mercedes] boys would be difficult to beat.
“They have a great car and a great engine, but I think we are much better than people expected.”
Vettel, too, has a sentimental connection to Japan, with the Suzuka circuit being a happy hunting ground for him in his Red Bull Racing days and were he secured his second title in 2011.
“I think this is my favourite race. I love the track, I love the fans and I love the trophies — unfortunately I didn’t get a bigger one today!
“On top of that I have been with my helmet supplier Arai for 20 years. It was something very special, I remember as a child walking in, so thanks to Arai.”
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen recovered two positions against the Williams cars after a first-lap puncture sent Felipe Massa to the back of the grid and a well-timed pit stop vaulted him past Valtteri Bottas, who held on to finish three seconds further down the road.
Nico Hülkenberg led a disparate midfield, with Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, Max Verstappen, and Carlos Sainz separated by a whopping 40 seconds as the only drivers left on the lead lap at the chequered flag.
It was an agonising race for McLaren-Honda at the power unit manufacturer’s home race.
Fernando Alonso finished eleventh — just one position out of the points — but publicly derided the Japanese firm’s power plant multiple times throughout the race.
The Spaniard muttered that it was “embarrassing, very embarrassing” after he was passed on the inside and outside by Carlos Sainz and Felipe Nasr on lap four, and later shouted “GP2 engine, GP2!” on his pit-to-car radio when he lost his long battle to defend against Max Verstappen on lap 26.
Jenson Button suffered a similarly woeful afternoon in the second McLaren, finishing in P16 in what is retirement speculation suggests will be his last Japanese Grand Prix.
Between the two Honda-powered cars finished Sergio Peres, Daniil Kvyat, Marcus Ericsson and Daniel Ricciardo, who gave the quiet race a small amount of excitement in its final laps with a four-way battle for non-points paying places.
Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were particularly unhappy to be there given both qualified in the top 10.
Kvyat was forced to start in pit lane due to the amount of damage his cartwheeling crash in qualifying did to his car, while Daniel Ricciardo picked up a puncture when Felipe Massa made contact with his left-rear tyre off the start.
Felipe Massa finished seventeenth after himself requiring a changed front wing and new tyres, and thereafter never took part in the action.
Felipe Nasr was the only retirement from the Japanese Grand Prix, though was classified behind Manor’s Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens based on the number of laps he completed.
2015 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX: RESULTS
|6||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||+55.559s||8|
|9||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso-Renault||+95.315s||2|
|10||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso-Renault||+1 lap||1|
|11||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda||+1 lap||0|
|12||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||+1 lap||0|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull Racing-Renault||+1 lap||0|
|14||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber-Ferrari||+1 lap||0|
|15||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||+1 lap||0|
|16||Jenson Button||McLaren-Honda||+1 lap||0|
|17||Felipe Massa||Williams-Mercedes||+2 laps||0|
|18||Alexander Rossi||Manor-Ferrari||+2 laps||0|
|19||Will Stevens||Manor-Ferrari||+3 laps||0|