While Ferrari fell apart once again in Japan, Lewis Hamilton pulled away. With only 100 points left on the table in 2017, Hamilton’s now 59 point lead makes him champion-elect at the next round of the season. Unbeatable in Qualifying and unreachable in the Grand Prix (even if Max Verstappen put in a great effort to catch him) there really was no stopping Lewis this weekend.
On the other hand, it was a bleak day for Sebastian Vettel’s titles hopes as he retired from the Grand Prix for the second time in three races. We were robbed once again of an epic duel between the championship rivals as Vettel was forced to retire due to engine issues, which became apparent on the grid.
Though it may not have been the most enthralling race of the season, there was an air of tension throughout the Japanese Grand Prix which certainly made it worth the early alarm call. Sometimes the possibility of something happening keeps the race almost as exciting as when things are constantly occurring on track. For example, it got pretty tense with the back markers and Verstappen in the closing stages when the Dutchman was hunting down Hamilton.
There were a couple of odd incidents in the Grand Prix for Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll. Hulkenberg’s DRS flap stuck open and forced him to retire his Renault, while Stroll’s suspension appeared to explode under braking towards the end of the race. The Canadian narrowly avoided slamming into the side of Daniel Ricciardo (who by the way took his ninth podium of the season today).
Jolyon Palmer made a surprise announcement on Saturday evening by calling time on his tenure at Renault. The British driver has faced a tough time with the media, under constant speculation that his seat was in doubt from the moment he sat in it. Palmer, despite a large dosage of bad luck, simply didn’t do enough in the car – something which is highlighted by the fact that he failed to out-qualify Nico Hulkenberg at any Grand Prix this year.
Instead, Renault will begin their relationship with Carlos Sainz early. The Spanish driver disappointingly crashed out of today’s race, which was not the send off he or his Toro Rosso team wanted. Daniil Kvyat will be back with the Italian team in Texas, though it is unclear who will be his team-mate. Pierre Gasly was never officially confirmed for any race beyond Suzuka and, while it looks likely he’ll compete in the final three Grands Prix of the year, Honda are keen for the Frenchman to finish his Super Formula season in Japan – in which he still has a high chance of taking the title. Should he be needed elsewhere over the US Grand Prix weekend, it’s a mystery as to who will be his stand in. Sebastian Buemi’s name has been thrown into the ring, as has 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi. Rossi would be a good call – it would be great to see an American driver compete on home soil once more.
Talking of driver changes, there could be lots of 2018 driver announcements coming between now and next time out. Charles Leclerc clinched the F2 title this weekend in emphatic fashion and it seems to be only a matter of time before he is announced as a Sauber driver for next season. Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso revealed to Sky that he hopes to have his 2018 plans announced before he touches down in Austin. At Williams, the team will conduct a test with Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta, reportedly at Silverstone, next week. The pair will be evaluated and will be battling it out for Felipe Massa’s seat.
The championships could be decided at the US Grand Prix. If Hamilton and Bottas both finish in the top four, Mercedes will be crowned Constructors’ Champions for the fourth time in as many seasons. Hamilton could take his fourth title in Austin, though this relies on Ferrari having another bad weekend. If Lewis wins the race and Sebastian finishes lower than fifth, the title will be decided in Texas for a second time. The title will also be Lewis’ if he finishes runner-up and Sebastian finishes ninth or lower, that is provided that Lewis’ team-mate doesn’t win the race.
The title is within grasp for Lewis Hamilton in Texas. Will he be able to deliver? Or will Ferrari be able to finally lay their gremlins to rest?