2015 Japanese Grand Prix is a little Mercedes, a lot of zen
Kvyat had a hand in that, too, the Russian getting into a big accident in Q3 when he put two wheels on the grass heading into the hairpin and veered into the tire wall so hard that he flipped. That ended qualifying before a number of drivers had a chance to improve their times, Hamilton among them. That's how Valtteri Bottas got in third for Willliams ahead of Sebastian Vettel fourth for Ferrari. Felipe Massa had the second Williams in fifth, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen in the second Ferrari.
Daniel Ricciardo lined up sixth for Infiniti Red Bull Racing, a team we're going to have to enjoy watching for the rest of the season since it might not exist come 2016. Romain Grosjean gave Lotus some good news by getting into eighth, the team so strapped for cash that it couldn't get into its hospitality area, so it held press conferences outside and ate at Bernie Ecclestone's Paddock Club. Sergio Perez took ninth for Sahara Force India, and Kvyat slotted into tenth after not setting a time. The Russsian's race would begin from the pit lane once his mechanics rebuilt his car.
It wouldn't be a Formula One start lately without someone at the front having clutch problems. This time it was pole man Rosberg, whose power unit got too hot and put him a few horsepower down on Hamilton through Turns 1 and 2. That's half of how Hamilton took the lead from the lights going out, and the Brit kept it throughout the race. Rosberg, however, said his race was lost when Hamilton pushed him wide through Turn 2, a move Hamilton defended. Rosberg finished almost 19 seconds behind his teammate, a gap that probably isn't fully explained by that opening incident.
Hamilton's race was so uneventful that we almost never saw him on camera – that is, we saw him so much less than we usually see him when he's out in front and unpressured that Nikki Lauda said he'd ask Ecclestone why the cameras avoided him. The conspiracy theory holds that FOM was punishing Mercedes for not supplying Red Bull with engines next year.
After dropping to fourth at the start behind Bottas and Vettel, Rosberg recovered to take second thanks to a couple of quick pit stops that gave him the undercut on each driver. By Lap 33 of the 57-lap race Rosberg had claimed his runner-up position, and although Vettel kept on him for the remainder, Rosberg didn't flinch.
Vettel and Räikkönen, who finished third and fourth, also got ahead of Bottas, who finished fifth, thanks to the undercut when the Williams had a tire issue in the pits. We saw all of them more than we saw Hamilton, but there races weren't that much more exciting.
Nico Hülkenberg took an excellent sixth place for Force India after starting 14th on the grid – that's 11th on pace and then a three-spot drop to serve the penalty from his Singapore incident with Felipe Massa. Except for a pass on a Sauber early in the race, it all came from solid driving and quick laps that kept putting him ahead during rounds of pit stops.
The same was true for Lotus teammates Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, the latter who qualified 13th on the grid but got elevated to 12th ahead of Hülkenberg. They finished in seventh and eighth, the only exciting on-camera moment from either of them coming when Grosjean had to take to the grass at the Chicane after going in too hot. The team will welcome the result, though, and so should new owners Renault – they're getting a good outfit that just needs some love. And lots of money.
Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz rounded out the top ten and made for most of the day's excitement. Sainz qualified 12th, Verstappen in 15th. The Dutchman spent a fair few laps of his race caught behind drivers like Kvyat and Fernando Alonso, but still got some nice on-track passes on the underpowered and highly frustrated Alonso into Turn 1, and on his own teammate at the Chicane later in the race. One of Sainz's most memorable involved passing Alonso down the front straight, the other involved the bollard at pit entry, which he hit when coming in for his second stop on Lap 28. After an unscheduled change of his front wing, he did well to finish in the points.
In the battle back at Manor Marussia, American driver Alexander Rossi qualified behind his teammate Will Stevens, but finished a lap ahead of him by the finish.
The victory gives Hamilton a bit more room with five races remaining, 277 points for him compared to 229 for Rosberg and 217 for Vettel. Behind that, Ferrari will be happy to see that Räikkönen has got himself into fourth place ahead of Williams' Bottas.
On the manufacturer's side, the eighth Mercedes one-two of the season puts that team at 506 points compared to 337 for Ferrari. The next race isn't until October 11 in Russia, we'll see you then.
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