Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2018

Championship endgame nears after Vettel’s qualifying blow

2018 Japanese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Mercedes are locking down the 2018 championship.

Just a few weeks ago they looked in serious danger of losing their titles to Ferrari. But Mercedes have made strides with their W09 and their rivals in red are letting them off the hook at almost every opportunity.

Qualifying today was another case in point. Ferrari may not have had a car quick enough for the second row of the grid. But they looked capable of getting at least one car onto the front row if either of the Mercedes slipped up.

Instead Ferrari made one mistake – sending their cars out for Q3 on the wrong tyres – and their drivers compounded it with similar line errors through the Spoon curve. Result: a front row sweep for Mercedes, with their closest rival Max Verstappen’s Red Bull.

Mercedes are therefore ideally placed to control the run down to turn one and thereafter dictate proceedings in a race which, for all that Suzuka is a glorious circuit worthy of the world’s best cars and drivers, tends not to produce much in the way of overtaking.

Can anything help the opposition get a look-in? Tomorrow is expected to be warmer than at any stage so far this weekend. This introduces an element of the unknown and higher track temperatures are something the W09 hasn’t always coped with well – remember Austria.

However Mercedes has also bought itself the advantage of starting the race on the harder, soft compound tyres. Curiously, so has Romain Grosjean, in a bold decision by Haas (one which his team mate didn’t manage to capitalise on). Grosjean has therefore put himself in a strong position to bag maximum ‘best of the rest’ points for Haas.

Charles Leclerc, Sauber, Suzuka, 2018
Leclerc is well-placed on new tyres
The warmer conditions may be bad news for those who will start on old super-softs: both Ferraris, Force Indias and Toro Rossos, plus Verstappen. Meanwhile Charles Leclerc has been promoted to 10th on the grid and is likely to start the race on a new set of softs, making him an obvious threat to Grosjean. Sauber stunned Haas with their race pace in Sochi, and have usually been quicker on Sundays than Saturdays.

Heading into the weekend Sebastian Vettel stressed that while his championship hopes were dwindling the team had to make sure they were ready to capitalise on any potential problems for Mercedes. This they have clearly failed to do, as he starts eighth.

What can Vettel salvage from there? It’s hard to imagine him preventing Hamilton from extending his 50-point championship lead to the extent that a coronation in North America becomes realistic. If Kimi Raikkonen gets past Verstappen at the start Vettel could be looking at no better than fifth.

On paper there’s little to suggest Hamilton isn’t going to run away with this one. Unless Suzuka produces a shock, then for the second year running the championship is likely to be over much sooner than expected.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’28.7021’28.017 (-0.685)1’27.760 (-0.257)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’29.2971’27.987 (-1.310)1’28.059 (+0.072)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’29.4801’28.849 (-0.631)1’29.057 (+0.208)
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’29.6311’28.595 (-1.036)1’29.521 (+0.926)
5Romain GrosjeanHaas1’29.7241’29.678 (-0.046)1’29.761 (+0.083)
6Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1’30.2481’29.848 (-0.400)1’30.023 (+0.175)
7Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’30.1371’29.810 (-0.327)1’30.093 (+0.283)
8Esteban OconForce India1’29.8991’29.538 (-0.361)1’30.126 (+0.588)
9Sebastian VettelFerrari1’29.0491’28.279 (-0.770)1’32.192 (+3.913)
10Sergio PerezForce India1’30.2471’29.567 (-0.680)1’37.229 (+7.662)
11Charles LeclercSauber1’29.7061’29.864 (+0.158)
12Kevin MagnussenHaas1’30.2191’30.226 (+0.007)
13Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’30.2361’30.490 (+0.254)
14Lance StrollWilliams1’30.3171’30.714 (+0.397)
15Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’29.806
16Nico HulkenbergRenault1’30.361
17Sergey SirotkinWilliams1’30.372
18Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’30.573
19Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’31.041
20Marcus EricssonSauber1’31.213

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton30.913 (2)39.588 (1)17.253 (2)
Valtteri Bottas30.895 (1)39.708 (3)17.287 (3)
Max Verstappen31.361 (4)40.040 (5)17.441 (5)
Kimi Raikkonen31.460 (6)39.882 (4)17.199 (1)
Romain Grosjean31.418 (5)40.552 (13)17.501 (7)
Brendon Hartley31.818 (12)40.401 (10)17.573 (9)
Pierre Gasly31.703 (8)40.442 (11)17.625 (12)
Esteban Ocon31.794 (10)40.258 (8)17.466 (6)
Sebastian Vettel31.268 (3)39.681 (2)17.330 (4)
Sergio Perez31.671 (7)40.367 (9)17.529 (8)
Charles Leclerc31.803 (11)40.215 (7)17.578 (11)
Kevin Magnussen31.757 (9)40.743 (17)17.577 (10)
Carlos Sainz Jnr31.880 (13)40.670 (14)17.686 (17)
Lance Stroll31.936 (14)40.710 (16)17.671 (15)
Daniel Ricciardo31.963 (15)40.195 (6)17.648 (14)
Nico Hulkenberg32.106 (18)40.443 (12)17.671 (15)
Sergey Sirotkin31.963 (15)40.702 (15)17.707 (19)
Fernando Alonso32.065 (17)40.808 (18)17.700 (18)
Stoffel Vandoorne32.204 (19)40.914 (19)17.830 (20)
Marcus Ericsson32.521 (20)41.050 (20)17.642 (13)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari306.2 (190.3)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes304.6 (189.3)-1.6
3Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari304.3 (189.1)-1.9
4Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes304.3 (189.1)-1.9
5Charles LeclercSauberFerrari302.6 (188.0)-3.6
6Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes302.3 (187.8)-3.9
7Sergey SirotkinWilliamsMercedes300.2 (186.5)-6.0
8Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari299.5 (186.1)-6.7
9Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes299.2 (185.9)-7.0
10Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes299.0 (185.8)-7.2
11Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari297.7 (185.0)-8.5
12Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari297.3 (184.7)-8.9
13Brendon HartleyToro RossoHonda296.6 (184.3)-9.6
14Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda295.1 (183.4)-11.1
15Fernando AlonsoMcLarenRenault294.8 (183.2)-11.4
16Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenRenault294.7 (183.1)-11.5
17Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer294.5 (183.0)-11.7
18Carlos Sainz JnrRenaultRenault291.0 (180.8)-15.2
19Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer290.8 (180.7)-15.4
20Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault290.2 (180.3)-16.0

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Remaining tyres

Lewis HamiltonMercedes101112
Valtteri BottasMercedes101103
Sebastian VettelFerrari101013
Kimi RaikkonenFerrari101013
Daniel RicciardoRed Bull101032
Max VerstappenRed Bull102003
Sergio PerezForce India101004
Esteban OconForce India101004
Lance StrollWilliams101113
Sergey SirotkinWilliams101122
Carlos Sainz JnrRenault101014
Nico HulkenbergRenault101023
Pierre GaslyToro Rosso101004
Brendon HartleyToro Rosso101004
Romain GrosjeanHaas100203
Kevin MagnussenHaas101113
Fernando AlonsoMcLaren102022
Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren102112
Marcus EricssonSauber101041
Charles LeclercSauber101014

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Over to you

Where do you think Vettel will finish? Can Verstappen hold off the Ferraris – or even get between the Mercedes?

Share your views on the Japanese Grand Prix in the comments.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix

Browse all 2018 Japanese Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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27 comments on “Championship endgame nears after Vettel’s qualifying blow”

  1. Max Verstappen on the softer tyre and thus more grip could try to take the lead or second in the first corner.

    Should be an interesting start.

  2. All in all the title challenge from this overrated driver is nothing more than a damp squib 2nd year running.

    1. Will mark this comment down as one to reply when the tables turn. Shouldn’t kick a man when he’s down.

      1. Thats exactly when you should kick a man.

  3. Presumably Leclerc could get past Vettel at some point early in the race, at the start maybe if Vettel gets stuck in traffic or after Vettel’s earlier pit stop. If so it’ll be interesting to see how easy he makes it for Vettel to re-pass.

  4. Looking forward to the start with Max.

    1. Yep, If Max has one of a rush has blood moment, he could take Hamilton out to give Vettel a desperately needed lifeline, but i don’t think so.

      On the other hand if Hamilton wins and Vettel finishes fifth, or worst, on a track which is difficult to overtake, Hamilton could have the Championship wraped up by the next race.

      eg Hamilton could have more than 75 points on Vettel with 3 races left.

      Top four for this race. Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen ?-)

      1. I don’t see why Max would do that, he is rarely involved in incidents at the start of races.

        1. Actually, an average. the first lap incidents he’s been involved in, he’s been the innocent party.

          But then, there’s still a plethora of people who blame him 100% for the Singapore 2017 crash. Because of his inability to make his car intangible apparently.

  5. I’m not sure I’d say Ferrari are letting them off the hook. Listen to what’s coming out of the Mercedes camp, they’ve been talking about finally understanding car & tyre and that has now allowed them to go into race weekends knowing how to setup the car. They’ve clearly made strides and by doing so, they’re now starting to exert sustained pressure on Ferrari.

    Sure Ferrari have made errors, so too Mercedes, especially in the opening half of the season. But they’re now operating like a team that has won the last 4 double titles & Ferrari as a team that hasn’t won anything in a decade.

    1. @KGN11 Exactly, Mercedes deserve nothing but praise for the way they’ve improved all season. Ferrari did throw away points earlier and they ended up, like last year, having to take aggressive (risky) options to regain the initiative. Just like last year, the percentages don’t work for them. But Mercedes worked on their earlier strategy mistakes (though Wolff arguably overmanaged at Sochi when they failed to pit Hamilton in time) and resolved tyre wear and cornering issues. At the same time, Hamilton has shown his skill in pacing a season, hitting his best form mid-season and continuing. I thought, actually, Suzuka could have seen a dip with the end in sight, but so far no signs of relenting. His best season in Formula 1.

      1. In the article Keith like nearly every single media outlet talks about how Mercedes struggles with tyre ware, however the stats says otherwise. He referenced Austria, all whilst ignoring that nearly everyone with the exception of Kimi & partly Max, suffered with excessive tyre ware. Why no mention of the Ferrari’s in Spain or Monza? Look at Friday practice, it was the Ferrari’ that showed severe blistering on both the S & SS. Mercedes have also addressed how their car works in hot conditions as well.

        They’ve weathered the storm in the early part of the season, dealt with the criticism that came after making poor decisions in Australia, Bahrain, China, Austria and Silverstone. But Lewis was there still healing pressure and consistently scoring wins and podiums. Now they’re operating at an efficient level and that’s now forcing errors from both Ferrari and Vettel.

  6. Where do you think Vettel will finish? – 5th or 4th depending on whether his teammate gets past Verstappen or not.
    Can Verstappen hold off the Ferraris – or even get between the Mercedes? – Yes to the first part, but no to the second.

    1. Without and incident at T1, 4th will be the minimum, max 3rd.

    2. Good point. If Raikkonen gains a position, i can’t see him dropping back two places to let Vettel close the gap to Hamilton.

      In fact it might even be in Mercedes interest to have Bottas gift Raikkonen that position, and then hold station just to maintain that gap between Hamilton and Vettel.

      Manufactures points, for Driver Championship points? This assumes Raikkonen doesn’t get the jump and then slow everyone down to allow vettel a chance of an under-cut. ;-)

      1. To be honest, I don’t see the point of Ferrari using team orders from now onwards. They had their chance but wanted to prove to the world otherwise and failed. Their only hope at the moment is to give Raikkonen full priority because his rival (Bottas) is only 3 points ahead. Vettel has nothing to lose at the moment.

        1. Bottas with 3 races to end the season on a high… i can’t wait,

          of course Hamilton still has the formalities to complete. ;)

          I hope it rains tomorrow…. if only to see Vettel in the wet with the back markers also having something to drive for.

  7. Ferrari is not in the position they should have been if they had started qualifying on the correct tyres – I expect Kimi to overtake Max at start and Vettel in due course to overtake all in front of him to end up in 3rd – I presume Kimi will allow Vettel to pass painlessly – if not Vettel will be 4th.

    1. If Kimi overtakes Max, do you really think Max is going to rollover for Vettel?

      Team orders between Kimi and Vettel will only come into play if Vettel is second to Kimi, until then Vettel will likely be stuck in fifth, 15 points behind Hamilton.

      If this race ends with Hamilton having a 65 points advantage, then Mercedes would only need another 1 / 2 to complete the drivers Championship. That in my opinion is when things get exciting.

      With the manufacturers undecided and no team orders at Mercedes or Ferrari we should see reverse of roles for their respective wingmen.

  8. Raikkonen cant even back hamilton up. His tyres are softer he will pit before lewis.

  9. All theory is good and fun, but out on the track, Mercedes are far faster than Ferrari now.

    Very hard to overtake, and harder still to even catch them.

    Only way this championship goes alive is. Max tangling with Lewis in the first corner…

    1. Yes, imo verstappen needs to try everything to get past the mercedes and win the race, he has nothing to lose; sure, mercedes seems really fast and might try to jump him in the pits, but I hope for a good start from verstappen, it’s the only way to make the race interesting, mercedes would have to play conservatively with him, or they risk to reopen the title challenge which, for everyone who has experience with statistics, is already over.

      1. Nell (@imabouttogoham)
        7th October 2018, 0:30

        Max will want the podium – what would he gain with a move that’s potentially going to end up with him in the gravel trap? He’s aggressive but not an idiot.

        He’ll want to keep Kimi behind and potentially jump Bottas with the undercut if he’s within distance.

  10. This is why endgame happened already and not much Ferrari can do about it…

    although Scarborough (also anyone apart from Ferrari and FIA) doesnt know the full story, but everything pointing to one direction that is double battery set up weirdly allowing Ferrari to get extra long/high power from electric bits that are beyond capped limits…

    so there was some sort of cheat going on, and without much publication, they sorted it out, and Ferrari has shown its displeasure about the news being leaked despite not in full details..

    1. YellowSubmarine
      7th October 2018, 4:24

      Thanks for this video, @mysticus. Fantastic explanation of the technical details. Great stuff!

  11. I love it when a plan comes together – Hamilton 25 points, Vettel 8 points

Comments are closed.