Valtteri Bottas scored his first Formula 1 victory in over five months as Mercedes were crowned champions once again in the Japanese Grand Prix. 

Bottas’ first win since April’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix will prove an important personal milestone as he notched up a third victory of the year to help Mercedes clinch its sixth consecutive constructors’ title at Suzuka

Here are some of the main talking points from the Japanese Grand Prix…

Bottas 2.0 returns, Mercedes celebrates 

After winning two of the opening four rounds of the season and holding a championship lead for the first time in his F1 career, Bottas quickly saw himself dubbed as ‘Bottas 2.0’. 

But a mighty resurgence from teammate Lewis Hamilton in the following months has resulted in the pendulum of momentum swinging dramatically in the Briton’s favour, with Hamilton going on to pick up nine victories in total so far. 

After coming close at the British Grand Prix - where he lost out on strategy - Bottas finally ended his barren winless run in Japan with an impressive display throughout the weekend. 

The Finn outpaced Hamilton in both practice sessions and again in qualifying on Sunday, before a lightning-quick start from third enabled him to leapfrog the sluggish Ferraris into the lead. 

Perfecting a two-stop strategy, Bottas went on to seal his third win of 2019 as Mercedes wrapped up its latest constructors’ triumph to maintain its remarkable 100 percent unbeaten record throughout the V6 hybrid era. 

The German manufacturer is now guaranteed to create further F1 history by becoming the first team ever to win six straight world championship doubles, with the drivers’ title fight left to an exclusive intra-team battle at Mercedes. 

Bottas, who will now achieve the highest-ever finish of his career, has trimmed Hamilton’s comfortable points advantage down to 64. With just 104 points left up for grabs in the final four rounds, Bottas needs a miraculous turnaround if he is to change the destiny of this year’s championship, with Hamilton edging ever-closer to his sixth crown. 

Despite his large deficit, Bottas is not quite ready to give up on his title dream just yet. 

“I don’t think there’s any reason to give up as long as there is a theoretical chance,” Bottas said.

“So, it’s possible, but I’m realistic as well and I would need to be very lucky – that’s a fact – to win all the rest of the races. 

“It’s mostly my bad that I’m this much behind compared to Lewis, it’s my fault and I’ll have to work on it for the future. 

“For now, I’ll just take it race-by-race and see what happens.”

Ferrari pace ominous

Ferrari once again unleashed electrifying pace as it swept to a front-row lockout in commanding style at Suzuka, with Mercedes having no answer to the one-lap performance of the SF90 despite looking well-placed after Friday practice. 

But, like on many occasions this year, Ferrari’s race unravelled. What should have been a 1-2 finish ended up only being a second and seventh after both polesitter Sebastian Vettel and teammate Charles Leclerc lost out off the line with slow starts. 

Both dropped behind Bottas, while Leclerc got involved in a clumsy collision with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at Turn 2, leaving his car heavily damaged. Leclerc recovered well to take sixth, but was shuffled back to seventh in the final classification after picking up a 15-second time penalty for the incident with Verstappen and failing to pit with a damaged car early on in the race. 

Vettel faired better despite bogging down off the line and failing to convert his first pole since June’s Canadian Grand Prix, as he fended off a late attack from Hamilton to seal second place. 

While Ferrari may have lacked the edge in terms of race pace as it threw away another golden chance to win, its straightline speed advantage over Mercedes was key in Vettel’s defence against a charging Hamilton. 

Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto said the team will review how its race unfolded in Japan, adding: “I think we need to review what was wrong, why we did some mistakes, and certainly why the pace was not good enough. At the end, we need to be the best as well in the pace.”

Despite claiming a second win on the bounce, Mercedes will be left concerned by the Scuderia’s recent qualifying supremacy - having taken five successive poles and two front-row lockouts - with Ferrari’s 2019 challenger proving increasingly-difficult to pass once it is out front in clean air.

Ferrari’s development turnaround and aerodynamic progress since the summer break also bodes well for 2020. Can it carry its resurgence into a long-awaited title push next season?

No home joy for Honda

Honda’s home race did not quite go to plan with Alexander Albon’s fourth-place finish the best Red Bull could muster in what proved to a frustrating race for the team. 

Red Bull had high hopes of challenging for a podium at the very least with its latest engine and fuel upgrade at Suzuka, and the weekend got off to a promising start when both drivers showed glimpses of potential throughout practice. 

But in qualifying a third-row lockout (some 0.787s off the pace) was the best that could be achieved, before things went south at the first corner as Leclerc sent Verstappen spinning off with an over-ambitious move. 

Verstappen sustained heavy damage which ultimately resulted in him retiring, while Albon turned in a strong drive to achieve the best result of his F1 career to date, just one position shy of the podium. Nevertheless, there was a real sense of disappointment in the Red Bull camp on Sunday evening, having arrived in Japan expecting great things. 

“I think we had a good chance of being on the podium again especially after such a good start, which would have been amazing for all the Honda fans supporting us,” Verstappen concluded.  

“We are definitely improving and the gap is closing but there is still more work to do before Mexico.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “Leaving Suzuka with a fourth place and a DNF is slightly disappointing at Honda’s home race after such a fantastic turnout from a very enthusiastic crowd.”

Sainz stars again for impressive McLaren

Carlos Sainz Jr continued what is turning out to be a sensational season for the McLaren driver with another strong display to capture fifth place in Japan. 

The Spaniard spent most of the race battling Albon and only lost out to the Red Bull driver once he made a second pit-stop, with Sainz carrying out a one-stop strategy. He also impressively held off Leclerc’s Ferrari en route to clinching fifth spot. 

Sainz now occupies the ‘best of the rest’ tag in sixth place in the championship, with only drivers from F1’s top three teams sitting ahead of him in the standings. 

His 76-point haul is by far the greatest of his F1 career so far, and Sainz reckons he is driving better than ever before, having made gains with McLaren’s MCL34 as the season has progressed. 

“I just get to know the car now in the second half of the season, also in qualifying, I’m understanding the car a bit better,” he explained. 

“I’ve set it up more to my liking, and also both in qualifying and in the race, we’re a bit stronger on pace.” 

The result also strengthened McLaren’s grasp on fourth place in the constructors’, with the Woking squad holding a 34-point buffer to closest rivals Renault with four races remaining. 

 

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