Suzuka's comeback almost ended in human tragedy. Pierre Gasly drove past a recovery crane at a distance of two meters at 200 km/h. Max Verstappen secured the title early. Ferrari burned the tires. Sebastian Vettel used the right tactics.
No Verstappen title without controversy. In Abu Dhabi 2021, the focus was on the use of the safety car. In Japan for the award of World Cup points. Verstappen made himself Formula 1 champion prematurely and only found out about it afterwards. In the paddock, the overly complicated Formula 1 rule book had to be unpacked. It should be cleared out, everyone agrees. In our race analysis, we clarify the most important questions about the 32nd Grand Prix in Suzuka.
How do you rate the Gasly incident?
Pierre Gasly was completely beside himself. And happy to have left the Suzuka circuit alive. "I'm coming around the corner at 200 km/h and suddenly I see a recovery crane standing on the race line. I was no more than two meters away from him. If I had braked or steered sharply, I would have turned and hit the vehicle at full speed. Just like Jules eight years ago." This refers to Jules Bianchi, who collided with a recovery vehicle in Suzuka in 2014 and succumbed to his serious injuries nine months later.
The accident almost happened again. The race management under Eduardo Freitas cut an unfortunate figure. And that's putting it very carefully. Alfa-Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder said: "That must not happen. You can't leave a crane on the track in these conditions. It's far too dangerous for the drivers. It was irresponsible behavior on the part of the race management."
From his point of view, the race control should have stopped the Grand Prix when Carlos Sainz sailed into the tire wall at turn twelve on the first lap. It almost threw his Ferrari back onto the track. Lewis Hamilton didn't even see the red car as he passed it. Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto interjects: "In my view, the race should have been started directly behind the safety car. That would have given the drivers the time they needed to familiarize themselves with the track."
Visibility was too bad. The risk of aquaplaning too high. Even behind the safety car. "I was the first driver and had perfect vision," said Max Verstappen. "But if you're further back, you drive in a different way to get out of the spray. You drive left and right and don't really see anything." The drivers had already warned the race organizers in advance that special caution was called for when using heavy equipment.
The leaders didn't stick to it. Verstappen was caught by the safety car at the end of the first lap. Gasly panted after the field. He'd picked up a piece of the billboard it had thrown onto the runway in the Sainz accident.He got a new front wing after the first lap and chased after. His delta time – the limit on how fast you can be – was 20 seconds when he left the pit lane. Accordingly, the Frenchman was able to step on the gas to catch up with the field. After turn ten he is said to have been 14 seconds above the target, after the hairpin around twelve.
The moment he shot past the recovery crane on the right, the race was stopped. "Too late for me to react in time and brake my car safely while a tractor and marshals were on the race line." Gasly didn't rein in the gas foot after that. He has to take credit for that. Under red you have to slow down. There's no excuse.
After passing the scene of the accident, he exceeded 200 km/h several times by the end of the lap. The stewards accused him of once accelerating up to 251 km/h. They pronounced a penalty of 20 seconds. There was nothing more because the circumstances would have allowed the accused to drive faster. Say the sports commissioners. Gasly was also in shock after the incident. Gasly explains: "The penalty was for an infringement between turns 14 and 15. I'll take that on my cap. I slowed down, but not enough." The FIA is under pressure. The entire case is rolled out and analyzed in detail.
Why didn't anyone know that Verstappen is world champion?
The rules of Formula 1 are too complicated. In Japan, Red Bull didn't know after crossing the finish line that Verstappen was already world champion. The other teams also believed that there were only 19 points for victory, 14 points for second place and 12 points for third place. Because only between 50 and 75 percent of the race distance was pedaled. The FIA had adjusted the rules after the bankruptcy in Spa last year so that if the race was stopped, points would be awarded depending on the number of laps completed. The teams got confused by this.
The wording is crucial. Paragraph 6.5 of the Sporting Regulations states: "If a race is abandoned in accordance with Article 57 and cannot be resumed..." This has happened six times in Formula 1 history. Then there are half points. But in this case, Formula 1 resumed racing. Then the distance doesn't matter. The normal points scheme is used. It has always been like this. The FIA interpreted their rules correctly. Maybe it should be spelled out in one sentence so that everyone can understand it in the future.
Why was Ferrari upset?
The beaten congratulated fairly. "Max drove great all season. He deserves the title," said Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto. At the Scuderia, the world championship had already been ticked off. And yet you were unhappy. Again, Ferrari struggled with the decision of the race director.
Charles Leclerc crossed the finish line ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull. If the result had lasted in this form, the title decision would have been postponed. Then Verstappen would have missed a point to win. However, the stewards downgraded Leclerc shortly after the Grand Prix. They announced a five-second penalty against him because he had shortened the chicane with completely worn tires and was only able to keep ahead of the Red Bull from the point of view of the referees.
What Maranello brought up: Unlike Singapore, the decision was made in a flash. Without even listening to the drivers involved. A week earlier it had been different. At that time, Perez had allowed too much space under the safety car. A total of three times, but he was only subsequently penalized with five seconds. He was allowed to audition after the race, Leclerc was not.
"If the stewards had acted as quickly back then, we would have driven a different race. Then Charles would have divided up the tires and, from our point of view, would have won the race." Because, according to Ferrari, he would have stayed within the five seconds if he had handled the tires more carefully. As in Singapore, Ferrari refrained from protesting.
How did Vettel come forward?
Aston Martin has crawled up to seven points from Alfa Romeo. Sixth World Cup place is within reach. After the first round things looked different. After a duel with Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel sailed into the gravel bed of the first corner. "I had a very good start, but then I collided with another vehicle," says Vettel. "I really couldn't see anything. I'm not sure if I aquaplaned or made a mistake."
He was 17th when racing resumed. All drivers had to start on extreme weather tires. Like Williams, Aston Martin decided to pit immediately after the race was cleared. In the fifth round, Vettel and Nicholas Latifi picked up new intermediates. That was the faster tire. Both flushed it into the points. "The stop was quick, I pushed like hell. I overtook half the field with an undercut with this move," said the four-time Suzuka winner.
Why was Alonso pissed off?
Fernando Alonso was pissed after seventh place. There was more in it for the Spaniard. The teammate led the way with fourth place. Esteban Ocon kept Lewis Hamilton in check despite the Mercedes being much faster. Over a second. But to be able to overtake you had to have an even bigger surplus. The Mercedes also lacked top speed.
Alonso complained to his strategists: Both tire changes were done too late. So he could have benefited like Vettel the first time if he had come in on the same lap.After the second stop with seven laps to go, he ran out of laps. The Spaniard was much faster than his colleagues with fresh Inters. But he only made it back to seventh place. Had he pitted earlier, he could have finished fourth. In the photo finish he lost to Vettel by eleven thousandths. Alpine pushed past McLaren again in the Team World Championship.