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Tactical check GP Japan: where would Vettel have ended up without a crash?

Tactical check GP Japan 2018
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D he GP Japan was a demonstration of strength. Mercedes held all the trumps in hand, had the fastest car in the field, the best tires at the start and opponents who stumbled over their own feet. Ferrari had already weakened itself due to poor starting positions. Max Verstappen did the rest. First he boxed Kimi Raikkonen off the track, then he let Sebastian Vettel run into the trap. The result was two damaged Ferrari and Vettel at the end of the field. That gave Mercedes a quiet afternoon at the command post.

After eight laps there were no more opponents for the Silver Arrows. Verstappen was able to follow Valtteri Bottas to some extent, but he drove with the mortgage of a five-second penalty. There was no risk of an undercut for Bottas. When Verstappen exchanged his super soft tires for soft rubbers on lap 21, he was 4.2 seconds behind on the track. So in total over 9 seconds. Mercedes could afford the luxury of waiting two more laps before Bottas stopped. Bottas' lead increased by a net 1.1 seconds to 10.3 seconds.

Ferrari was on the road with heavily tattered cars after the encounters with Verstappen. At Raikkonen, various baffles were missing on the left between the front wheel and the side box, at Vettel on the right. Judging by the lap times, Raikkonen then lost one second per lap. Less downforce on the front axle destroyed the front tires. Raikkonen had to pit on lap 17 because the tires were at the end. That threw him into the traffic behind the two Force India.

Vettel lost half a second per lap due to the wounds in his car. Its speed and low tire wear are all the more astonishing. Ferrari has to admit in retrospect. With normal starting positions and a normal race one could have annoyed Mercedes. As in Sochi, the delta to the Mercedes in racing trim shrank significantly.

All or nothing for Vettel

After the race, Vettel was of the opinion that he would at least one without the crash with Verstappen the two Mercedes could have hit. Verstappen anyway: 'I was faster than him.' That begs the question of whether he shouldn't have waited better.

If he hadn't overtaken Verstappen later on the track, he would be risk-free at the pit stop stopped by. Even without an undercut. Verstappen still had his sentencedismount. Vettel would have had the advantage of soft tires over the Mercedes in the second half of the race. He was a lot faster in the long run than the medium rubbers from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

So let's take a look at Vettel's a few laps after his pit stop. Although he was immediately back in traffic, he had free travel on laps 31, 33 and 35. In all these laps he made up at least one second on the Mercedes despite his wrecked car. Even then, when he felt the turbulence of the cars in front of him again, he was around 3 tenths faster than Hamilton and Bottas.

Okay, Hamilton was able to take it easy on his tires at the front. But Bottas had to push the pace. It quickly became clear that Verstappen would be a problem for him at the end of the race. Conclusion: Even if Vettel had to queue for 20 laps behind Verstappen, it could have been worth it for him. Second place was realistic.

But Vettel wanted victory, and with a view to the World Cup, he needed it too. Therefore, from a certain point of view, his rush is understandable. Mika Häkkinen confirmed: “From Vettel's point of view, there was only all or nothing.” With Verstappen as a sparring partner, however, a risky tactic.

Bottas should stay 2.5 seconds behind Hamilton

Mercedes couldn't do much wrong at the top. Both pilots drove off on soft tires. In view of the 14 degree increase in asphalt temperatures, this was a better insurance against blistering than the supersoft rubbers of the competition. The engineers admitted: “We still had blisters on the rear tires of both cars. Despite the small disadvantage of the soft tires at the start and in the first few laps, we were more comfortable using the soft tires. The type of tire is simply more resistant to overheating. ”

Bottas was asked from the start to keep a minimum distance of 2.5 seconds from Hamilton. “That guarantees that he is to some extent spared the turbulence of the car in front. And that in turn helps the tires, ”explained the strategists.

In the second part of the race, Bottas noticed how critical it was for Mercedes in traffic. In the midst of the lapped cars, he lost significantly more speed than Verstappen. The left front tire in particular let Bottas down. That led to two brakes. In the 48th lap Bottas had to go through the emergency exit in the chicane. He was lucky that the race management turned a blind eye. Exactly on this lap, the Finn took 6 tenths off his pursuer and gained some breathing space again.

The pit stops of the two Mercedes went according to the textbook. You just let things come your way. Räikkonen's early stop dictated the tactics with Verstappen by Red Bull. The Dutchman had to drive four laps longer to get enough advantage for the penalty.

Daniel Ricciardo stayed two moreLonger laps on the track. The Australian had started with soft tires and had fought his way through the field from 15th position within 13 laps. The overcut was enough for him, too, to pass Raikkonen.

When Verstappen had turned to the pits and Mercedes was able to estimate Ricciardo's pace in clear conditions, it was time for Bottas. With a 5-second lead over his team-mate, Hamilton didn't have to worry about losing his lead due to the later tire change.

Perez won Formula 1B

In the second half of the race the positions were taken. Verstappen made up 10 seconds on Bottas, but then couldn't get past the Mercedes despite the softer tires. “I could only hope that Valtteri would make a mistake.” Ricciardo's Red Bull was put on medium tires during the pit stop. Supersoft would have been too risky over a remaining distance of 30 laps. “Our opponent was called Kimi. We were already in front of him and just had to protect ourselves against him, ”explained the Australian.

Vettel's race was over the moment he had fought his way through the field a second time and was 6th behind of 40 seconds on Raikkonen got displayed. In the end, he at least allowed himself the fun of chasing the fastest lap from Hamilton again.

The fact that Vettel overtook 16 colleagues despite damage to his Ferrari, that Ricciardo sniffed out 8 competitors in 13 laps and that Raikkonen with him An even more torn Ferrari crossed the finish line 28 seconds before the best midfield car shows that there is something wrong with this sport. The class difference between the three top teams and the rest has seldom been so blatant.

Sergio Perez won the Formula 1B race. Force India had the best speed on Sunday. HaasF1 didn't even take advantage of the better strategy. Like the Mercedes drivers, Romain Grosjean started on soft tires. The French pits 5 laps later than Perez, but he couldn't make up enough time during that phase.

Now Perez sat with a tire advantage on his neck. The Force India pilots switched from Supersoft to Soft, Grosjean from Soft to Medium. The remaining distance was too big for the super soft rubber.

Perez overtook Grosjean on the track. The HaasF1 driver complained that Perez had made up the crucial time on him under the yellow flag and in the VSC phase, but the data showed exactly the opposite. Grosjean was three tenths faster than Perez where the yellow flags were waved. And in the VSC phase he lazed around for 2 seconds. 'He should have driven two seconds faster,' explained FIA race director Charlie Whiting.

Suzuka surprises with 57 overtaking maneuvers

Toro Rosso beat himself with pit stops that were much too late. Pierre Gasly lost 5 places. Perez, Ocon, Vettel, Leclerc and Ericsson passed through the undercut. It would havecould still be enough for one World Championship point for Honda, but in the end Gasly's times collapsed dramatically due to blistering on the tires. Carlos Sainz had an advantage with his medium tires. The Spaniard stopped 3 laps later than the Toro Rosso drivers.

Suzuka is actually one of those racetracks where overtaking is a feat. But with 57 overtaking maneuvers, the GP Japan is at the top of the 2018 overtaking statistics. Despite a tailwind on the home straight, this was due to a surprisingly low overtaking delta of just over a second, and the fact that two drivers, Vettel and Ricciardo, were forced out of the pack to drive through the field from behind.

Another factor was that many drivers were on the road with different types of tires with different mileage. With the exception of the Williams drivers, the Japanese GP was a one-stop race, but the regular pit stops still extended over a span of 15 laps. It started with Raikkonen on lap 17 and ended with Sainz on lap 32.


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