Quickly following on from the entertaining and thoroughly dramatic Malaysia Grand Prix comes the Japanese Grand Prix as the title fight between the Mercedes drivers continues to evolve.
The Japanese Grand Prix begins tomorrow with the free practice sessions and is the seventeenth round of the 2016 season and will be held on the iconic Suzuka Circuit.
It was looking all set that Lewis Hamilton would at the very least close the gap to his teammate Nico Rosberg in the championship. It looked like Hamilton would in fact leave Malaysia with the lead of the championship and a reasonable points gap when Nico Rosberg was collided into by the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
However the iconic F1 saying of “anything can happen in Formula 1 and it usually does” certainly applied in Malaysia as Hamilton, looking comfortable for the win, was forced into retirement as his Mercedes engine failed.
Nico Rosberg had the threat of a ten second time penalty over his head but managed to secure third which means that heading into Japan, Rosberg leads Hamilton by 23 points and puts him in a strong position for the remainder of the season as he theoretically needs only to outscore Hamilton one more time and then finish second in the other races in order to clinch the title.
However what happened to Hamilton can easily happen to Rosberg and with it can come the evaporation of his points lead in just one race. And it’s becoming the sort of season where it threatens to do exactly that at least once more before the end of 2016.
Battle of the Ferrari’s
With his win in Malaysia, Daniel Ricciardo is well on his way to claiming third in the driver standings as he is now 44 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who is in fourth.
Therefore the battle very much focuses on the two Ferraris with Raikkonen now 7 points ahead of his teammate, Sebastian Vettel. It has however changed a lot between the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers and is likely to change once again in Japan.
The Ferraris however can’t get too involved in their private battle with each other as after his podium finish in Malaysia, Max Verstappen is now 6 points behind Vettel and 13 behind Raikkonen. One bad race from either Ferrari could see Verstappen jump them in the standings.
Bottas and Perez
The Williams of Valtteri Bottas and the Force India of Sergio Perez found themselves in close company once again near the end of the Malaysia Grand Prix as Bottas finished fifth ahead of Perez who finished sixth.
It means that the gap between the two in the standings has increased slightly to 6 points in Bottas’ favour.
It is a battle that has been changing often during the recent races and is likely to once again in Japan.
Three-way battle for ninth
For the past few Driver Battles posts I have talked about the battle between the Williams’ and Force India’s with Bottas and Perez doing battle and then the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and the Williams of Felipe Massa.
However, after the Malaysia Grand Prix the battle over ninth is no longer between only Hulkenberg and Massa with the McLaren of Fernando Alonso now joining the battle having claimed two consecutive strong points finishes.
It means that Hulkenberg still holds ninth with 50 points, but it is now Alonso who is tenth (on 42 points) and Massa is now in eleventh (on 41 points).
Although you may expect over the remaining races of the season to see the battle once again be between Hulkenberg and Massa, don’t write Alonso off, especially in the short term as he has recently taken engine penalties so that he can ensure a good result in Honda’s home Grand Prix this weekend.
Scuderia Toro Rosso and the Haas of Grosjean
The Haas of Romain Grosjean is lying currently vulnerable in the driver standings in thirteenth place on 28 points. He has the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz only just ahead of him on 30 points and the other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat behind on 25 points.
It is a battle that didn’t see any movement in the last race in Malaysia as neither of the three scored points. But with Grosjean not having scored since Austria eight rounds ago all it would take is a few points finishes from Sainz or Kyvat, which both are capable of doing, to see movement in this battle.
Before covering the remaining drivers in the standings I felt it appropriate to give a special mention to Jolyon Palmer who managed to claim his first points finish of the season in Malaysia.
It has been a difficult season for Palmer and has had doubts surrounding his future in Formula 1 almost from the very beginning of the season. A therefore timely points finish to state his claim on a Renault seat for next season.
It means that Palmer has become the ninteenth driver to claim a points finish this season out of the twenty four drivers to have competed in 2016 so far.
It is also worth mentioning that thanks to Palmer, Renault achieved their first consecutive points finishes in 2016 after Magnussen claimed tenth in Singapore, the previous round to Malaysia.
There was no other movement in the driver standings with four drivers yet to score points this season. Will any of those four join Palmer and score their first points in Japan?