Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Valtteri Bottas wins Japanese Grand Prix as Mercedes seal record constructors' title

A day to forget for Ferrari after Vettel hesitated before the lights went out, while Leclerc had to settle for sixth

Double victory for Mercedes at the Japanese Grand Prix after Valtteri Bottas won the race and the team clinched the constructors' title. Getty Images
Double victory for Mercedes at the Japanese Grand Prix after Valtteri Bottas won the race and the team clinched the constructors' title. Getty Images

Mercedes clinched a record sixth successive constructors’ title on Sunday after Valtteri Bottas won the Japanese Grand Prix, but an early chequered flag and a collision between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have overshadowed their achievements.

Starting third on the grid, behind Ferrari pair Sebastian Vettel and his teammate Charles Leclerc, Bottas made a lightning start to seize control of the race en route to his third win of the season. Vettel - punished for his hesitation when the starting lights went out - finished second, with Bottas’ Mercedes teammate and world championship leader Lewis Hamilton completing the podium.

Leclerc’s day to forget was made even worse when, having originally finished sixth, he was handed a 15-second penalty for his clash with Verstappen which dropped him down to seventh.

The double podium finish ensured Mercedes wrapped up the constructors’ championship with four races to space.

“I’m happy, very happy,” Bottas said. “Starting third isn’t easy. I had a really nice start, managed to get the lead and then the pace was super good, I could really control the race.”

Ferrari had enjoyed a front row lock-out in a rare morning qualifying session caused by Typhoon Hagibis but their race unravelled right at the start.

Vettel twitched before the lights went out and his hesitation enabled the fast starting Bottas to leapfrog from third into the lead.

“It was my mistake” Vettel said. “I lost momentum there. Mercedes had more pace than us, was a tough afternoon to maintain second.”

Verstappen enjoyed a bullet start from fifth in the Red Bull and was overtaking Leclerc on the outside of turn two when the Monegasque drove into the flying Dutchman, causing him to spin.

“He just drove into the side of my car,” Verstappen said, clearly unhappy.

Leclerc’s front wing was damaged and with bits flying off in all directions - one demolishing the wing mirror of Hamilton just behind - he was forced to pit for a new nose at the start of lap four.

He rejoined in 18th position, fittingly a place behind Verstappen who appeared to be the helpless victim of their collision.

After the race, Verstappen accused Leclerc of irresponsible driving. The 22-year-old Dutch driver also questioned the stewards’ response, with an initial announcement that they were taking no further action before then deciding to summon both drivers afterwards.

“Suddenly into Turn Two Charles just drove into the side of my car,” Verstappen told Sky Sports. “From my side I don’t think I could have done anything different there.

“The weird thing is that initially they don’t even investigate it, I mean my whole car is destroyed. The whole side. There were just holes in the side of the car. And then they start to investigate it but now it’s after the race.

“I mean, what more should he (Leclerc) do to get a penalty? I like hard racing, but I don’t think this was hard racing. This was just irresponsible driving into Turn Two.”

The Verstappen-Leclerc clash was not the only strange incident to occur at Suzuka on Sunday, with motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, launching an investigation after the chequered flag was shown a lap early.

The blunder means that under Formula One rules the finishing positions and points will be calculated at the end of lap 52, and not the full race distance of 53 laps.

It was good news for Racing Point’s Sergio Perez who crashed at the start of lap 53 in ninth position. As a result of the error he is now classified as finishing and scores two championship points.

Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg had inherited ninth on what he thought was the final lap but now is relegated to 10th while Racing Point’s Lance Stroll crossed the line 10th at the end of lap 53 but drops to 11th and scores no points.

The day had been dubbed “Super Sunday” with qualifying and the race taking place back-to-back because of the track having been safely locked down Saturday as Typhoon Hagibis roared past.

Updated: October 13, 2019 02:53 PM

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