2018 Japanese GP Review – By Bob Constanduros
Come on Ferrari, this is getting boring. We need a fight for the championship and for far too many races, we haven’t had it. Get a move on. Stop making mistakes and push Mercedes. Having said that, sadly, I think it’s too late. You can win as many of the last four races as you like, but I still don’t think you’ll overhaul Mercedes.
(I’m not biased – honestly – although most journalists are accused of being biased. At the risk of being hung, drawn and quartered, may I venture that fans – supporting a driver or a team – are much more biased than journalists, who are only accused of being biased when they support a rival team to that of the accuser. By definition, journalists should be impartial. And I am.)
But I digress.
The last few races have seen the ongoing litany of mistakes by Ferrari and the Japanese Grand Prix was just one of those. The result, for Sebastian Vettel, was a poor grid placing and he could never recover from that when the rival team has one-two on the grid. As I’ve said before, you can’t rely on Mercedes or their drivers to make mistakes. I’m afraid that in that area, Ferrari is slightly more predictable.
The question many are asking is why? What has happened to the team which had the best car? There are a couple of interesting theories. One is the effect of Sergio Marchionne’s demise. I must admit that I wasn’t a great fan of the chairman and couldn’t see his influence on the team but I was wrong. The outpouring of grief at his death was a major indication of his authority and the regard he was held in by others.
At the time I did wonder what effect his departure would have on the team and its performance, and the answer is quite a lot. He was beginning to analyse what was wrong with the team and was placing his backing with a new team principal. I understand Mattia Binotto was his choice, the tall, calm, Swiss-born technical chief was being given authority in areas where current team principal Maurizio Arrivabene might expect to hold sway. Ferrari’s new team chairman has reversed that authority and Arrivabene is back in charge.
And a comment by Bernie Ecclestone is also interesting, that Ferrari has become too Italian again. Bernie was in Russia and this comment came after that race, where I’m told that he had a dinner with a non-Italian very closely associated with the team. I have always thought that post-summer break, when Italians flock to the coast for a month, that Ferrari was never quite as efficient as before, after too much pasta, red wine and sun. OK, I’m being a bit unrealistic here and this only applied many years ago. But Ferrari does have a reputation for style over efficiency. I worked for them for years at their world finals day, and it seemed each year certain systems changed. ‘It’s new, it’s very beautiful,’ they would say, and I had to agree, it was – whatever it was – very beautiful. But it never worked. It reminds me of Ferrari’s launch of its new slogan. Why? Just get on with it and race. Again, I’m generalising here but it stays in the back of my mind.
Then take the comment from my old editor at Autosport, Ian Phillips, about when he and Adrian Newey – both at Leyton House – were summoned to a meeting with Mercedes in the late eighties, about a possible return to Formula One. The watchword throughout the meeting was ‘domination’. Take the Italian situation, and take Mercedes’s apparent aim, and you have the current situation in F1.
Max Verstappen tried to make a fight of it – and we must be thankful for that – but I’m wondering what some other drivers out there are thinking about their decisions for next year. What is Daniel Ricciardo thinking of Renault’s chances? A best of 13th on the grid for Carlos Sainz and tenth in the race; lack of reliability for Nico Hulkenberg. And what is Sainz thinking of his prospects at McLaren? I won’t go into the details, but it was a pretty awful weekend, as Toro Rosso with the discarded Honda power re-emerged on home ground.
One thing that I think was apparent was that at both Sochi and Suzuka the attendance figure was up on last year. I had to leave Suzuka on Sunday night and was told that attendance was 30 per cent up on last year and that traffic to the nearby station of Shiroko would be awful. Actually, I got there an hour early! When it’s quiet, it’s only a twenty minute drive and apart from crawling the first mile or so, it all went well.
But Shiroko station was unbelievable. Normally this is a quiet station but with Japan’s ever present and efficient rail system feeding a succession of fast, medium and slow trains through there at an amazing rate. There was a human tsunami washing through the station on Sunday night, and you sort of wondered where everyone was going and yet it was all orderly, well behaved and efficiently dealt with – and people seemed to be getting on trains and leaving! I was surprised at the number of Westerners, too.
Since then, we’ve had the announcement of an all-women single seater championship. I feel the same about it as I did about Formula E; ambivalent, it will happen whether I like it or not. It no doubt has its merits, lots of people are talking about segregation but that actually what is important is that women beat all the other people on a grid, not just other women. Ladies have been doing that for years; take Ellen Lohr, Michelle Mouton, Danica Patrick and others. Now we have Jamie Chadwick and Flick Haigh here in UK. Most of them are more concerned with getting more backing for their current campaigns than taking part in a specialised formula. But good luck to them, I shall watch with interest.