2018 Russian GP Review & Japanese GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
Curiously, I’m ambivalent to the argument currently raging about the team orders ordained by Mercedes in the Russian Grand Prix, which saw Valtteri Bottas move over to allow Lewis Hamilton to take the lead and win the 16th round of the World Championship. In so doing, the Brit increased his lead over Sebastian Vettel to 50 points.
Way back in 2002, when Rubens Barrichello had to pull over for Michael Schumacher at the Austrian Grand Prix, I was incandescent at the manipulation of the sport. At that time, team orders were not legal, so I saw this as an illegal move.
I was furious as I had to face the drivers as their interlocutor at press conferences. It should have been the same when we went to the next Grand Prix and I was faced with Jean Todt or Ross Brawn – I forget which member of Ferrari management was present. But by that time the situation had been explained by the latter and I could understand their tactic better and it all seemed to fit into place.
I’m afraid, therefore, that anybody expecting sport to prevail in such circumstances is living in the dark ages. Even Sebastian Vettel understood that Valtteri should be asked to pull over. And Lewis even judged it perfectly when it was suggested that he should pull over in a future race and give the win back again. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to win that way,’ said Lewis which I think was perfectly right.
So wise up and live with it, this is the way it is. Team orders are allowed, it is a team sport. Yes, I was sorry for Valtteri too. He’d put the car on pole with a superb lap, beaten his teammate to the front row of the grid and beaten everyone down to the first corner. Once again, the difficulty of following another car had been proven, not only by Mercedes but also by Force India. Both teams swapped positions; in Force India’s case, they swapped back again when Sergio Perez found that he couldn’t overtake the car in front – just as Esteban Ocon had found.
In the case of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel it was a little more vital. Apparently Toto Wolff had been distracted at a time when he should have called Lewis in for his pit stop, and consequently Sebastian Vettel overtook him in the subsequent round of stops. But Lewis executed a perfect overtaking manoeuvre which we saw around the outside of turn three, finding himself on the inside of turn four – already seen in the supporting F2 and GP3 races – and hey presto, he was in second place and therefore, suffering a blistered rear tyre, was able to run at the pace he wanted once he’d got past his teammate.
It was the perfect result for Mercedes if not for Valtteri Bottas, but he’s a big boy with broad shoulders and like every Grand Prix driver, he knows the game. It’s only purist fans – much respected purist fans, I should add – who can see that their golden-hued view of the sport is being sullied and who take exception.
But then frankly this occurs quite frequently in the current era. I have to admit that there are several instances a week when I feel this. For instance, the idea that Zandvoort could hold a Grand Prix. This would be as much of a disaster for fans and even teams as the French Grand Prix. I have been to Zandvoort recently, and there is simply not enough room in the circuit to accommodate Formula One’s infrastructure. Charlie Whiting explained that it could host a Grand Prix from his side of things but he said the infrastructural aspect was not something he could comment on. However much Dutch fans might want it, I would have thought it was unrealistic. Even when I went there to watch Marlboro Masters F3 races – when they would have big crowds because the tickets were free – they were still queueing to get out of the circuit at midnight on raceday. Is that what anybody would want?
One qualifying session in Russia, when five cars failed to set a time, seems to have caused a flurry of stories about a change in qualifying. As any other right minded observer has commented, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s nothing wrong with qualifying. It’s the best it’s been in my 35 years and five cars not setting a time is the first time that this has happened. Indeed, it was a bit of a novelty, not a reason to make changes.
What else? Oh yes, Mercedes youngster George Russell saying that there aren’t enough teams in F1 and that there should be more to give junior drivers (the likes of him) more of an opportunity to drive in F1. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? And why should we listen to him? (Actually, I agree that there should be more teams in F1 but not necessarily for that reason.)
I was amused to read that Bernie Ecclestone has said that Ferrari is too Italian, hence its drop in performance. That is one of the supposed causes of blame for Ferrari’s misfortunes. I might agree with him, however. Their successful era of the late ‘90s/noughties was when Schumacher, Brawn and Todt were in charge. I liked it when Maurizio Arrivabene took over, there seemed to be a new openness after the reign of the much-forgotten Marco Mattiacci – well, I’d forgotten him.
Interestingly, there are now rumours regarding Arrivabene’s future, that he might be on his way out even though his new boss is a former colleague. Subsequent to Arrivabene’s arrival, he has since clamped down on Ferrari’s communications, saying that they need to focus on what is necessary on the circuit. Look what happens to teams when they don’t focus on competition?
But it doesn’t seem to have helped. Ferrari are going backwards, they now have to rely on a Mercedes’s drop in performance or unreliability to win this championship and that’s certainly not a given.
Here in Suzuka it is surely their last chance, really. We’ve been saying that for some time. There’s even a suggestion that a new FIA sensor is holding back Ferrari but they’re going to have to pull out something special on this special circuit. It is a popular circuit where perfect balance is vital because of the wide variety of corners from the tight hairpin to the long long left handed Spoon via the tricky ninety right of Degner, scene of many a car/tyre barrier interface.
Both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have won the Japanese Grand Prix four times. Fernando Alonso is another former Japanese Grand Prix winner as is Kimi Raikkonen, who won from 17th on the grid in 2005. Pole position is not critical; only half the Japanese Grands Prix to date have been won from pole.
Pirelli bring their medium, soft and supersoft tyres here this weekend, but the big question mark remains over the weather. As so often here there are typhoons lurking about (typhoon is the Asian word for hurricane) but although the nearest typhoon isn’t likely to hit until after F1 has departed for the USA, there is still the threat of rain and thunderstorms for the next three days which is no surprise for F1 who are used to it here.
So an intriguing if vital weekend awaits us. With every Grand Prix, the chance of another F1 World Championship is slipping away from Sebastian Vettel. He won’t admit it, of course. Ferrari have taken the important step of introducing a new livery here. Why? You will need to watch out for it as they battle to stay in the fight, but the chances are diminishing… They need a domineering one-two to make any effect.