Japanese GP | Controlled victory for Rosberg as Hamilton recovers to third

Nico Rosberg wins the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix.

Overnight rain left half of the Japanese Grand Prix grid wet, leaving Hamilton to ponder how to get the best start from second. Unfortunately, his best efforts were not good enough and he fell down the order. And while he recovered, his team-mate soared off into the distance to win the race in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Rosberg had led every session going into race day, taking pole position by 0.013 seconds to prevent Hamilton from unsettling his rhythm. Despite Lewis taking provisional pole.

Pole in the previous two Japanese Grand Prix’s, however, has not proved pivotal to the win. With Hamilton coming from second on the grid to beat his pole-sitting team-mate to the flag in both races during the hybrid era.

Today, though, that streak came to an end.

When the lights went out and the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix was go, Rosberg was away. Heading into the first corner with his lead intact while his team-mate fell down the order.

Hamilton had won the previous two races from second on the grid, while his team-mate had claimed pole both times. But after overnight rain, Hamilton’s side of the grid remained damp and as he dropped the clutch as the lights dimmed, he did not have the revs to pull away.

Hamilton was forced to re-engage the clutch and effectively re-do his start. But by this time he had been swamped and was residing down in eighth place come the exit of turn one.

After falling away from the second row of the grid after penalties, Ferrari was now running with both cars back ahead of Hamilton. While Force India, too, saw their cars promoted with Sergio Perez now up to third place.

As for Hulkenberg, he was able to make ground over a gearbox penalty hampered Raikkonen to move further up the order. With Kimi forced to back off slightly on the main straight as Vettel edged out to avoid the slow Hamilton.

Downbeat after his start, Hamilton took to the radio to apologise to the team. “Sorry guys”. But not longer after, and the Ferrari of Raikkonen was in his sights. Although Kimi was making his way ahead of Hulkenberg under DRS, a man Hamilton then lined up for an overtake into 130R.

With Hulkenberg dispatched, Raikkonen and Hamilton then caught a squabble between Perez and Ricciardo. But as Kimi pushed, he hit the inside kerb at Degner 1 before kicking left onto the astro.

The lost time meant Raikkonen could not close up to Ricciardo to attack the Australian. But the opportunity was not there either, as Red Bull brought both cars into the pits to swap onto hard tyres.

After holding track position over Ricciardo, Force India responded to Ricciardo’s stop to bring the Mexican down pit lane. But the one lap taken was enough for Ricciardo to surge ahead, diving down the inside of Palmer at Spoon to maintain his advantage.

Unlike Perez and Raikkonen, Hamilton did not come into the pits the lap following Ricciardo. Instead, Mercedes kept the front row starter out for an extra lap – which he smashed to come out ahead of the pair.

When Hamilton rolled out of pit lane, Raikkonen was placing his Ferrari as close to the pit wall as he could. Fighting Perez for position as both overtook Palmer. But now running back behind the Silver Arrow.

That Silver Arrow was able to get his hard tyres switched on quickly and was picking up places on Ricciardo and Massa like nothing for fifth. Unlike his former team-mate, Jenson Button, who began the race on the hard tyres from the back of the grid. But spent the early stages stuck behind the Manor’s as he struggled to switch on the tyres.

Jenson had qualified in 17th place for Honda’s home Grand Prix. But with a poor result looking likely, the power unit provider – along with McLaren – decided they would take the hit of a full power unit change here, rather than next time out at the United States Grand Prix in Austin.

Like on Palmer, Ricciardo was taking to the Spoon Curve to complete more overtakes. Picking off Massa as the Williams lost a position, while his team-mate was caught by Hamilton into 130R.

After starting the race on fresh sets of medium tyres, Williams were looking to stretch their first stints as long as possible. But with Bottas yet to pit, he was a target for Hulkenberg – who carried more speed out of 130R.

With speed out of 130R, Hulkenberg looked to pick off Bottas at the final chicane. Braking later and diving around the outside, the German made his way ahead. Much to his own enjoyment, beaming “see you later!” over team radio.

Further down the road from Hulkenberg, Ferrari was making their second pit stop with Raikkonen. The stop came a little bit early for the expected strategy, allowing Raikkonen to come out searching for an undercut as he set blistering pace. But when Red Bull responded with Verstappen, the Dutchman emerged a second down the down from his team-mate – clear of Raikkonen.

Ricciardo, though, was beginning to feel his tyres start to fall away from him. Forcing him to pit not long after. That stop, however, was slow as the front right tyre would not come off. Costing him an extra three seconds and position from Raikkonen.

Like in the first pit stop window, Hamilton remained out on track for an extra lap than his rivals. And when he came in for his second and final change of tyres, he took on another set of hards. Coming out in fourth, two seconds down the road from Raikkonen and now hunting for a podium position.

Ferrari responded to Hamilton’s stop by drawing Vettel back into the garage. But Sebastian, who had been hampered by drivers not abiding blue flags, was unable to retain his position when he exited on the soft tyres. Losing out on a podium position to Hamilton, who was still charging.

Sebastian did not want to yield his top three finish to Hamilton at first. Using the softer rubber to attack and close to within DRS range. But with Hamilton able to hold off and advance on the straights, he was able to brake the DRS range. Dropping Vettel and start his advances on Verstappen.

Falling away from Hamilton, Vettel again was on the radio to rant about blue flags. With drivers still not getting out of the German’s way as he would have liked.

Verstappen slightly further down the road was in the same boat. But while Vettel was falling away from Hamilton for third, Max was being caught by Hamilton for second.

Blue flags and slightly more worn tyres meant Hamilton was able to catch the Red Bull in the late stages of the race and make a bid at regaining second place. But with Max able to get great traction out of the final corner, and using a bit of battery power, Hamilton was not able to look for a move under DRS.

But with Max able to get great traction out of the final corner, and using a bit of battery power, Hamilton was not able to look for a move under DRS. Like Raikkonen found back in Spain, when Max defended from the Finn for the race win as Formula One returned to Europe.

Consistently within a second but without a chance at getting by down the pit straight, Hamilton had to look elsewhere for his chance. And that chance came going into the final chicane on the penultimate lap.

The move began all the way back at the hairpin as Hamilton lined the Red Bull up for a final chance at second. Lewis then carried a great deal more speed out of 130R for the possible move, tucking in behind Verstappen before taking to the inside at the chicane.

But as Hamilton committed to the move, Verstappen moved in the braking zone to cover Lewis’ lunge. A somewhat late defensive manoeuvre, as Raikkonen has found when attacking Verstappen, with Max’s defence forcing Lewis to take to the escape road.

Returning to the track behind Verstappen, and with only a lap to go, Hamilton knew he had missed out on taking second place. And when the duo came back round the final chicane a lap later, Rosberg was taking the chequered flag to win the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix.

After his poor start leaving him in eighth place, Hamilton’s recovery drive was still strong enough for him to finish on the podium in third. Crossing the line within six seconds of his team-mate, although Rosberg would not have been pushing nearly as hard as Hamilton had been.

A one-three finish for Mercedes also means the Brackley team win their third, straight constructor’s’ championship. Wrapping up the title with four races to go. Next up, Austin – for the 2016 United States Grand Prix in two weeks time.

The Japanese Grand Prix was also only the second time this year that all cars reached the chequered flag. The only previous 2016 round to see all 22 cars reach the flag was round 3, the Chinese Grand Prix.

Pos Driver Team Gap Points
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 25
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 4.978 18
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 5.776 15
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 20.269 12
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 28.37 10
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 33.941 8
7 Sergio Perez Force India 57.495 6
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 59.177 4
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1’37.763 2
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’38.323 1
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 1’39.254
12 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1 lap
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 lap
14 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1 lap
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 lap
16 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1 lap
17 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1 lap
18 Jenson Button McLaren 1 lap
19 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1 lap
20 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1 lap
21 Esteban Ocon Manor 1 lap
22 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1 lap