Hamilton cruises to Japanese GP victory at Suzuka

5 Comments

Lewis Hamilton took a big step towards winning a third Formula 1 drivers’ championship in 2015 by dominating proceedings en route to victory in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

After seizing the advantage from pole-sitting Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the start, Hamilton never looked back as he led all 53 laps of the race to claim his eighth win of the season.

Rosberg was forced to focus on damage limitation after dropping to fourth at the start, but eventually battled his way up to second place to only lose seven points on Hamilton in the title race. Sebastian Vettel completed the podium as Ferrari failed to replicate its race-winning Singapore pace at Suzuka.

The start saw Hamilton dive down the inside of Rosberg at the first corner, causing the two drivers to run side by side through the first complex of corners. Remarkably, the Mercedes duo made no contact, but Rosberg was forced wide and subsequently dropped down to fourth behind Vettel and Valtteri Bottas.

Further back, contact between Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa left both drivers with a puncture, forcing them to crawl back to the pits for repairs off the line. Fernando Alonso made a great start to jump up to ninth on the first lap, but the Honda power unit’s issues became clear yet again as he quickly began to drop back, prompting the Spaniard to tell McLaren that it was “embarrassing” how he was getting passed.

As Rosberg struggled to keep with Bottas for third place, Hamilton was told to open up his lead at the front of the field to ten seconds across the course of his first stint. Second-placed Vettel was unable to stay with the Briton, leaving him to cover the trailing cars during the first round of pit stops.

Rosberg’s decision to go longer than Bottas during his first stint did not pay off at first as he emerged from the pit lane behind the Williams driver. However, as the German driver pushed on his fresh tires, he pulled off a brave move at the chicane to gain the position, leaving him third with Vettel the next target up the road.

Hamilton had duly delivered the pace that Mercedes had asked for in his first stint, with his lead standing at over eight seconds once he had made his stop.

With Bottas now falling back into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen, Rosberg set his sights on Vettel in second place through the second stint of the race. Ferrari informed Vettel that the German was coming, and told him to try to maintain a gap of two seconds to protect himself from the undercut.

When Rosberg blinked first and made his final pit stop on lap 29, Ferrari moved quickly to bring Vettel in and try to see off the threat from the Mercedes driver. However, a rapid in-lap allowed Rosberg to get the jump on his compatriot, moving himself up to second place.

Hamilton made his final stop of the race on lap 31, and once again returned to the track with a comfortable lead. With Rosberg almost ten seconds down the road, the Briton had the race in the palm of his hand with 20 laps remaining.

Williams’ hopes of getting ahead of Ferrari at Suzuka were dashed when Raikkonen managed to get the jump on Bottas through the second round of stops. The first lap puncture had left Massa at the very back of the field, turning his race into a glorified test session.

Hamilton was able to monitor the gap to Rosberg in the closing stages of the race with relative ease, eking out more and more time before crossing the line to clinch his second Suzuka victory by 18.9 seconds.

Despite coming under pressure from Vettel in the final few laps as he contended with traffic, Rosberg held on for second place to complete a Mercedes one-two and ensure that he left Japan only 48 points behind Hamilton with five races remaining.

In third, Vettel maintained his 100% podium record at Suzuka dating back to 2009, and remains just 11 points shy of Rosberg in the championship standings. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a good day for Ferrari by finishing fourth ahead of Bottas.

Nico Hulkenberg had a quietly impressive race en route to sixth as he led home the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado in P7 and P8. Max Verstappen bounced back from his qualifying stoppage to end the day ninth, leaving Toro Rosso teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. to round out the points in tenth.

Alonso led McLaren’s charge in Japan by finishing 11th, albeit after complaining about his “GP2 engine” as he was easily passed by Verstappen earlier in the race. Teammate Jenson Button had even bigger issues, though, as he ended the day down in P16 ahead of Felipe Massa.

Sergio Perez trailed Alonso home in 12th after making a three-stop strategy work well, edging out Daniil Kvyat, Marcus Ericsson and Daniel Ricciardo in a breathless late battle.

Alexander Rossi won Manor’s intra-team battle once again after teammate Will Stevens suffered a high-speed spin in the closing stages of the race. The American driver will next get behind the wheel of an F1 car for his home grand prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas next month.

After Mercedes slipped up in Singapore, Hamilton led its fightback in style at Suzuka with a peerless display worthy of his two world titles. With 48 points in hand and just five races to go, the Briton will know that it is is championship to lose ahead of the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
3 Comments

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.