Lewis Hamilton lacked, Ferrari fought and Perez impressed: Japanese GP exceeded expectations in earlier calendar spot


The Japan Grand Prix was the most entertaining of the season to date, due to the epic nature of the track, its elevation, and figure eight layout.

Suzuka is a true driver’s track, and never fails to result in championship deciding moments.

Moving it earlier in the calendar definitely loses its significance in the grand scheme of 24 races but allows the fans and teams alike to discover the real battlers and threats on the grid.

Starting with a red flag caused by Williams driver Alex Albon and Racing Bulls driver Daniel Ricciardo, the Japanese Grand Prix had a slow start.

Interesting to see drivers defending Daniel Ricciardo after watching the replay.

VER: “Really unfortunate incident, he was watching to the left”
PER: “He was in the blind spot” #JapaneseGP pic.twitter.com/pcxQhmMLO3

— Maxx | F1newsletter.com (@F1_Newsletter) April 7, 2024

This played into the hands of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who was enabled to only make one pit stop in what is usually a two-stop race. Leclerc placed fourth after a poor qualifying in which he started eighth.

Another notable performance was that of Sergio Perez, fighting against the Ferrari’s, Mercedes’ and McLarens in order to secure second place, despite the lengthy gap to his teammate Max Verstappen.

The World Champion seemed back to his usual antics, leading a race by over ten seconds and only needing to fight with Ferrari’s C-squared duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

McLaren seemed to have taken to Ferrari’s strategy from last year, pitting without paying attention to the actual race.

The team pitted extremely early for a car equipped with a hard tire, which caused Norris to miss out on another third place finish.

Oscar Piastri also had a small fight with Mercedes driver George Russell, who almost involved the Aussie in his classic “last lap crash” technique during the final chicane.

????????|????️ Carlos about if he is happy:

“Yes, very happy. Three podiums in three races, with one victory and this podium which has been hard fought. We had to pass a lot of cars on track,”#JapaneseGP

— Carlos Sainz News (@CSainzNews_) April 7, 2024

Speaking of the Mercedes, both seem to be in a rut they can’t get out of. Russell fought well, and definitely impressed, but only manages to show real fight when he’s almost pushing another driver off the track.

Despite that, he has Hamilton covered on every level, even to the point of Hamilton offering to let Russell through, something he never would have done eight to ten years ago against former teammate Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton finished in ninth, showing a disappointing result for the Brit.

The Aston Martins showed the absolute power of Fernando Alonso, qualifying fifth as opposed to teammate Lance Stroll who qualified 16th.

Alonso finished sixth, with radio from Stroll exclaiming about the lack of pace the Aston Martin’s have down the straights.

Strollin’ round the outside ????#F1 #JapaneseGP @AstonMartinF1 pic.twitter.com/H3bzaHZ2e0

— Formula 1 (@F1) April 9, 2024

Stroll did well, gaining to 12th, but for the supposed fourth fastest car to finish 16th behind both a Racing Bull and a Haas, it raises questions about Stroll’s involvement in the team.

The most impressive driver to me, which may come as a shock to others, was Haas driver Nico Hulkenburg.

He had a fantastic start before the red flag, going from 12th to tenth ahead of Q3 finisher Valtteri Bottas and hometown hero Yuki Tsunoda, setting himself up well for points, before a so-close-yet-so-far eleventh place finish.

Maybe Steiner’s departure is the best thing for the American team?

So, everything we learnt from the Japanese Grand Prix: Red flags can change a race, but not make anyone win.

When Perez is on, he can absolutely dominate a track with the right team support.

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McLaren have taken on Ferrari’s strategy from last season, which they will hopefully learn from for future races.

The era of Mercedes dominance is over, and Russell has Hamilton covered every day of the week.

Fernando Alonso’s skill ages the same as Paul Rudd’s face, and Haas are massively improved by the promotion of Ayao Komatsu.

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