The Japanese Grand Prix was a miserable one for McLaren, while for Toro Rosso and Red Bull there were positive signs
McLaren left exposed
Fernando Alonsos ire at the Japanese Grand Prix after he was penalised for leaving the track and gaining an advantage after being pushed off by Lance Stroll at the chicane might have been the low point of the Spaniards weekend. But for the team, qualifying in Japan will be a moment they would rather forget. Suzukas magnificent layout is one of the great tests in F1, it rewards a good car and exposes the failings of others. McLaren looked terribly vulnerable. They were comfortably the slowest cars in qualifying a statement that would have been dismissed as comic a few short years ago. Yet here for the first time this season they failed to beat even one of the Williams. Their choice of tyres for the weekend was wrong, for which the sporting director Gil de Ferran took responsibility despite the decision having been made before his appointment. But it made little difference, the weaknesses of their car were displayed here perhaps as at no other track this season. Work on next years McLaren has long been their focus and on this showing any improvement would be a step forward.
Honda makes it a hit at home
The painful irony of McLaren recording their worst qualifying this season in Japan the home grand prix of their former engine supplier Honda, who scored their best of the season with Toro Rosso will not have been pleasing for the Woking team. But for Honda, and indeed for Red Bull, there were positive signs. The Toro Rossos with the latest spec Honda power units now in their fourth year of development looked up to the job, with Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly securing sixth and seventh on the grid. Neither scored a point in the race but this was down to poor strategy calls for Gasly and Hartleys terrible start. Their car is not the quickest but on this indication Hondas rate of advance is reason for optimism at Red Bull who will take the engine next year. They already have a very strong chassis and are operationally sharp. Gasly and Verstappen may be inheriting Honda power just as it is coming good.
Vettel found wanting again
Sebastian Vettels hopes of staying in the championship battle were slim going into the Japanese Grand Prix. By its close they were gone. The manner of his capitulation was indicative of where his season has gone wrong. Ferraris tyre call in qualifying was costly but Vettel admitted he also took the damp kerbs at Spoon that caused him to manage only eighth on the grid. Then his move on Max Verstappen in the race was yet another moment of misjudgment in the heat of battle having made a series of similar errors already this season. He said afterwards to the team: If I dont go for that gap and the gap was there, might as well stay at home. But this has an air of justification in hindsight. He didnt want to get stuck behind Verstappen of course but knowing he is an aggressive defender, even taking several laps to line up a safer move would have been worth it. These are the decisions that have cost him the title.
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