Mercedes-Benz seal Constructors’ Championship with podium finishes at Suzuka.
In a controlled, possibly title-defining performance from start to finish, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg moved closer to his maiden Formula One title with an emphatic win in the Japanese Grand Prix – his first triumph at Suzuka – while defending champ Lewis Hamilton made another dreadful start and went winless for the fifth race in a row.
From pole, Rosberg was never under serious threat, finishing 4.9 seconds clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen, and a recovering Hamilton.
“I had to save my engine a bit as it was my last race in the cycle - but the gap was always safe,” Rosberg said later. “I came here to win in Japan and I managed to do so, which is really special. It's a fantastic feeling to win at this legendary race track.
“The season is not over yet with a few races still to go around the world, so I need to keep my energy up! Now we need to focus on the last four races.”
Runner-up Verstappen now has six podium finishes to his name this season, the same number as Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who was a distant sixth.
Hamilton, who started from second on the grid, duffed the start badly and was jumped by an on-form Verstappen, who drove well throughout to split the two Mercedes drivers. Hamilton dropped to eighth but fought back to a podium spot.
To keep second, the teenager had to defend vigorously in the final chicane, but unlike past races, no-one seemed to think his driving was anything but fair. “Lewis (Hamilton) was obviously a bit quicker in the final stages and I knew he was going to catch me, the gap time on the pit board was dropping every lap,” said Verstappen. “Into the last chicane I saw him coming in my mirrors so I defended my position, this allowed me to hang on for the second place.”
Ricciardo had a forgettable race after a sluggish start and a mysterious car issue. “Kimi’s (Raikkonen) penalty was a bit of a bummer for us as it put us on the wet side of the grid and that compromised the start,” the Australian reported.
“We struggled to stay close to the cars in front as we couldn’t follow them in the dirty air, and we didn’t have the straight line speed to make an attack. We struggled in the traffic and fell behind the eight ball. In the final stint towards the end I had a clear track and I was able put in some good laps but it wasn’t enough. I’m not going to get too down about it. I didn’t think there was anything else we could have done today.”
Rosberg now has nine wins this season, and it's worth stating that no driver has failed to win the drivers' title having won so many races in one calendar year.
The Suzuka race did resolve one championship, the Constructors’, the one-three finish giving Mercedes the points they needed to seal a third successive title.
The Japanese GP was just the seventh time in history (but twice this year) that every starter made it to the chequered flag.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at least made it through the first lap this race, but the four-times world champion has claimed just one podium in his last nine races - his worst run of form since his first full season with Toro Rosso in 2008.
Rosberg (313) now leads the Drivers' Championship by 33 points from Hamilton (280).
Next up is the 2016 United States Grand Prix at Austin – a venue that Hamilton has triumphed at in three of the last four years.
Mercedes pin-points cause of Hamilton’s Sepang engine failure
It took time and lots of a forensic investigation, but Mercedes has revealed the cause of Lewis Hamilton's engine failure whilst the Brit was leading the recent Malaysian Grand Prix.
The reigning world champion was heading for victory at Sepang when his engine quit in spectacular fashion 15 laps from the chequer. It was the reigning world champ’s third power unit failure of the challenging season.
A big-end bearing failure in the crankshaft triggered the fiery explosion, which came, says Mercedes, unexpectedly after 618km of running, and a loss of oil pressure.
For yesterday’s Japanese GP, Hamilton was forced to go back to the power unit he used in Singapore.
Citroën Racing announces its crews for WRC
Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle will be joined by Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau to form the nucleus of the Abu Dhabi Racing’s Citroën factory-backed squad chasing the FIA World Rally Championship in 2017 and 2018.
For its serious return to the WRC, Citroën will also enter Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi with his co-driver Chris Patterson at some events in 2017.
Citroën is expected to pose a huge threat to the dominance of VW next year; its modern-era history in the WRC is impressive. Since joining the WRC, Citroën has won nine drivers’ titles, eight constructors' championships and amassed 94 individual rally wins.
The ingredients of the Citroën Racing squad are coming together in an orderly way. From April this year, the Citroën C3 WRC has completed seven development tests, both on gravel and tarmac, and is now very close to the final version to be used in the opening event of the 2017 season, the Monte Carlo.
After confirming Meeke and Nagle at the end of last year, the line-up is now completed by two talented young crews, Breen/Martin and Lefebvre/Moreau.
At the start of the season, the team will enter two Citroën C3 WRCs: one for Meeke and the other for either Breen or Lefebvre, who will alternate. Citroën will start entering three cars as soon as possible. The FIA’s World Motorsport Council recently decided it would let manufacturers enter three cars, the top two scoring points towards the Manufacturers’ World Championship.