Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
The post race press conference at the Japanese Grand Prix started like this, “Q: ‘Lewis, let’s pick it up with you first. At the start obviously you lost ground. What part did the dampness on that side of the race track play, do you think, in your getaway? Perhaps a little detail about your fight back and then the championship position as it stands, trailing Nico by 33 points with four races to go.’
LH: ‘Firstly, big congratulations to the team, incredible success for the last three years, very proud to be a part of it and to help contribute to it – so a big thank you to everyone for all of their hard work. This is a great result. Yeah, I don’t think the damp patch had really anything to do with it. I just had… I made a mistake and then just working my way up from there was tricky but, y’know, I did the best I could.’
Q: ‘And the 33 points, four races to go, feelings on that.’
LH: ‘That’s a healthy margin for Nico, he did a great job, so congrats to him.’”
That’s the most defeated, and gracious, I’ve encountered Lewis Hamilton when asked about relative performance to his teammate this season, if not ever. And he’s right, with four races and only 100 more points available in 2016, Rosberg holds a formidable margin and the momentum. After Italy, Hamilton lead by two points. In the following three races, he scored 30-points, Rosberg collected 65. Rosberg won more times this season as well, a tiebreaker would currently fall the German’s way. Hamilton then has to score 34 more points than Rosberg. Or an average of 8.5 more points per race for the remaining races. Critically, even if Hamilton wins the next four in a row, Rosberg can hold the title with four second-place finishes.
But certainly do not count Hamilton out. Rosberg once lead Hamilton by 43 points. Hamilton went on to win six of the next seven Grands Prix and put Rosberg 19 points in the hole. But, frankly, I’ve never seen Rosberg drive so well and while Hamilton certainly suffered more points-robbing bad luck, the last few races Rosberg beat Hamilton with pace. It’s pretty much been a head-to-head race for the title since 2014, but this year could prove the most exciting fight yet. And maybe, just maybe, the 2017 rule changes will allow another team to challenge.
The other underdog strong performance came from Force India. They now hold a 10-point gap in the Constructor’s title over Williams, making fourth place seem possible and approaching likely. In Malaysia and Japan both Hulkenberg and Perez scored points, Perez heading the charge.
McLaren didn’t fare to well in the Japanese Grand Prix, Honda’s home race, but they didn’t expect to either. For whatever reason, Suzuka exacerbates the McLaren’s weaknesses, not strengths. It’s an ironic anomaly in an otherwise encouraging second half of the season. In Malaysia, McLaren earned a double points finish and they now enjoy a solid 15 point lead over Toro Rosso, sixth in the Constructor’s championship is likely.
For the remainder of the season, all eyes will stay focused on Mercedes’, they clinched both the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championship in Japan, now it’s just a matter of which driver.