The rails really came off Ferrari’s fading title challenge in Suzuka with team and driver making mistakes in both yesterday’s qualifying and today’s grand prix, but eventually Sebastien Vettel salvaged fourth place and Kimi Raikkonen fifth.
It was probably the most the team could achieve after the problems during qualifying and then both cars being damaged as a result of collisions in the race, which meant Vettel had to fight his way back up the field after spinning out and dropping to the back.
The race started with Raikkonen and Vettel on Supersoft tyres, fourth and eighth respectively on the grid after the team misjudged the wet weather conditions at the start of yesterday’s Q3 qualifying session. It was hot on the grid, with an air temperature of almost 30 degrees and track temp at 37 degrees.
The Finn maintained his position at the green lights, while Vettel hugged the right-hand side and immediately made up two places. He then got past Grosjean with a miracle move around the outside of Spoon. At the end of the opening lap, Verstappen went straight on at the chicane and as he rejoined he nearly took out Raikkonen, who had to slow, which meant Vettel moved up to fourth. The incident was investigated by the Stewards, who gave Verstappen a 5 second penalty, while Ferrari Number 7 had some damage from then on.
Lap 3 and the Safety Car came out as bits of Kevin Magnussen’s tyre were all over the track. The race was on again on lap 7 without any changes to the order. On the next lap, Vettel gave it a go, optimistically attacking Verstappen on the inside of Spoon, but they touched and the Ferrari spun. Vettel rejoined in 18th place and began fighting his way up the order, passing Marcus Ericsson. The move was investigated but no action was taken.
On lap 18, Raikkonen pitted taking on Mediums, before passing Ocon to go eighth. Seb meanwhile worked his way up to twelfth. Verstappen pitted and took his penalty. Raikkonen closed on him but lost time behind Gasly and could not pass. His lap times were affected by the earlier damage and he found himself fifth behind Daniel Ricciardo after the pit stop.
Vettel made his stop after 27 laps and fitted the yellow-banded Softs. It was showtime and he was straight back in the points, as high as seventh when he set a fastest race lap on lap 33. He then gained another place before his pace matched Raikkonen’s who was too far ahead to be caught. But in the end, Vettel at least had the satisfaction of the fastest lap of the afternoon in 1:32.318.
Maurizio Arrivabene: “After what happened in qualifying, today the team and the drivers fought back well. The podium could have been within our grasp, but unfortunately, damage on both cars, as a result of collisions in the race, affected the final result. Regardless of what is now a very difficult situation in terms of the championship, we will tackle the coming races giving them our best shot, maintaining concentration and determination.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “After the contact with Max I saw some parts flying off my car; it was damaged pretty badly on the left-hand side. Obviously, this affected negatively the rest of my race. What happened is unfortunate and after that it was pretty difficult to drive on. I had lost a lot of downforce, but there was not much I could do. It’s impossible to know what our performance would have been without that accident at the chicane; we had improved the car over the weekend, it was getting better and better, but unfortunately this is what we have got today. It’s been a difficult and poor weekend overall, the result is not ideal. Now we need to look deeply on everything and hopefully we’ll come back at the next race on a more normal situation where we’ll be able to fight.”
Sebastian Vettel: “Today, I found it quite inspirational walking through the garage and watching the guys work! All the team is fired up and that certainly helps, as the last couple of weeks haven’t been that easy. The spirit is unbroken despite everything. Races like this are a bit of a hand-over and we know it is difficult from where we are in the point standings, but we don’t have much to lose. We have given everything so far and I believe there’s still something we can learn and understand from the car. So we keep fighting and resisting and we’ll see what the other races bring. As for the collision with Max, I was obviously pushing to pass, I knew he had a penalty, but I also felt that we were fast. I could see that his battery was clipping, while I had saved some energy from mine. I saw a gap and went for it on the inside, he obviously tried to defend and I couldn’t go anywhere, so we touched. However, this is part of racing.”
Photos: Scuderia Ferrari - 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship
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