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Japanese GP 2019

OCTOBER 13, 2019

Race Analysis - The stumbling start

Valtteri Bottas, Japanese GP 2019
© The Cahier Archive

By Dan Knutson in Suzuka

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc locked out the front row of the grid, but after Vettel stumbled at the start it was Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas who crossed the finish line first at the end of the race. Here's how that win unfolded.


The rain and wind of Typhoon Hagibis forced the organizers to cancel all track activities on Saturday. So qualifying was held Sunday morning.


Vettel earned the pole for the 57th time in his F1 career. Leclerc lined up second.

"I think we were quite surprised to be honest," Vettel said. "We didn't expect that, to have the front row."


Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were on row two of the grid.

"Not spectacular," Hamilton said of his lap. "The car was fine. They (Ferrari) obviously turn up and go to another level which we can't really compete with power-wise, but the car was feeling good."


Typhoon Hagibis headed away on Saturday night, so blue skies were back on Sunday.


Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Alex Albon started fifth and sixth after clocking identical lap times of 1:27.851.


Gusty winds would make things tricky for the drivers in the 53-lap race.


Pole sitter Vettel's car lurched while on the grid.


Was it a jump start? No.

"The stewards reviewed video evidence and the jump-start report based on the information from the FIA approved and supplied transponder fitted to each car," official document #34 read. "While the video shows some movement (from Vettel's car) that movement was within the acceptable tolerance of the F1 jump start system."


It may have been within the tolerances, but it was a bad start for Vettel and it cost him the race win as Bottas surged into the lead.

"The lights were on a long time but (it was) my mistake, so I lost the momentum there," Vettel said after finishing second. "I ended up worse (off) than just having a poor start, it was a really poor start."


Leclerc and Verstappen collided in Turn 2, which ruined both of their races and any hopes of challenging for the win. Verstappen eventually retired with accident damage. Leclerc had to pit for a new front wing, and dropped him out of contention.

"At Turn 2, Charles just drove into the side of my car," Verstappen said. "From my side I don't think I could have done anything different there. We all know that you lose downforce behind a car so that is not an excuse, he's experienced enough to know that."


The stewards agreed with Verstappen. After assorted penalties had been applied to Leclerc, he was dropped from sixth to seventh in the provisional results.


The order in the early laps was Bottas, Vettel and Hamilton. They were the only three with a hope of winning.


The top 10 drivers had all started the race on Pirelli's soft compound slicks. Vettel was the first to stop, pitting at the end of lap 16 for another set of the softs. Bottas pitted a lap later for a set of the medium compound tires, as did Hamilton at the end of lap 21.


The tire degradation was higher than the teams had anticipated, so this was going to be a two-stop race for the drivers who could not nurse their tires long enough to pit just once.


After the top three had cycled through their second stops the running order remained the same: Bottas, Leclerc and Hamilton.


The official end of the race signaled not by a human being waving the checkered flag but rather by an electronic checkered flag display board that is triggered as the winning car crosses the finish line after the designated number of laps. But a glitch in the system caused the electronic checkered flag to be displayed at the end of lap 52 instead of lap 53 when Bottas crossed the line.


Bottas got the same signal at the end of lap 53 as well.


Because the electronic display official indicates the end of the race, the end of the race was after 52 laps. Either way Bottas won.

"It was a pretty close qualifying but against them (Ferrari) it's never easy," Bottas said, "but there's never a point on giving up on anything and I knew everything is possible today, opportunities would be there today. The first one was at the start and I really had a nice start. Sebastian had an issue and I managed to get the lead. Then the pace was very good, I could really control the race and I really enjoyed that."


Hamilton chased down Vettel in the closing laps, and the Mercedes crossed the finish line 0.515 of a second behind the Ferrari.

"We should have at least got a 1-2 today," Hamilton said after finishing third. "I think but strategy wasn't optimum. We could have scored more collectively as a team, but we can work on that."


Bottas won his sixth career F1 race. And Mercedes clinched its sixth consecutive constructors' championship.