After an impressive performance in the Practice and Qualifying rounds, both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were set to challenge the all-conquering Red Bull team at the Japanese Grand Prix. Unfortunately the race ended in disappointment for the two Mercedes drivers – particularly for Hamilton, who sustained a puncture in a minor collision with the eventual winner Sebastian Vettel near the start of the race and had to drop out at the ninth lap.
Hamilton and Rosberg enjoyed an excellent start in the first practice, achieving second and third place just +00.134 and +00.302 respectively behind Mark Webber. Although the drivers slipped to third and sixth place in the qualifying round, the Mercedes drivers still appeared to be plausible candidates for a place on the podium, or at least high-scoring positions that would consolidate their standings and those of the manufacturer.
These hopes, however, were destroyed for one half of the team in the first few seconds of the race. The slightest of touches between Hamilton and Vettel just before the circuit’s first turn gave the champion-elect insignificant damage to the front wing – but resulted in irreparable harm to the Mercedes driver’s left rear tyre.
Although he managed to nurse his car to the pits, Hamilton retired once the extent of the damage became clear. “I can’t believe my luck”, he commented. “I had probably the best start I’ve had all year. It was such a good feeling on the out-laps, the car felt really good. It’s such a long week, and when you don’t even see the first lap it’s so gutting”.
Nico Rosberg also found himself slipping down the rankings after achieving sixth position in qualifying. He ended the race in eighth, after being levied with a drive-through penalty following an unsafe release at a pit stop. A total haul of just four points for the Mercedes team is a matter of concern, as this compares to 13 points for close rivals Ferrari and 25 for Lotus.
With the Driver’s Championship long since won by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and the Constructor’s title going to Red Bull, the three-way race between Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus for second place is the major issue to be settled over the remaining four races in India, Abu Dhabi, the US, and Brazil. Keep returning to the Ridgeway blog for further updates on the fortunes of the F1 Mercedes-Benz team.