F1 2021 Round 17 – Japan

Suzuka is an F1 venue with a lot of history. This track is fast and furious and it took me a while to feel comfortable through a number of challenging portions of track.

The first thing about Suzuka is that turn 1 is very quick, until it abruptly isn’t, and then the sweeping S curves proved to be hard to master. It was all too easy to run wide, or catch a kerb and spin, but the alternative was to be too cautious, and thus lose time. In practice I once again went out on hard tyres and with a lot of fuel, to continue to try and understand the car at its worst, so to speak. My efforts didn’t really help me all that much, for in qualifying the best I could do was P11. 11th became 8th due to penalties elsewhere (including Bottas, who you may recall had retired from the previous two races). As a result, despite a sticky start, I found myself heading Bottas for several laps early on, whilst I diced about in 9th. I wanted to keep some of the faster cars behind me, to open up new options with pit-stop strategies, though ultimately I was looking at a one-stop, having begun on softs.

Tyre strategy would be, as it so often is in F1, critical. Many cars around me ditched their soft boots for hard tyres quite early, whilst I went on, looking to hold out for a time where I could make mediums last. Some cars (such as the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo) opted for an extra stint on soft tyres – a two-stop race then, for some. Not for me – I had to make my one-stop race work if I was to score a decent haul of points around this intimidating circuit. This meant some aggressive offensive and defensive driving, and as we started lap 11, this meant Bottas and I got too close for comfort. In fact, we touched, and the Mercedes came off far worse; Bottas retired, and my immediate thought was ‘well, Hamilton retired after tangling with me, it seemed appropriate for Bottas to suffer the same fate’. This would naturally have a huge bearing on title-related matters, but for me there was the small matter of finishing the race.

On lap 26, on fresh mediums, I went down the inside of Vettel’s Aston Martin at the Hairpin, and on lap 43, having chased him for what felt like forever, I did the same to the Alpha Tauri of Gasly, by which point a very fast Daniel Ricciardo was hunting me and Gasly down. I was now 7th, and I hoped Gasly might hold up Ricciardo a little, but he didn’t really do too much. However, I had enough of a gap to hold off Ricciardo and keep him from DRS range until right near the end of the race, and was able to hold on to finish 7th.

I mentioned the title battle, and as Hamilton won the race, he moved six points into the lead of the standings, for what I believe was the first time since the opening race. We still had six races to go, and therefore plenty of points were still available, but the championship had been blown wide open.

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