Image; Fleetwood Art

Saturday night in Suzuka the fireworks went off early. Joylon Palmer announced very late that he was leaving Renault after the race on Sunday, which would be his final F1 race.
Sainz was then confirmed by both Toro Rosso & Renault that he would be driving in Austin for Renault. To confuse things even more, Toro Rosso confirmed Gasly would be driving with them for the rest of the season until Honda jumped in demanding that he finish the Japanese Super Formula Championship which he is set to win. What happens next is any ones guess, but it could leave Toro Rosso without a driver for the next race in Austin, Texas, unless Palmer gets the call which is very unlikely.
Ferrari were again in a panic on the grid, but this time it was Vettel’s car getting the attention as misfiring spark plug on the way to the grid was being fixed or attempted to be fixed. Reliability problems in Ferrari garage for the second race in a row, this must be heart breaking for the team, but the wrath of the bosses in Italy will be very harsh and who knows what heads will roll over this situation.
Race starts and Vettel pulls away OK, but by the end of the first lap, Vettel is passed by Verstappen and then starts to drop back down the field.
Sainz in his last race for Toro Rosso, goes wide in turn three and off into the barriers, race over and the Safety Car is deployed to recover the car.
Hamilton and Verstappen close up, but Vettel is down in P6 due to the spark plug issue and as the race restarted on lap four, Perez passes Vettel in the Force India as the Ferrari splutters round the track and then Vettel retires on lap five.
Three races in a row that Vettel has failed to score points that will keep the championship challenge alive. 59 Point lead by the end of the race for Hamilton, one more win and a second place for Hamilton and he will pick up his 4th World Championship, which could happen in Mexico or Brazil.
Raikkonen in the remaining Ferrari starts his charge back up the into the top ten, but on lap eight, Ericsson crashes out all by himself in the Sauber bringing out the Virtual Safety Car.
Lap ten and racing again, Ricciardo closes on Ocon and takes P3 from the Force India as Bottas then lines up to overtake Ocon.
Lap eighteen and Massa is the first to pit from the main pack of cars which opens up the full pit stop window. Verstappen pits on lap twenty-two and just makes it out by half a car length in front of Raikkonen, which forces Hamilton to respond and pit the following lap.
Bottas now in front of Verstappen is blocking him and giving Hamilton the time to move clear of the Red Bull’s and then on lap thirty-one Bottas pits releasing Verstappen and Ricciardo to chase down Hamilton.

Hulkenberg pits on lap thirty-nine and re-joins down in P13, but then has a rear wing failure on lap forty as the DRS wing fails to close, forcing him to retire on lap forty-two. One angry Hulk climbs out of the Renault in the garage and stomps off before returning to thank the team.
While Renault suffer, Haas take the advantage and Magnussen forces his way passed Massa in the Williams, that also leaves the door open for Grosjean in the second Haas to pass the Williams. Massa is not happy as Magnussen did bang wheels with the Williams, but it’s a racing incident that caused no damage, but did drop Massa two places to P10.
As the race looks to settle for the remaining laps, Stroll pulls to the side of the track after going straight on over the grass and gravel trap bouncing back on track in front of Ricciardo and then retires with a front right wheel failure. Strange incident, but one young Stroll handled well at 150 MPH that could have ended up a lot worse.
Virtual safety car deployed to recover the Williams, but Hamilton looks set to win today and then on the final lap, Alonso and Massa fighting for P10 both impede Hamilton and Verstappen, but not enough to allow Verstappen time to attack Hamilton who wins in Japan.
Hamilton wins; Red Bulls are on the podium with him, as the Sun sets in Japan on Ferrari and Vettel’s 2017 championship dreams.
Force India again score double points with a great race from Ocon, but Perez was instructed to hold station and not over take which has hurt his pride. Haas also making great good point score today, but Williams were lucky to hold on to P10 with Massa as Alonso who started last in the McLaren drove brilliantly to just be denied the final point today.
Dreams shattered, but then disturbing news of press making Britta Roeske (Vettel’s PR Assistant) cry as Vettel did not attend the press-pen, blame being thrown at the British Press, but reports from Dutch press that more were in attendance and Britta was just overwhelmed by the amount of questions being thrown at her. Will Buxton and others came to her rescue and Britta was smiling again later on.
So we still have not had that Vettel v Hamilton shoot out, but as the F1 teams pack up and head to Austin, Texas in two weeks’ time, we can be sure Ferrari will clean shop and fix these reliability issues as Vettel said it’s not over yet, anything can happen in F1 and usually does.

Colin Logan for In2Motorsports.com

Colin