Sunny skies and a picturesque setting underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the perfect scene for the launch of the 2020 Supercars Championship season.
Four races remain in the 2019 Formula One season.
We have one of our championships confirmed and a whole lot of interesting things to look at after another round draws to close.
Stewards, timing and typhoons
What a crazy weekend in Japan. From the threat of a typhoon, the rescheduling of qualifying, right through to a pretty action-packed race. The 2019 Japanese Grand Prix seemingly had it all.
However, one thing it didn’t seem to have was an idea when the race was meant to finish. Was it lap 52? Lap 53? Ask Lance Stroll and I’m sure he’d tell you lap 53, however a computer glitch which sent the chequered flag signal out a lap early had the race finish on lap 52, meaning Stroll’s Racing Point teammate Sergio Perez took home points instead of the Canadian.
Considering how strong Stroll had driven this weekend, he’d no doubt be leaving Japan feeling pretty gutted. At least we can’t blame a model this time around.
There was also the little issue of the stewarding across the race. The first corner incident between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc was initially deemed a racing incident with no further action needed. However, a classic Verstappen radio whinge (which in fairness to the Dutchman hadn’t happened in a while) soon changed the fortunes of that investigation, and Leclerc was promptly investigated and punished 15 seconds both for the accident and driving in an unsafe condition after the race.
Another contentious issue revolved around Sebastian Vettel and his movement off the line before the race start. Cameras appeared to show the German making a false start, moving forward slightly on the fifth light before stopping and then ultimately starting again on the race start proper. There were calls of inconsistency given Kimi Raikkonen received a penalty last round in Russia for a similar incident, however the stewards explained that Vettel wasn’t moving when the lights went out, while Raikkonen was deemed to have been moving when the lights went out in Sochi.
Six in a row for Mercedes
Remember the early 2000s when people bemoaned how boring the sport was when Ferrari and Michael Schumacher won time and time again? Or when the sport was in dire need for change in 2013 because Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were just too good?
Those were actually pretty good days compared to now it seems, because we live in a world where Mercedes have collected their sixth double-double in a row. This is a history making moment for the team, as they have become the first to do so in the history of Formula One.
But for fans who like to see a bit of variety? It hasn’t exactly been the greatest period in the sport.
Mercedes secured their sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship at Suzuka thanks to Valtteri Bottas claiming the win and Lewis Hamilton finishing third and securing a point for the fastest lap. They also assured that one of the two of them will win the drivers’ championship at the end of the year.
And while neutral fans may find this period of domination tedious, credit must of course be given to the team for their consistency over the last six seasons to maintain such a dominant foothold at the top of the sport. Many doubted they would replicate the success they once achieved in the 1950s when they took over Brawn at the end of 2009, but a decade later Mercedes have proved that they are one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport.
Alex Albon looks good for Red Bull in 2020
Fourth place for Albon at Suzuka is his best ever result in Formula One. The Thai driver drove superbly all weekend in Japan, setting the same time as Max Verstappen in Q3 and bouncing back from a bad start in the race to achieve 12 points and surely give himself a firm stranglehold on retaining his seat at Red Bull in 2020.
His challengers, Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, didn’t quite give the Milton Keys team too much cause for notice across the weekend. Gasly was solid enough to finish in 8th, while Kvyat didn’t even crack the top ten all weekend and struggled home in 12th.
Expect an announcement soon that the impressive rookie will get to continue to showcase just exactly what he is capable of by securing his seat for another season.
Will the real Renault please stand up
Where did that race pace come from Renault? After seemingly languishing at the back of the grid with a variety of issues all weekend, the French outfit put in a bolter during the race to come home 6th and 10th.
Daniel Ricciardo was criminally overlooked in the ‘driver of the day’ conversation with a storming drive from 16th to sixth, while Nico Hulkenberg drove a quiet but solid race to claim a double points finish for the team.
What made it more interesting for the team is the fact that McLaren only had one car in the points, after another superb drive by the ‘smooth operator’ himself, Carlos Sainz. The battle for fourth in the Constructors is definitely on in the remaining four races, with Renault hoping they can get on top of their pre-race pace to get up higher on the grid and really take the challenge to McLaren for the rest of the season.
Stop getting too excited over ‘Super Sunday’
The big takeaway for most people from the weekend was how amazing it was to have qualifying and the race on Sunday. This so called ‘super Sunday’ excited so many people that they are getting a little too ahead of themselves by saying it is the final nail in the coffin to introduce a sprint race next season as part of qualifying, and perhaps shake up the schedule over a weekend to include more action on a Sunday.
While in theory this is a good idea, people seemingly have a short memory when it comes to this idea. In 2004, we had our first instance of qualifying moving to a Sunday at the Japanese Grand Prix due to Typhoon Ma-on, and everyone was quick to jump on the hype train and implement a split qualifying in 2005 to enable qualifying on a Saturday and a Sunday.
That created a disastrous aggregate system that was hated by pretty much everyone and was scrapped after only six races.
If there is a call for more action on a Sunday, why not bring back the Sunday warm-up session that used to take place for an hour in the morning on race day? This was always a great opportunity for teams to get out on the track, test the conditions and get their cars race-ready and fully know how the track would most likely handle for the race that afternoon.
This would ultimately mean that parc fermé regulations would need to be relaxed after qualifying, but if there was a workaround it would mean more on-track action for fans at the circuit and more track time for drivers. This is something many drivers complain about and long for, so it could be a win-win situation.
With all that in mind, it’s now time to focus on Mexico in two weeks to see if Lewis Hamilton can secure his sixth drivers’ championship. Considering how he has fared at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in the past, you certainly wouldn’t put it past him.