Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The Japanese Grand Prix & Big News

The Lowdown

Formula One returns to action this weekend, racing in Japan at the Suzuka track, one known for its tricky corners.  This aspect has been highlighted by the fact that the driver sitting third in the points, Daniel Ricciardo, crashed during the second practice.  Or maybe it is confirmed by Lewis Hamilton, sitting first in points, crashed during the third practice session.  Those two incidents alone should provide all that’s need to make for an interesting grand prix.

Lewis Hamilton (credit: http://images.sportinglife.com/)
Lewis Hamilton recovered from a practice crash to earn P3 (credit: sportinglife.com)

The Suzuka circuit brings attention because of its intriguing layout that features a figure-eight pattern.  The track came to life in 1962 as a test track for Honda, however, it did not hold a place on the F1 calendar until 1987.  The early iterations of the Japanese Grand Prix were held at the Fuji Speedway(more on that track later), and it wasn’t until 1987 that the series began using Suzuka on a regular basis.

Since that time, it has become one of the more popular tracks on the calendar, with both fans and drivers giving their approval.  A brief hiatus, with F1 returning to the Toyota-owned Fuji, in 2007-8, interrupted Suzuka’s spot, but since then things have remained as they are.

The Race

Nico Rosberg bested his Mercedes teammate, Hamilton, by about two-tenths (0.197) of a second to earn the pole on the 18-turn course.  That those two drivers comprise the front row is no shock at this point, and neither is it that Valteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, both of Williams took the next two spots.  The Williams-Martini duo has seemingly been the Mercedes understudy for much of the season.

Fernando Alonso did his able best, by once again placing his Ferrari in a decent spot, in fifth.  The prancing pony has never been up to snuff this year and it seems that it’s Alonso’s abilities that keep them in any kind of contention at all – which, if you’ve been following, the results have been rather grim, as Alonso has yet to earn a victory, and his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen has been even further behind.

As for the race, there’s a little matter of typhoon Phanfone being a rather large issue on raceday.  At one point, it looked like the approaching storm would cancel things all together, but at this juncture, head-honcho Bernie Ecclestone asserts that things will go off as schedule.  The typhoon probably isn’t listening to Ecclestone, so it’s likely that it will still drench the circuit, making for a wet and grueling race.

The last four Japanese Grand Prix have been won by Sebastian Vettel, who with a dominant Red Bull car, was able to drive away from the field and take the trophy with relative ease each time.  Vettel is starting in ninth and doesn’t look like he’ll be a factor for the podium, let alone the win, and with his big news (see below), it’s doubtful that he’ll get everything he needs.


Enough about the track and all that stuff, lets hit the big, big news: Sebastian Vettel, the four-time and defending champion, announced that he will be leaving Red Bull at the culmination of the 2014 season.  This move is a wild one.

Vettel had been rumored to possibly going to McLaren.  McLaren will be joining forces with Honda next year, as the Japanese giant re-enters the world of F1.  The belief was that Honda would be looking to make a big splash as they return to competition, and by reading the tea leafs, it seems they have…because if Vettel is going to Ferrari, which seems to be the case (just waiting for the official announcement), that means one of the two drivers is leaving.

Exit Ferando Alonso.  The driver that many consider to be the most talented on the grid looks to be leaving to go back to the team for which he drove for just one year (teamed with Hamilton) and left under circumstances that would seem to be the equivalent of not just burning a bridge, but blowing it up with a complete aerial assault with as many missiles as could be fired to ensure the bridge seemed never to exist in the first place.  The rumors are heavy on him rejoining McLaren – which would kick Jenson Button out of the sport.

Daniil Kvyat, a rookie at Toro Rosson / Red Bull, will be moving over from Red Bull to take Vettel’s spot.

While all of these moves are intriguing, there’s still one final aspect to play out…

More News

The concept of American exceptionalism pushes the notion that the U.S. exists in a way that is different, or from the subtext, better than other countries.  To bring the concept to motor sports is to intone that the problems that NASCAR and IndyCar face are of their own.  NASCAR has been facing a number of issues, with declining fan interest, to frequent changes in the car, to questions about how the championship is decided.  Well, they’re not alone.

Formula One is also going through its own issues, that seemingly mirror those of their North American counterpart.  With some races costing as much as $65 million to host, and some lower ranked teams, like Lotus, spending $200 million to make it to each race, the question that has arisen is how the sport’s model works going forward.

Well, there’s a chance the F1 borrows from NASCAR and has the richer teams bring three cars to grid should the cash-strapped ones not appear in 2015.  What this means is that as much as Alonso may be tied to McLaren going forward, there could also be a real chance that the F1 grid will be comprised of three-car super teams.  Alonso is likely gone anyway, but the unclear situation with F1’s future brings about a whole different set of circumstances about how team signings may shake out.

About the author

Ava Lader headshot photo

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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