Martin Brundle: No practice makes perfect for Mercedes in Japan
Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle reviews Suzuka and a commanding victory for Mercedes - even if we didn't see much of the Silver Arrows
Last Updated: 29/09/15 2:38pm
Suzuka was a good advert for having less free practice over a GP weekend, or at least using Friday differently to showcase and develop new talent and involve the fans more.
There was a solid element of 'the unknown' on the grid with regard to set up, tyres and strategy and I liked that.
In the end the teams' knowledge and simulation tools proved to be effective and we had a reasonably straightforward race. It certainly wasn't that exciting, underlined by the top five in the championship finishing in the same order in the race, although some of the midfield overtakes into turn one and the hairpin were well worth seeing. We even had a pass into the somewhat challenging 'one at a time' Degner One curve.
It was however the fifth race in F1 history where all cars were classified finishers.
I've never officially done radio commentary but it felt a little like that on Sunday because we didn't see much of the Stevenage Scorcher out front. Or the other Silver Arrow of Nico Rosberg stealthily making its way forward after a tardy start and being run out of space in turn two, back up to second place and the team's 8th one-two of the season. Mr Ecclestone has his ways of reminding people who's in charge from time to time and this may have been one of them.
Both Merc drivers were raving about their cars after qualifying, and the mystery and misery of Singapore were quickly put behind them. Maybe it was Ferrari's turn for the conspiracy theory rock-hard mislabelled tyres. Yeah right, nothing to do with massively different track layouts, temperatures, and tyre compounds.
I could see out on track on Saturday morning that Ferrari didn't have the grip of other front runners, Single Digit and Ice Man couldn't quite carry the apex speed and get on the throttle as early as Merc, Red Bull, and Williams.
It says much then that Vettel and Ferrari came close to splitting the Mercs in the race. Contact and dramas for Red Bull and Massa, and a relatively disappointing run for Bottas, finishing his 26th consecutive race, served to clear the path nicely for them.
There were two naughty boy penalties on the grid for Hulkenberg (contact in Singapore) and Verstappen (parking on the racing line without a permit) which motivated them both to move significantly through the pack and vie closely for driver of the day.
I can't quite work out why Hulkenberg's consistent speed and talent haven't taken him further up the ranks, he just doesn't seem to be able to seize the big opportunities on and off track to date. Max V, who will be 18 by now and so heading for veteran status in no time, once again confirmed that he will be in a title-challenging car and position in short order.
Watching Rosberg preparing for the time-honoured post race team photo in the pit lane was painful, he looked so unhappy. Despite taking pole the day before it was his team mate they were cheering as Hamilton positively bounced into the frame. When push came to shove in turn two of the race it was Hamilton who had the track position and momentum and then just controlled the race seemingly at a canter.
The changes to the start controls, which are even more stringent next season, have had an impact in the races since Hungary. There appears to be three phases now; releasing the first clutch to start moving, releasing the second clutch for full power delivery, and then critically managing the throttle while chaos is going on all around to allow maximum transmittable power.
Lewis said to us on SkyF1 that he has a 'good feel' for the grip in that stage, and it shows recently.
Somewhat bizarrely over dinner on Saturday night I was approached and asked if I wanted to drive Gerhard Berger's 1987 Suzuka race winning Ferrari F187 for a couple of demonstration laps. The man himself had bagged Senna's McLaren to drive.
The answer was 'of course' and so on Sunday morning I blagged some boots, gloves and a (slightly too small) skid lid from Daniel Ricciardo, some earplugs from the TV compound, and a new set of size 52 white overalls were magically found. The last time I drove a race car around Suzuka was when I finished 5th for Jordan in the 1996 Japanese GP on what turned out to be my final F1 race.
Driving race tracks is like swimming and riding a bicycle, you never forget how to do it. Despite never having turned a wheel in the car I felt comfortable from the first corner, the fat tyres and wide suspension helping in that respect. The track looked as I remembered it except for the slightly less intimidating 130R. What a privilege.
I always savour an F1 car and racetrack as if it's the last time it will ever happen because one day it will be. I was in that 1987 first Suzuka race which Gerdy won and the cars did feel rather analogue and agricultural, but once out on track it really was all down to the drivers to make the beauties work. There's a sense of being very connected when you're holding one end of a lever which is directly connected to the gearbox and you can feel the teeth of the gears engage. In the same way that your foot is actually connected to the throttle linkage. That feeling is heightened by knowing you could well spin off or blow up the engine if you engage the wrong gear or miss it altogether.
A driver now has to be content with being told 'magic paddle, WWF switch strat mode 6 sub menu C, urgent' followed by him saying either 'that didn't work' or 'remind me where that is'.
That's progress I guess, and no we can't go back to manual gearshifts, you'll be wanting drum brakes and spoked wheels next. And then Murray would be back in the commentary box and I'd get fired and couldn't drive Suzuka and F1 cars any more.
Joking aside, we can't forget what we learn as technology moves on in the world, but it did remind me that drivers must be fully perceived as, and actually, driving the cars themselves, and the impending changes for 2017 must major on this aspect as far as possible.
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Don't miss this the F1 Midweek Report for analysis of the Japanese GP. Natalie Pinkham is joined by David Brabham and Ted Kravitz on Wednesday at 8:30pm on Sky Sports F1.