Late Lauda lauded as Merc make history

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas (in caps), and principal & CEO Toto Wolff (clenching fists) celebrating with the team, with a trademark Niki Lauda cap to top it off.
Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas (in caps), and principal & CEO Toto Wolff (clenching fists) celebrating with the team, with a trademark Niki Lauda cap to top it off. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Bottas too strong for Vettel with Hamilton third, Wolff dedicates feat to late chairman

SUZUKA • Valtteri Bottas roared to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday, as Mercedes clinched the Formula One constructors' championship and guaranteed themselves an unprecedented sixth consecutive title double.

The Finn crossed the line 11.3 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, whose pole-sitting Ferrari proved no match for the Silver Arrows in race trim, leaving him to fend off a charging Lewis Hamilton in third place.

The result moved Mercedes, who are unbeaten at Suzuka since 2014, 179 points clear of the Scuderia, allowing them to wrap up a record-equalling sixth straight constructors' crown, with a maximum 176 points from four races up for grabs.

It also assures Mercedes of the drivers' title, with only Bottas now capable of overtaking Hamilton, who saw his lead narrow to 64 points in the overall standings.

After matching Ferrari, who won six constructors' titles from 1999 to 2004, team boss Toto Wolff dedicated the feat to their late non-executive chairman and three-time world champion Niki Lauda, who died in May following a period of ill health.

Admitting to Sky Sports that "it doesn't compensate for the loss as he's simply not here any more", the Austrian said of his compatriot: "He was just a very special person.

"I miss him every day and I think about him every day... he was a larger-than-life person and I say to myself, 'What would he say and what would he think?'

  • JAPAN GRAND PRIX

  • RESULTS

    1 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1hr 21min 46.755sec

    2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 13.343sec behind

    3 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) +13.858

    4 Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull +59.537

    5 Carlos Sainz (Esp) McLaren +1min09.101sec

    6 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault +1 lap

    7 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari +1 lap

    8 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso +1 lap

    9 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point +1 lap

    10 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault +1 lap DNF Max Verstappen (Ned)

    Red Bull

    DRIVERS' STANDINGS

    1 Hamilton 338pts 2 Bottas 274 3 Leclerc 221 4 Verstappen 212

    5 Vettel 212

    CONSTRUCTORS' STANDINGS

    1 Mercedes* 612pts 2 Ferrari 433

    3 Red Bull 323 4 McLaren 111 5 Renault 77

    *champions

"Niki would have said congratulations for the sixth ones, you have a problem for next year.

"We want to dedicate this to Niki because he has been such an important part from the beginning of the journey and his sheer presence was always so important in the mixture between support and pressure."

On doing the double yet again, Wolff attributed the team's continued success to their ability to roll with the punches, before warning the rest of the competitors it was "something we need to continue to work on".

"When we embarked on the journey six or seven years ago, we wanted to win races more regularly and then fight for championships," he said. "Then six years later, it's the sixth championship in a row.

"I feel so happy for everybody that was involved. Lots of hard work behind the scenes, lots of painful moments also, but the team was always able to pick themselves up.

"This team has become so strong because we have really been able to stand up when it didn't go well, like this morning (in qualifying)."

"Qualifying came, and we weren't quick enough like the last few races (Ferrari have taken pole in the past five grands prix) and disappointed, and now we win a race and win both championships."

Insisting there would be no easing up in the remaining races, Wolff added: "There is a saying that a good horse only jumps as high as it needs to jump. But that is not the case with us.

"The regulations stay the same (in 2020) and therefore, learning from this year's car is as important for next year as developing a new one... we are just not quick enough on a single lap against Ferrari, we need to tackle that and we will."

Hamilton can clinch the drivers' championship at the next race in Mexico on Oct 27, with the Briton needing to outscore his teammate by 14 points at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to seal his third consecutive world title and sixth career crown to close in on Michael Schumacher's all-time record of seven.

Separately, Charles Leclerc was demoted to seventh and Ferrari fined €25,000 (S$37,870) and handed two time penalties following his first-lap collision with Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who slammed the incident that forced him to retire in the pit lane after 15 laps as "irresponsible driving".

A post-race inquiry was held and an official statement from the stewards said that "Car 16 is judged predominantly at fault", while the Monegasque driver Leclerc later took responsibility on social media for "my mistake in turn one".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2019, with the headline 'Late Lauda lauded as Merc make history'. Print Edition | Subscribe