Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Suzuka, 2019

2019 Japanese Grand Prix Star Performers

2019 Japanese Grand Prix

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Carlos Sainz Jnr, Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas were RaceFans’ Star Performers of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. Here’s why.


Carlos Sainz Jnr

Sainz is in great form at the moment. At Suzuka he again qualified and finished first among the midfielders, and was quick enough to discourage Ferrari from thinking it could get Charles Leclerc up into fifth place (before his penalties were taken into consideration).

On a day when McLaren weren’t able to get their other car home in the points through no fault of their own, Sainz ensured they still out-scored the Renaults.

Pierre Gasly

After a torrid first half of the year at Red Bull, Gasly is beginning to remind people why he got his chance at the top team to begin with. He took his STR14 into Q3 and scored points in a difficult race. His car developed a suspension problem early on but he wrestled it to the end in eighth place.

Valtteri Bottas

The race winner had the upper hand over his team mate all weekend and seized his chance to get ahead of both Ferraris at the start. Perhaps luck was on his side in that moment, but from then on he scorched off into the lead, kept an eye on the team’s strategy and spared his engine when he had the chance. More solid than spectacular but it got the job done.

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Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica, Williams, Suzuka, 2019
Kubica crashed just when he needed not to
A hefty crash as he began his first lap in Q1 left Kubica on the back foot and the team scrambling to repair his car.

After starting from the pit lane, and fuming over having the 2020-specification front wing taken off his car, he toiled away at the back of the field, falling further away from his team mate.

Kevin Magnussen

Also spoiled his race with a shunt in qualifying, and despite a good start slipped back to the tail of the field by the end of the race.

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And the rest

Start, Suzuka, 2019
The Ferrari pair wasted their front row lock-out
Strategy errors and unreliability have cost Ferrari potentials wins this year, but this one was purely on their drivers. Sebastian Vettel blew his start, distracting Charles Leclerc as he did; the latter then made a mistake of his own by understeering into Max Verstappen. The team wasn’t blameless, though – had they got Leclerc into the pits when they should have he wouldn’t have coped the 10 second penalty which copped him fifth place.

Lewis Hamilton wasn’t at his best, though Mercedes’ unnecessarily conservative strategy ensured he was only a bit-player in proceedings. The Red Bull pair weren’t in contention either: After setting identical times in qualifying Max Verstappen wasn’t bundled out of the race by Leclerc and Alexander Albon had to fight his way past the McLarens.

He came past Lando Norris just as the McLaren driver’s brake temperatures were climbing sky-high due to debris from Leclerc’s car, which forced him into the pits and ended his chances of scoring points.

After a disappointing qualifying performance, Daniel Ricciardo salvaged a fine sixth for Renault, aided by Nico Hulkenberg who played a supporting role to his team mate again. Sergio Perez’s lap 53 crash would have promoted Hulkenberg to ninth, but a chequered flag error meant he was tenth instead, and Perez’s team mate Lance Stroll unluckily missed out on a point.

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Suzuka, 2019
Ricciardo qualified poorly but bounced back
Antonio Giovinazzi led the Alfa Romeo pair in qualifying but Kimi Raikkonen got ahead of him in the race, though neither were destined to score points. Romain Grosjean denied Giovinazzi a place in Q3, but started poorly and also finished outside the top 10.

George Russell put in a very good performance under trying circumstances at Williams, as he struggled with very inconsistent brake performance without the race. The problem was so bad he considered retiring the car at one point.

Over to you

Vote for the driver who impressed you most last weekend and find out whether other RaceFans share your view here:

2019 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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27 comments on “2019 Japanese Grand Prix Star Performers”

  1. Stars: SAI, BOT, GAS, and RIC (caveat).
    Strugglers: VET, HAM, ALB, and LEC.

    1. How is the guy that could have won the race if the team wasn’t too busy looking after his teammate’s feelings a struggler?

      1. Well, rb13, hamilton was beaten both in qualifying and race by bottas, maybe not a struggler but closer to that, what baffles me of those ratings is vettel: if anything I’d have thought this race weekend raised his stock, I mean, I’m one of the biggest critics but I think overall he drove better these last 3 races.

        Albon I also disagree with, he had his best race since red bull.

        1. @esploratore, I would agree that the original post by @jerejj doesn’t make any sense without any explanation for his logic, because I’d agree that it is hard to see why those individuals were “strugglers”.

          In the case of Hamilton, I wouldn’t say that finishing on the podium whilst heavily pressuring the driver in front for 2nd was a sign that he was struggling. Similarly, I would agree that, even if Vettel did fluff the start, the fact that he was able to secure pole and still had a fairly clean race for 2nd place isn’t what I would call a struggle.

          With Albon, I would say that he was hardly struggling either given he matched Verstappen in qualifying down to the nearest thousandth of a second for his first ever visit to Suzuka and given the lack of practise time. OK, he did eventually finish nearly a minute off the lead, but that looks more of a reflection of Red Bull being off the pace – all in all, Albon had a fairly clean, if slightly quiet, race, such that saying he “struggled” doesn’t make sense.

          I don’t get those selections – is he simply throwing criticism at the other four drivers in the top teams because they didn’t win? Is it a case of criticising others because the driver he favoured in that race did poorly? It’s strange, because those drivers didn’t exactly seem to struggle.

  2. Lenny (@leonardodicappucino)
    19th October 2019, 9:17

    I love this site and I think the content is great, but please consider proofreading one more time before posting articles. Recently, and especially in this article, the amount of typo’s and other small errors is just too high.

    1. After setting identical times in qualifying Max Verstappen wasn’t bundled out of the race by Leclerc…

      @leonardodicappucino Maybe that’s just how Keith saw it, okay?? :P

      1. No, I agree with Lenny. Grammatical errors are rife throughout this story completely confusing the content.

        1. Lenny (@leonardodicappucino)
          19th October 2019, 16:54

          @homerlovesbeer from the “:P” it is quite clear that @ninjenius is just having some fun, let him have it

    2. Totally agree with @leonardodicappucino. @keithcollantine maybe invest in grammarly to help out with this?

  3. How on earth is Leclerc not a struggler?

    1. Indeed. I am baffled by this. But then I shouldn’t be.

      He wasn’t a struggler in Germany last year, despite spinning once, then later almost crashing finishing over 60 seconds behind Ericsson who was in the points. And if Alonso didn’t have his problems at the end, Leclerc will have finished dead last.

      He wasn’t a struggler in Monaco this year, despite crashing and then wrecking his car by driving in a stupid manner back to the pits. Would have been able to continue if he drove more carefully.

      He wasn’t a struggler in Germany this year either, despite crashing out of the race and retiring.

      He wasn’t a struggler in Japan, despite crashing into verstappen after having a poor start, then ignoring team orders and due to his crash, got nowhere near the best result. His race was significantly worse than Vettel and he was basically a lap down because of his mistake. If Vettel wasn’t considered great this weekend, I don’t know how leclerc can’t be considered very poor indeed.

      There is a pattern here. Leclerc never is considered a struggler despite several very poor races. It doesn’t take much for other drivers to be considered one.

      1. Agree, ben, I think leclerc, along with verstappen and hamilton is one of the 3 best drivers currently, there’s more obvious ones with potential but let’s wait and see them in a top car, example gasly can’t drive a top car, but even then I think he’s been given too many passes on being a struggler.

        1. I don’t know who else but himself is to blame for him having to change his front wing. When he finished the race, he was directly behind Bottas – 1 lap down. Vettel was a few seconds behind him – well, ahead of him holding off a very quick Hamilton. I just don’t know why Leclerc wasn’t a struggler.

          I can easily see Stroll being considered one if he finished close to a lap down on Perez and many other drivers.

          Some drivers just seem to be forgiven too easily. I know Bottas crashed out in Germany, so effectively worse than Hamilton, but Hamilton was also dreadful that race. Stuck in 12th behind Grosjean and could not pass. You can say the team made a mistake in the pit lane, but Hamilton and crashed and came in unexpectedly. If it wasn’t for Alfa Romeo being punished that race, hamilton will not have been in the points. That was a truly terrible race for the ability of his car. But drivers like him and Leclerc don’t seem to get there bad drives pointed out in the same way as drivers that are not rated as highly. These drivers are not always incredible.

  4. Gasly is an interesting case study. The difference between his almost disastrous appearances in a Red Bull stands in stark contrast to his comfortably good performances in the Toro Rosso.

    There is a small chance it will be an interesting conundrum for Dr. Marko to decide between Albon and Gasly (the former of whom is doing decently well), but I think the bigger concern will be for Gasly, in terms of his F1 future.

    It seems unlikely they’ll give him a shot at the big team, so where does he go? To another midfield team? Or does he just suck it up and hold station at Toro Rosso until the RB pipeline fills up with young talent, at which point either Kvyat or he is dropped?

    1. To me its proof gasly wasn’t driving the fastest red bull car. No way at f1 level a driver can be that much off pace from his teammate. Red bull have always favored Max they are trying to hype him up for that sweet pr money.

      1. Well, the extremely overrated Kubica is that far off Russell, so it is definitely possible.

        Sorry, Kubica fans, he wasn’t that great before his accident. Let alone having missed eight seasons

      2. @carlosmedrano In which case why did Redbull drop Gasly after half a season for underperforming if they knew they weren’t giving him a fair chance? Why replace him with Albon – do they want to destroy the career of another of their young drivers to build up the Max hype?

        Driver performance varies across teams and with different cars. Clearly Max is very fast but I think also Gasly didn’t really get to grips with the handling of the Redbull, and maybe didn’t handle the pressure well either. Your conspiracy theory doesnt hold any weight for me.

    2. I think a lot of his problem was Verstappen. Not only was he being compared to an elite-level driver – whereas now he’s being compared to Kvyat, so looks much better – he also struggled (I think) with coming to terms with the fact he just wasn’t good enough to compete with Verstappen.

      Or it might also be a car characteristics thing. Perhaps the STR just suits his style and the RBR didn’t.

      1. And like I often say, let’s not forget some drivers for a reason or another cannot handle a top car despite being good in the midfield, why didn’t fisichella do better against alonso when he got his chance in a renault, and why didn’t frentzen at least match villeneuve when he got his chance at williams?

      2. It’s been said by TR manager that gasly prefers the handling of the TR and that was why he struggled with the RB. If they were favouring Max then Albon wouldn’t be able to match his qually time this time around or do as well as he is doing. Albon can adapt…Gasly couldn’t. Unfortunately Gasly will be stuck in a midfield term for the rest of his days it would seem as i can’t see RB taking him over Albon who is doing the business but he has probably accepted that now similar to Kvyat.

  5. Sebastian Vettel blew his start, distracting Charles Leclerc as he did

    It’s hard to sympathize with Leclerc here. If the guy on the same row as you blows his start, that’s the time to make the best of it, not get befuddled.

    1. Should have closed his left eye.

  6. Hulkenberg was pretty decent and maximised what was given to him. Start was really good probably the best of grid we had on sunday.

    1. Cheryl (@genuinehulkfan)
      19th October 2019, 21:46


  7. Lol thats stupid how gasly got it but ricciardo didn’t

    1. Seems it’s because of ricciardo’s bad qualifying, I overlooked it, it’s actually easy to overlook midfield driver’s races, let alone qualifyings.

    2. @carlosmedrano, well, there are the doubts about the legality of Ricciardo’s car in that race…

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