Hamilton proved right, Ricciardo is broken and Stroll should go: What we learned from the 2024 Japanese GP

Red Bull proved Australia was a one-off as they secured a 1-2 finish in Japan

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Max Verstappen killed off any dwindling notion of a Formula 1 title fight in 2024 as he dominated the Japanese Grand Prix, winning by 20 seconds to Sergio Perez, but as ever, a lot was unfolding behind him so here’s what we learned from the race around Suzuka.  

It was a relatively dull affair as far as overtaking was concerned, although some nice moves were stuck by cars on faster tyres as the real intrigue of the event was the strategic battling by the engineers and data scientists on the pit wall.

But Carlos Sainz, Mercedes, Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll all proved to be talking points in the 53-lap race that saw an opening lap red flag due to a high-speed crash that caused a lot of headaches for Williams as they try to manage until May with no spare chassis.

Sainz’s form is for real in 2024

Carlos Sainz proved his early season form is no fluke as he once again dominated Charles Leclerc throughout a race weekend, for the third time in this 2024 F1 campaign.

The Spaniard came into the Japanese GP, as he will for the foreseeable days, with his F1 seat unsecured and he did not disappoint to wow potential suitors by out-qualifying his teammate by over a tenth before finishing six seconds ahead of him in the race.

Sure, many Leclerc fans might point to the failed one-stopper attempt by the Monegasque driver as the reason why he did not finish in third-place, but it was he himself who called that strategy whilst the shrewd Sainz proved correct in his judgement to pick the faster way to the line.

The three top seats that could open up are at Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari whilst he could also head to Sauber and gamble on the impact of Audi when they take over the team in 2026, but in either case, he is showing that he has a lot to offer and has found the consistency that he had during his time at McLaren; something that deserted him in 2022 and 2023.

Sainz on his day may not be the quickest driver out there but he makes up for that with carefully selected set-ups and an excellent eye for a good strategy and the race around Suzuka proved that to be the case once again as he becomes a very attractive idea for F1 team principals to mull over for 2025.

Race winner Max Verstappen, Second placed Sergio Perez and Third placed Carlos Sainz of Ferrari celebrate with Craig Dear, Principal Aerodynamicist at Red Bull Racing on the podium at 2024 Japanese Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Race winner Max Verstappen, Second placed Sergio Perez and Third placed Carlos Sainz of Ferrari celebrate with Craig Dear, Principal Aerodynamicist at Red Bull Racing on the podium at 2024 Japanese Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Mercedes are absolutely nowhere and Hamilton was right

It was recently published that Mercedes’ team principal, Toto Wolff, said he hopes that Lewis Hamilton will enjoy the sight of his cars’ rear wings when he trades silver for red by joining Ferrari in 2025.

But after the latest round of the championship that is simply a laughable idea. Fred Vasseur’s team are heading in all the right directions as they go strength-to-strength whilst Mercedes are in a steep decline, becoming a shadow of the team they were in 2020.

The result of that was that they finished 19 seconds behind the lowest-placing Ferrari and they finished 25 seconds behind Sainz‘s podium-completing SF-24 and for the third race this season, they were almost a minute off the lead as Verstappen won the race.

Hamilton was spot on to trade Brackley for Maranello and every time Mercedes slips further behind Ferrari on the track, he is secretly a winner in the context of next season. Wolff needs to stop the grand statements in the media and figure out how to get a grip on the team he inherited from Ross Brawn back in 2014, before they end up falling behind Williams to be the worst Mercedes-powered car on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton in action during the 2024 Japanese GP | Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton in action during the 2024 Japanese GP | Mercedes

Ricciardo will never be who he was

When Daniel Ricciardo came back onto the grid ahead of the 2023 Hungarian GP, it came with the news that he was reportedly a tenth off Verstappen‘s pole position time for the British GP a few days earlier after a private test, leading to a lot of excitement.

But that was a long time ago and he is once again back to the McLaren form that almost killed his career stone dead as Yuki Tsunoda continues to outshine him as the pair contend for the 2025 Red Bull seat, should the world champions decide they’re finished with Perez.

In fact, the 34-year-old has failed to beat his colleague in any competitive session save for the 2024 Bahrain GP and even that was only via team orders, prompting a frustrated reaction from a 23-year-old feeling severely overlooked by the big sister of RB.

He was close to the one-lap pace of Tsunoda this time but once again the Australian lacked the final bit of extra speed that his Japanese rival could muster, resulting in a Q2 exit and further disappointment. His grand prix attempt did not even get better.

Ironically, driver #3 lasted just three corners of the 53-lap race before heading for an early shower as he took himself out shortly after the lights turned green with a rookie mistake by sweeping across the racing line and into the side of Alex Albon’s Williams car, punching both a one-way ticket to the tyre walls.

Helmut Marko has already implied his patience with the eight-time race winner is wearing thin and the latest mistake will have done him no favours at all. His successful 2020 season with Renault, when he scored two podiums and 119 points in a midfield car, seems a lot more than four years ago now…

Daniel Ricciardo looks on in the pitlane during qualifying ahead of the 2024 Japanese GP | Peter Fox/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s time for Lance Stroll to give it up

Lance Stroll had one of the strongest rookie seasons in the sports’ history, securing a podium and then a front-row start next to Hamilton in 2017, but that was a long time ago and despite the Canadian being aged just 25 he is now into his eighth season, he had made little progress.

The Japanese GP represented another disappointing effort from the son of the Aston Martin owner as he was booted out of qualifying in Q1 after being 0.8 slower than Fernando Alonso and one of five drivers to fail to break into the 1:29s on one-lap pace.

Then, as his middle-aged teammate locked down a sixth-place finish, Stroll failed to move higher than 12th as he was beaten by Nico Hulkenberg and Tsunoda in far slower cars that finished 48 seconds down on Hamilton‘s ninth-placed Mercedes.

He did have a decent start before the Lap 1 red flag but that’s about it and, to be brutally honest, solid race starts are all he has left these days as even his sporadic wet-weather cameos no longer occur.

Aston Martin could achieve so much more with a capable teammate to Alonso, not just in regards to overall points but in terms of feedback and development because at the moment Alonso is running a one-man gig. Aston Martin simply can’t develop the car nearly as well with someone regularly six tenths off the speed of the Spaniard.

It’s with that in mind that Stroll should really hang up the F1 driver boots and look for a different series to compete in because he’s no longer cut out for the premier class of motorsport, but then again, his seat is the most secure one on the grid after all.

Brandon Sutton
Brandon Sutton
Brandon is an alumni of an NCTJ and BJTC Liverpool John Moores University course, and has been with Total-Motorsport.com for over a year now. He enjoys covering all forms of motorsport but particularly focuses on Formula 1, and Brandon loves to debate various topics of the sport and other interests, especially if that topic doesn't have an open/shut answer such as the GOAT debate.
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