With 104 points still on offer in the four races after Japan, Leclerc will need to outscore Hamilton by four points and Max Verstappen will need to take seven points out of the Englishman, while Sebastian Vettel requires a 25-point swing in Sunday’s race.
But Bottas would still be in the hunt even if he retired and Hamilton took the maximum 26 points for win and fastest lap.
With six more wins than any other driver in 2019, Hamilton is already guaranteed to win on countback were he to end the season tied on points with anyone.
To become champion at the Mexican GP on October 27, Hamilton needs to finish that weekend 78 points clear of his nearest challenger.
So that means he must increase his current 73-point advantage by five points or more over the course of Japan and Mexico. Seventy-eight points would be enough after Mexico to do it because, as mentioned, he wins any tie-breaker.
DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP TOP FIVE
1. Lewis Hamilton — 322 points
2. Valtteri Bottas — 249 points (-73)
3. Charles Leclerc — 215 points (-107)
4. Max Verstappen — 212 points (-110)
5. Sebastian Vettel — 194 points (-128)
But Constructors’ could be settled in Japan
Mercedes’ unexpected one-two last time out in Sochi has opened up the possibility for them to clinch a record-equalling sixth successive Constructors’ Championship as soon as this Sunday at Suzuka.
The Brackley team lead Ferrari by 162 points with a maximum of 220 left to play for.
With only 176 left after Suzuka, Mercedes must therefore increase their advantage over the Scuderia by 14 points this weekend to become champions once again, with four races to spare.
Only Ferrari (1999-2004) have won six constructors’ titles in a row, but no team has ever secured six successive championship doubles (drivers’ and constructors’).
This article originally appeared on Sky Sports and has been republished with consent.
Regardless, another Bathurst classic left us bemoaning the fact that there are 51 weeks until the next one comes around.
Here are five things we learned from the 2019 Great Race.
The (wrong) talking point
The chatter should have been centred on be the historic Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat victory. In the eyes of many, it was.
Other teams, should they have been in the same position, would have made the same call that the DJR Team Penske squad did with Fabian Coulthard, with an eye on track position and the avoidance of double-stacking.
Simply, it just wasn’t a good look.
The battle all day was raging, it was close, and it didn’t need that obstruction, but track position is everything. Coulthard was branded a “sacrificial lamb” by Shane van Gisbergen, who missed the win by just 0.6799s despite being better off on fuel when he was held up. However, Coulthard was the one that was penalised on the day, and now we’ll see if officials can determine a breach of team order regulations. Penalties could be wide ranging, but don’t expect the #17 to lose its victory — even if rivals argue otherwise. McLaughlin thought little of the drama at all, celebrating the biggest day of his career.
So what needs to change? Should Safety Car intervention trigger the closure of the pit lane? Should Supercars look to bring in a Virtual Safety Car-like system? Like we found out in Auckland, the Safety Car is a gamechanger, but things can go sour very quickly. The show is the important thing, but so is safety — don’t forget, Jamie Whincup and McLaughlin bolted at race speed to the lane despite the Safety Car deployment — but so is an outcome that doesn’t leave a stain on an otherwise sensational race.
Thursday, lap record broken. Same on Friday, and again in Saturday’s Top 10 Shootout, the pressure cooker to end all pressure cookers. However, while McLaughlin was on the money when it came to single-lap pace, his racecraft also helped he and Premat get it done.
Late in the race, for so long, he stared at the rear bumper of Jamie Whincup’s #888 Red Bull entry before the Holden squad gambled with a fuel stop at a late Safety Car. Concurrently, DJR Team Penske gambled and left McLaughlin out. Pressure on big time for 26-year-old McLaughlin. Rolling the dice worked in the end in a race that was about track position, but that final lap — to hang onto the lead in the face of unrivalled pressure — was proof of McLaughlin’s unbreakable mental fortitude.
Unfair to point finger at Fabs
Take one look at form, and it’s clear Coulthard isn’t currently operating at a level higher than McLaughlin. To be fair, no one is. Coulthard is third in the championship. He is 787 points down on his teammate. McLaughlin, who continues to flex his muscle, has 18 wins and 15 poles in 2019. Coulthard has two wins and one pole. In nearly three seasons together, McLaughlin has taken 35 wins to Coulthard’s seven, and 42 poles to Coulthard’s two. Coulthard is locked in alongside McLaughlin for 2020, but it is truly is a case of the younger teammate being a class above.
So, it’s easy to frame the drama from Sunday as the team sacrificing the #12 as McLaughlin was the lead car, which encouraged van Gisbergen’s quip.
But quickfire criticism of Coulthard himself — even though he followed orders from the pit lane — was unfair. Far too many, including those on social media, flung turds his way. Coulthard is no mug. He is a very good driver, but he’s up against a very very good teammate in a very good team. Through it all, he had a right to feel upset.
Regardless, when asked after the race whether Coulthard “took one for the team”, DJRTP co-owner Roger Penske — who discussed McLaughlin’s US aspirations — downplayed the drama: “I’m not sure that made the difference in who was going to win the race,” he said. “We can look at it, and talk about, but it’s secondary as far as I’m concerned when you think about what happened at the end. Everybody had a chance. The two top guys had a chance to duel there at the end.”
‘Slow down, slow down’
Parity debate takes a back seat, for now
High speed, slow speed, long straights, aero turns. Mount Panorama had all the makings of the rebirth of the parity storm. However, there was little between the Mustang, Commodore and Altima all weekend. Notably, Andre Heimgartner plonked his Nissan in the 2:03s in practice, a mark which is reserved for those that can get car and driver in complete synergy alongside their highly fancied rivals.
The factory Holden cars were strong all race and both were in with a massive shot of winning. While strategy perhaps cost the #888 the win late — hindsight is a wonderful thing, and who could have predicted the later Safety Car — the speed was there, and highly competitive. Whether it was worth rolling the dice late in the race will keep the team’s strategists up for nights on end, but both cars could have won that race — but not unless McLaughlin didn’t prove as clinical as he did on Lap 161.
Meanwhile, Walkinshaw Andretti United were rewarded with a podium for James Courtney and Jack Perkins. From the outside, they were in all sorts, but the speed was clear at the end from the #22 to keep Whincup at bay.
The racing was robust and there was lots of overtaking. Cars were able to slipstream comfortably down Conrod Straight, so any fears of a difficult race to pass in were happily negated. Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of the ‘P’ word this season, and the next, and beyond, with Supercars committing to a reduction of downforce from 2020.
Emotional final Bathurst lap
When Chaz Mostert waltzed by Premat on Lap 50 for the lead, the Tickford garage could have been forgiven for getting excited. However, for the third Bathurst running, and for the second time in two events this season, the teammates got in each other’s way.
The team has failed to prevent these clashes from happening. It’s all well and good to see cars from the same stable race hard and fair, but these are not isolated incidents. Mostert was remorseful, while Cameron Waters was gutted, and rightfully so. Team boss Tim Edwards believes his men can race door-to-door, and refused to prevent them from doing so in future. But measures should be taken if they want to win, because they can — and could have on Sunday.
Mostert appeared to renege on fuel saving instructions, and lost control on the outside of Waters into The Chase, which would prove a race flashpoint. Maybe s**t happens, but the #6 and #55 were two of the fastest cars all day. Mostert, despite being off the lead lap at the end, annihilated the previous race lap record. They only have themselves to blame.
There will be eight Mustangs on the 2020 grid, adding to the two from DJR Team Penske and the four Tickford entries.
The Kelly team — which was born out of the HSV Dealer Team from 2009 — will continue to run two Altima Supercars in the Dunlop Super2 series from 2020.
Kelly Racing will prepare its two main-game Mustangs at its Braeside base including an in-house engine program.
‘Slow down, slow down’
The team will now look to its driver line-up from 2020, with four drivers — team co-owner Rick Kelly, Andre Heimgartner, Simona De Silvestro and Garry Jacobson — all running full-time in 2019.
Team principal Todd Kelly revealed his excitement in the switch to Mustangs, which have won 21 of 25 races this season.
After 11 seasons in Supercars we step into a Ford Mustang that is a proven race winner and will provide us with our best opportunity for success in the future,” Kelly said.
“In this competitive environment it has necessitated a reconsideration of our structure to create the optimal model for the future.
“This has resulted in our consolidation and focus on two Supercars for the 2020 season and our intention includes running two Dunlop Super2 entries from next year.
“We are grateful to Kay Hart and her team at Ford for their interest and support to work with Kelly Racing and we look forward to continuing their success both on and off the race track from next year.”
Ford Australia and New Zealand CEO Hart added: “We’re so glad to have Kelly Racing bringing two additional Mustang Supercars to the grid, which brings fans more great news on the back of a hugely positive 2019 season.
“Having more Mustangs racing next season is a reflection of the team’s hard work and the success of the program so far.”
Aussie F1 star Daniel Ricciardo may be on the older side of the grid having turned 30, but he’s definitely young at heart as he’s shown with his latest prank on Charles Leclerc.
The current grid is the youngest ever to have started the season but the 30-year-old Aussie has been at home with 19-year-old McLaren rookie Lando Norris and now 21-year-old Ferrari wunderkind Leclerc.
The pair got up to some social media hijinks in a hilarious Instagram Story battle.
Ricciardo also had a bizarre and hilarious chat with 22-year-old Red Bull star Max Verstappen in Singapore as the former teammates reconnected.
He has countless moments like that every season but one he’s yet to taste with Renault could be his favourite.
The Aussie star admitted he would love to pull out the shoey again when he gets back on the podium.
“I’m craving it,” he told Channel 4 when asked for a prediction of when his next shoey may be. “Let’s be conservative and also realistic and say first half of next year. Let’s get the shoe off.”
Pushed further on how he’s been dealing with the season so far.
“It’s been tough,” he revealed. “That is where the hate comes in for the sport. It’s a love/hate a lot of the time. It’s hard and it’s frustrating.
“You can prepare as well as you can, come into a weekend and say you feel amazing and the headspace is good then something happens.
“That’s the part that can really take the wind out of your sails, but fortunately I’m able to sleep it off and wake up the next day and go again.
“I know moping around doesn’t really help so after punching a few walls I feel pretty good.”
It also comes after the controversial Japanese Grand Prix where Leclerc was penalised 15 seconds post race after he was judged to have been to blame for the turn two incident with Verstappen and then drop three laps with a damaged front wing.
Leclerc agreed it was his fault.
“I had a poor start. I got a little bit distracted, I saw Seb moving a little bit and then my reaction time was very poor,” he said. “The start was not so bad but the reaction was very poor.
“And with Max I just did a mistake, clearly. I was on the inside and being behind Seb and Lewis I lost the front a little bit.
“Normally you need to anticipate those things and I didn’t. Yep, I’m the one to blame.”