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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Midfield highlights in Mercedes blackout // Hülkenberg stars ahead of Honda’s horror show

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With the Mercedes team given the silent treatment in Japan, there was plenty of time to watch the battles further down the field. Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas fought Nico Rosberg for a spot on the podium while Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat, Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa all tried to fight their way back through the field with varying levels of success after an assortment of ailments ruined their weekends.

Hülkenberg with a point to prove

Nico Hülkenberg, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 13th, Finished 6th

F1's best midfield driver put in a performance to be proud of
Credit: Sahara Force India

After struggling over the past few races, F1’s best midfield driver put in a performance to be proud of. The Hulk was the star of the show and recovered what could have been a painful day for Force India after Sergio Pérez's first corner collision left him limping home with a puncture.

While you couldn’t read much into Friday's performance, the Force Indias languished in the midfield, with Hülkenberg edging his teammate in both sessions. In P3 everyone was desperate to get all of their running in and develop a simple effective car setup for qualifying and the race. The German was once again 11th, with Pérez only ahead of Felipe Nasr and the Manors.

Going into Q1, Q3 was a realistic aim for Hülkenberg, though everything would have to go right. It almost went so wrong for him in Q1, with Max Verstappen’s stoppage disrupting the session. Hülkenberg progressed, with quicker cars unable to set a lap, and jumped out of the drop zone, edging through by three tenths. In Q2, it was a similar situation with Hülkenberg right on the bubble. This time though there was no reprieve, as Nico was in the pits as the session ended. First Sainz failed to knock him out before Grosjean beat the German by less than two tenths, leaving Hülkenberg 14th on the grid after his penalty from Singapore was applied. Pérez was able to beat his teammate to qualify 9th.

Avoiding the dramas of Ricciardo, Massa and Perez, Hülkenberg's electric start launched him up to eighth, already in with a great chance of points which would be crucial to retain fifth in the constructors’ championship. Having followed the Lotuses through the first stint, Hülkenberg pitted at the end of lap 11 hoping to get the undercut; and it worked perfectly to jump Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado.

Both Force India and Lotus have epitomised the spirit of F1, both working off shoestring budgets with reasonable success

With the Williams of Bottas and two Ferraris less than ten seconds ahead, there must have been temptation to chase for a top five finish but Force India stayed realistic and looked to secure sixth ahead of Lotus. Hülkenberg went contra-strategy, using the hard tyres in the second stint, allowing them to run longer, then electing to take the hard tyres again in the final stint as the delta was smaller than expected on the green track. This meant tyre wear wasn’t an issue and allowed Hülkenberg to open up a gap to the Lotuses, stretching it to six seconds at the second stop and then eking it out to 15 seconds by the end of the race.

Both Force India and Lotus have epitomised the spirit of F1, both working off shoestring budgets with reasonable success. Lotus’ struggles are more apparent and more immediate, but Force India have barely updated the car throughout the season and yet still have the tenacity and skill to secure mid-points finishes at a high downforce circuit.

Verstappen takes Toro Rosso honours

Max Verstappen, Scuderia Toro Rosso: Started 17th, Finished 9th

I seem to need a Toro Rosso award, as both drivers alternate races to impress. And but for a bollard, this would go to Carlos Sainz, having left it too late to dive into the pits attempting to undercut Pastor Maldonado. Verstappen had shown good pace through the weekend but lost power in Q1, despite having already set a quick enough time. A rookie mistake to move on to the racing line dropped him three places to 17th on the grid but once again Verstappen proved his aggressive nature and innate overtaking ability. The Flying Dutchman was up to 14th early on before a ballsy move on Jenson Button. Verstappen looked for the undercut, pitting early on lap nine but stayed 13th as the stops cycled through.

The teenager reeled in his teammate, closing a 14 second gap in 13 laps
Credit: Clive Mason/Getty

Once Pérez and Kvyat made their stops, as two of four who three-stopped, points were a real possibility. Having outlasted Alonso through the second stint, he jumped the Spaniard to jump up to 12th, tenth once everyone made their final stops. Then the teenager reeled in his teammate, closing a 14 second gap in 13 laps before opening up a 16 second gap in the latter stages.

Sainz limped home in a damaged car having let his teammate by at the chicane – after Singapore a repeat of teammates clashing at the chicane in 1989 looked a possibility but the young Spaniard was a sportsman and let the faster Verstappen by to chase the Lotuses ahead.

Angry Alonso misses out on points

Fernando Alonso, McLaren Honda: Started 12th, Finished 11th

The McLaren was borderline dangerous in Japan, at the home of their engine supplier, Honda, their test track no less. The moves by Jenson Button on Felipe Nasr and Max Verstappen going in to turn one were scary as the Brit completely ran out of battery power at the end of the front straight.

Alonso beat teammate Button by two tenths in Q1, but the key was they were either side of the cut-off time, allowing Alonso to progress. Alas, the Spaniard was the slowest in Q2, beating only Max Verstappen’s broken Toro Rosso to qualify 14th.

In the lap one mayhem, Alonso was able to jump from 12th (promoted ahead of Dani Kvyat and Nico Hülkenberg) to 9th, past the punctured Perez, Ricciardo and Massa. Unfortunately Alonso just couldn’t hold the pack back and Carlos Sainz Jr and Marcus Ericsson got by with relative ease.

So much for the glory days of McLaren Honda, battling for championships at the iconic Suzuka

Alonso’s chances of points were limited with his “embarrassing GP2 engine”. He looked to maintain the gap to those ahead in case of an issue but the gap grew from nine seconds to his compatriot Sainz on lap nine to 33 on lap 28 by the end of his second stint, despite using the faster tyres. So much for the glory days of McLaren Honda, battling for championships at the iconic Suzuka.

Max Verstappen got past Alonso at his second stop and the very disgruntled McLaren driver was left to trail the Toro Rossos home, just about matching their pace, but a long way behind. Alonso got absolutely everything out of the McLaren, finishing 24 seconds ahead of teammate Button on a track that isn’t that power dependent. While Alonso may have been wrong to let his frustration out so publicly with the head of Honda present, he absolutely had a point.

Alonso's chances of points were limited
Credit: McLaren