It may prove to be too little too late, but Valtteri Bottas’ formidable charge in Suzuka was a gentle reminder that Lewis Hamilton has not wrapped up another Formula One World Championship just yet.
Bottas leapt ahead of the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel heading into the first corner and the Finn never looked back as he cruised to a commanding victory that confirmed Mercedes’ sixth constructors’ title.
A resurgent Vettel ensured that the invincible Silver Arrows did not celebrate their championship success with a one-two as he fended off Hamilton to keep himself in the hunt for third place in the drivers standings.
Here’s how the drivers rated after the Japanese Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton - 3rd
A complex strategy decision from his Mercedes team significantly hindered Hamilton’s charge and chances of snatching the race win from Bottas.
The championship leader ended up fighting a losing battle with Vettel for 2nd place and had to settle for 3rd, although Hamilton could consider himself fortunate that he wasn’t injured after a piece of debris from Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari struck his W10.
Valtteri Bottas - 1st
Impeccable. Flawless. Fast. It was the sort of performance we know that Bottas is capable of; if only he could produce it on a more regular basis.
Capitalising on Vettel’s mishap at the start, the Finn leapt to the front of the pack and raced off into the distance without a mistake in sight.
His first race win since Azerbaijan in April - a barren run that Bottas will be relieved to end.
Sebastian Vettel - 2nd
The four-time world champion looks to have his confidence back, even if he could argue that he should have defended his pole position better.
A scintillating qualifying delivered a tasty remedy for the bitter pill Vettel had to swallow in Sochi, but after succumbing to Bottas on the first lap, the German done well to hold off a charging Hamilton in the latter stages of the race.
Did you say he was finished, Mr Rosberg? I don’t think so.
Charles Leclerc - 7th
If ever conspiracists needed greater evidence of a Ferrari agenda against Max Verstappen, then Leclerc all but confirmed it.
A large bout of oversteer on the exit of Turn 2 at the start of the race seen Leclerc virtually wipe out Verstappen and cause a large degree of damage to his car.
Leclerc was reprimanded after the race for the incident, and his woes were compiled when the stewards decided to penalise him and Ferrari for staying out when it was clear that his car was damaged.
A respectable recovery drive seen him climb to sixth, although the post-race penalty seen him demoted.
Red Bull Racing
Max Verstappen - DNF
The plucky Dutch star looked to have navigated his way into 3rd around the outside of Leclerc as the pair exited Turn 2, yet Verstappen was powerless to prevent his car from suffering terminal damage as Leclerc’s Ferrari ploughed into his side-pod and brushed him onto the grass.
It would have been interesting to see if Verstappen could have mounted a charge against the Mercedes, however his race ended prematurely as he was forced to retire his Red Bull on Lap 15.
Alexander Albon - 4th
A weekend of encouragement for Albon as he seeks to claim a permanent spot on the Red Bull team for 2020.
Producing a qualifying time of similar ilk to Verstappen was fairly impressive and despite falling behind both McLaren’s at the start, the young Thai/British driver fought his way back to claim 4th.
However, his manoeuvre on Lando Norris was dangerous and the prolonged battle with Carlos Sainz indicates there is still work to do.
Carlos Sainz - 5th
If I could wish for one thing in life, it would be that McLaren produce a race-winning competitor so that Sainz can rightfully compete at the front because the Spaniard is absolutely outstanding.
Smooth operating his way around Suzuka, Sainz was a substantial 35 seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo as the checkered flag was waved - miles ahead of the rest of the midfield pack.
Sorry Valtteri, but Carlos earned my Driver of the Day.
Lando Norris - 13th
Just when Norris looks to be cruising to another impressive finish, a stroke of bad luck comes to haunt him.
This time it was Albon who was guilty of Norris’ downfall, as a late plunge into the final chicane left the McLaren worse for wear and instigated the rookie Brit’s demise.
Daniel Ricciardo - 6th
Following a disappointing qualifying session, Ricciardo was at his mesmerising best to climb from P16 to an excellent P6.
After preserving his medium tyres in the opening stint, the Honey Badger got most of his work done in the second half of the race as he glided through the field, showing no mercy as he dissected the midfield pack.
Nico Hulkenberg - 10th
A typically steady display from the German, who rounded off a fairly quiet afternoon with a double points finish for Renault.
Similarly to his team-mate, Hulkenberg had a tough time of things in qualifying but made up for it with a series of overtaking manoeuvres, although the Hulk probably wasn’t the happiest at having to let Ricciardo pass through during the middle stage of the race.
Sergio Perez - 9th
An element of fortune landed in Perez’s hands after his last lap incident with Pierre Gasly was judged to have “never happened” due to the checkered flag being waved one lap earlier.
After a miserable qualifying session, Perez produced a typically consistent and tyre-conservative performance to navigate his way through the field and claim another points finish.
Lance Stroll - 11th
The Canadian can consider himself unlucky to have not featured in the top ten after operating in the top-half of the field for most of the race.
Stroll strung together a selection of overtaking moves and maintained an impressive pace throughout, the 20-year-old will be hoping to build on that in the final stages of the campaign.
Daniil Kvyat - 12th
Outshone by his Toro Rosso counterpart Gasly across the weekend, it was a weekend to forget for Kvyat.
The Russian’s top ten charge dissolved as Kvyat was unable to fend off the likes of Ricciardo, Perez and Hulkenberg as they ascended up the leaderboard.
With four races of the season remaining, it’s going to take a considerable effort from Kvyat to force his way into the Red Bull hot seat for 2020.
Pierre Gasly - 8th
I for one never expected Gasly to return to the similar vain of form that had initially seen him force his way into the Red Bull garage at the end of last season.
After a disastrous first two-thirds of the season, Gasly looks to have rediscovered a much-needed dosage of confidence and his performance in Suzuka epitomised that.
The Frenchman wiped the floor with his team-mate Kvyat and will be hoping to maintain that as the Formula One circus heads into the dying embers of the season.
Romain Grosjean - 15th
Haas are in a state of unpreventable decline and Grosjean’s input to the team doesn’t seem to be yielding any positive results.
Suzuka proved to be an uneventful affair for the Frenchman, with a lack of track action dulling Grosjean’s often charismatic approach.
At least he has a seat secured for next season, though.
Kevin Magnussen - 17th
A qualifying spin and a broken seat for the race compiled Magnussen’s Japanese woes, and the Dane’s race meandered into a meaningless outing.
That being said, Magnussen was compromised significantly with his chair issue and would probably have been competing further up the field if it wasn’t for his qualifying mishap.
Kimi Raikkonen - 14th
Another frustrating afternoon for the Iceman, despite maximising the performance from his under firing Alfa Romeo.
Raikkonen’s C38 seemed incapable of battling with fellow midfield competitors and the Finn’s highlight of the afternoon seemed to be getting overtaken by Leclerc at R130.
Alfa, similarly to Haas, are in a rut that they need to address.
Antonio Giovinazzi - 16th
A decent qualifying performance giving the circumstances, Giovinazzi’s race pace wasn’t on the same level and after starting two places ahead of his team-mate, the Italian ended up finishing two places behind.
It was a weekend to forget for the Alfa driver, having been stuck behind Grosjean for the majority of race proceedings.
George Russell - 18th
Russell is a phenomenal talent, and we all have our fingers crossed that Williams’ development pushes them further up the field next season so that we can get a greater glimpse of his driving ability.
Russell out-performed his team-mate Robert Kubica across the weekend and maximised his car’s performance, even if he could only muster P18.
Robert Kubica - 19th
A pit-lane start was never going to help proceedings for the Pole, and Kubica endured yet another quiet afternoon at the back of the pack.
Even if the results don’t wet Kubica’s appetite, his feedback and consistency are a vital contributor in Williams’ development heading into the new season.