Japanese Grand Prix 2017: Could Verstappen or Ricciardo have won?

Could Max Verstappen have won the race?

He very nearly did!

In the closing stages of the race, Lewis Hamilton was clearly struggling with some sort of vibration issue, and this allowed Verstappen to close right up to the Mercedes driver. Fortunately for Hamilton though, the leaders came up to lap Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa towards the end of the penultimate lap. 

While Hamilton easily got past Alonso's McLaren, Verstappen was held up slightly (resulting in an investigation into Fernando ignoring blue flags) and this gave Lewis a bit of breathing room. It was a similar situation with Massa, who Hamilton managed to get past easily on the pit straight, while Verstappen got stuck behind the Williams in the esses early in the final lap.

By the time he got past Felipe, Lewis was just too far out of reach for Max to catch before the end of the race. Whether Max could have passed Lewis if these two backmarkers hadn't been there is a question we'll never have answered, but given the pace differential we saw before the leaders encountered these two, you wouldn't have bet against it.

Could Daniel Ricciardo have won the race?

Not unless Hamilton and Verstappen had taken each other out.

Daniel Ricciardo's chances for victory were blown right at the start, when he was overtaken by teammate Max Verstappen at the first corner. This move also resulted in him losing a place to Esteban Ocon, and having to pick his way back through to the leaders in this early stage opened a gap to the leaders that he never really recovered. He was also not helped by being left out a few laps longer than Verstappen as the battle with Bottas became the focus.

Later in the race, it was not really a case of Ricciardo challenging for the win, but more of him holding off a resurgent Valtteri Bottas for the final podium position. The Finn was closing the gap quickly, but Lance Stroll's puncture towards the end of the race, and the virtual safety car it caused, gave Ricciardo a few laps of vital breathing room, and when racing resumed, he was able to hold off the Mercedes for the final podium position.

This was probably the maximum he could have achieved today, especially after his start.

Do you think 2nd or 3rd could have won today? Let us know in the comments below!

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