After Hamilton’s win in Russia the title is almost over for Vettel and Ferrari and the Japanese Grand Prix hasn’t favoured them in recent history.
Last years race saw Hamilton win from pole after Vettel retired from the race due to a mechanical failure, something Vettel can’t afford to repeat. If he wants to win the title then Japan is a must win, he needs to win the majority of the remaining races and needs some misfortune to fall Hamilton’s way. Since the turbo-hybrid era Mercedes have taken a clean sweep of victories in Japan with Rosberg spoiling Hamilton’s party in 2016 to claim his final F1 victory.
Overtaking isn’t easy in Suzuka thanks to it’s tight and twisty corners, turn one and the final chicane provide some of the best overtaking opportunities but if you’re brave enough you can find over places to make your move. Alonso made a breathtaking move on Michael Schumacher in 2005 at 130r and Kamui Kobayashi made plenty of overtakes into the turn 11 hairpin in 2011. The track features 19 corners in the only figure of eight circuit on the calendar and remains virtually unchanged since 1983.
Suzuka is famous for it’s title deciding moments, Alain Prost won his 3rd world title when he and teammate Ayrton Senna collided into the final chicane, Senna continued but was later excluded because he regained the track illegally gifting Prost the title in controversial style. Senna would repay the favour the following year when he wiped himself and Prost out into turn 1 giving himself his 2nd world title, this was equally as controversial as the move appeared to be deliberate although Senna would deny this. It would also crown Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen as world champions while also being the scene where Michael took his first of five titles for Ferrari in 2000.
Drivers to watch:
Daniel Ricciardo & Max Verstappen will look at scoring a podium in Japan, both stood on the podium here last year. Ricciardo will be keen to get a good result after his longest streak without a podium since 2015 and Vertstappen will aim to make it his 3rd Japanese podium in a row with the Red Bull suited to the twisty fast corners that Suzuka provides.
Fernando Alonso will compete in Suzuka for the last time in quite a while, it’s a track he loves but hasn’t had much success at, Alonso will desperately want a good result at one of Formula One’s most spectacular circuits.
Lewis Hamilton & Sebastian Vettel have a good track record around Suzuka with 13 podiums between them so it’s hard to bet against one of them winning this weekend.
Drivers in need of a result:
Valtteri Bottas was understandably deflated in Russia, the win should have been his but team orders robbed him of that chance, he needs to regroup and win dominantly in Japan if he wants to be treated more than a number two.
Brendon Hartley is fighting a losing battle to remain on the grid this year, he has 2 points to his teammates 28, if he has any chance of staying with the team he needs to score points and where better than Honda’s home event.
The performance of Mercedes and Ferrari should be close and both Hamilton and Vettel are Suzuka specialists so expect a tight battle but Mercedes and Hamilton have the upper hand organisationally and mentally at the moment so it is hard to see past Hamilton winning. Expect another tight midfield battle but Haas and Force India will most likely round out the top ten barring any failures.
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