We have five races left in 2018 and next on the calendar is the highly demanding Suzuka circuit. Will Lewis Hamilton take a step closer to title glory this weekend, or will Sebastian Vettel win back some much needed points? Plus, can Honda power give Toro Rosso a strong home result? And will the rain stay away for the Grand Prix? Here are your reasons to watch all the action this weekend!
Sebastian’s critical situation
Sebastian Vettel has a mountain to climb if he’s to overturn Lewis Hamilton’s points advantage over the final five races of the year. The Ferrari driver is currently fifty points adrift of Hamilton, and he needs to start out-scoring him this weekend to salvage any hopes of a fifth title in 2018. Vettel’s chances of success are beginning to hover into the dangerous area of relying on bad luck for his competitor. Even if Vettel wins every remaining race, all Hamilton needs to do to win the title is finish on the podium at every Grand Prix (assuming one finish is in second place).
Suzuka is a track at which Vettel has performed consistently well, with seven podium finishes from his nine appearances. Ferrari had a nightmare here last season in Japan though, as Vettel was sidelined early on in the race with a problem with a spark plug – ironically a part of the car which cost just a little over £50. It ended Vettel’s record of finishing every race at Suzuka, as well as putting a significant dent in his title aspirations. Can Ferrari take their first Japanese Grand Prix victory since 2004 to stop Hamilton and Mercedes running away with both titles?
Meanwhile, Ferrari will be sporting a revised livery this weekend as part of their sponsorship from Philip Morris. The company’s logos are expected to appear on the engine cover and rear wing.
Hamilton’s for the taking?
The title isn’t on the table for Lewis Hamilton this weekend, but if he outscores Sebastian Vettel at Suzuka, the U.S. Grand Prix will be the first potentially title-deciding race of the year – though it would take quite bad fortune for the Ferrari driver to be out of contention by the time the chequered flag falls in Texas.
Considering Hamilton has won three of the last four Japanese Grands Prix, and has won five of the last six 2018 races, the odds of another victory this weekend seem very much in his favour.
What next for Bottas?
As a racing driver, it must be pretty disheartening to head to a race knowing that your only chance of victory will be if your team-mate fails to finish or has an unlucky weekend. That’s the current situation for Valtteri Bottas, who moved aside in Sochi to let Lewis Hamilton take victory. Though the move makes sense from a pure mathematical standpoint, it nevertheless caused controversy – as well as some awkward post-race interviews and celebrations.
It will be interesting to see what happens this weekend should a similar scenario arise. Could the Finn be told to move out of the way for a second race in succession? Or, if he’s further back, how will Mercedes use him as part of Hamilton’s race strategy this weekend?
Toro Rosso’s Suzuka Special
It has been 27 years since a Honda-powered car last won the Japanese Grand Prix. The Suzuka circuit was originally built as a Honda test track and this season, for the first time, Honda will be the title sponsor of the event. While no one is expecting the Honda-powered Toro Rosso cars to win this weekend, the Japanese manufacturer has worked hard to ensure a decent result for the team at their home event.
The team swapped to Honda’s new upgraded engines ahead of the Russian Grand Prix and, although they swapped back to the older specification ahead of the race, the performance of the new power unit impressed. Franz Tost believes that Honda will move ahead of Renault in the power pecking order as a result of the latest upgrades. The team, who sit five points behind Force India in the Constructors’ Championship, are expected to run with the newest specification for the entirety of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.
Hopefully Toro Rosso will be able to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s Grand Prix, in which both cars retired on the first lap with similar braking issues.
A decisive Saturday?
The statistics point to Saturday being crucial in deciding the result of the Japanese Grand Prix. All but two of the 25 races held here since 1991 have been won from the front row of the grid, while just one podium finish in the past five seasons at the track has come from below fourth on the grid. For that reason, Saturday’s qualifying session is one of the most important of the season.
We also often see pole decided by very small margins at Suzuka. 0.009 seconds is the current record at the track, which happened in both 2000 and 2011. The tight, twisting configuration of F1’s only figure of eight track means precision is key to achieving the fastest lap. Who’ll come out on top on Saturday?
A wet weekend?
As seems to be the usual pre-race weather forecast in Japan, there’s a typhoon on the horizon for this weekend. This typhoon, named Kong-Rey, is likely to have an indirect impact on the Suzuka area, with rain expected on both Friday and Saturday. Thunderstorms are anticipated for Sunday, though the forecast seems to be highly dependent upon the path of the typhoon. Six previous Grands Prix at Suzuka have been affected by rain. Will it be a seventh this year?
The 2018 Japanese Grand Prix gets underway at 6:10am BST on Sunday. In the UK, coverage is live on both Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1.