This weekend, the 16th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place from the Suzuka International Racing Course, also known as the Suzuka Circuit, in Japan, which is about 70 kilometres south-west of the Japanese city of Nagoya.
And with Lewis Hamilton taking some more points off Sebastian Vettel, this world championship battle is set to heat up at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton (281 points) leads the world drivers’ championship for Mercedes by 34 points over Vettel (247 points) after finishing second behind Red Bull driver Max Verstappen last weekend at the Malaysia Grand Prix in what was considered to be a disappointing result for Mercedes after struggling to find their normal pace during practice, and while Hamilton did secure his 70th pole position in his Formula One career, he did not have the speed to hold of Verstappen in the race.
However, he did gain six more points over Vettel in the championship after his Ferrari had major technical issues on Saturday relating to the power-unit in his car, meaning that he couldn’t set a time in qualifying, which meant he started from last on the grid, although the major benefit from that disappointment was that he was able to take on extra power-unit components without effectively serving a penalty.
However, despite a storming drive in his Ferrari from 20th on the grid to finish fourth, more pain was to follow for Vettel on the cool-down lap, colliding with Williams driver Lance Stroll, damaging his Ferrari significantly, meaning that he might have to take a grid penalty for a gearbox change should his team find damage to his gearbox, which could mean further pain in his quest to win a fifth world championship.
Third in the championship is Valtteri Bottas (222 points), 59 points behind teammate Hamilton in the standings after finishing a disappointing fifth in Malaysia, and has really been out of sorts since the summer break, generally struggling for speed in comparison to his teammate, and not producing the performances that he expects from himself. Bottas will need to lift his performances in support of Hamilton if he wants Hamilton to win his fourth world championship.
Daniel Ricciardo (177 points) is fourth in the world championship, 104 points behind Hamilton, and the last driver (other than Hamilton, Vettel, and Bottas) in mathematical contention for the drivers’ championship, although Ricciardo has accepted for sometime that he wasn’t going to have the machinery to contend for the championship, after finishing third in Malaysia.
Kimi Räikkönen (138 points) is fifth in the championship for Ferrari after power-unit/battery issues caused him to be wheeled from the grid, and he was unable to start in the Malaysia Grand Prix, which was a huge shame considering that he was starting from the front row of the grid, and certainly he had the pace to win in his Ferrari. Räikkönen could have also helped his teammate remain closer to Hamilton in the championship if he was able to participate, and finish ahead of Hamilton (either first or second), which would have meant Hamilton would have only gained five points over Vettel instead of the six points that he did gain over Vettel.
Sixth in the championship is Verstappen (93 points), who finally had some luck go his way, winning the Malaysia Grand Prix after overtaking Hamilton on Lap Four at Turn One, and then leading 51 of the remaining 53 laps to take a comfortable 12.770 second victory over Hamilton, which was only the second race win of Verstappen’s young career, which happened the day after his 20th Birthday!
In terms of the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (503 points) lead by 118 points over Ferrari (385 points) in the two-way battle for the constructors’ championship with Red Bull (270 points) in third, followed by Force India (133 points) in fourth, then Williams (65 points) in fifth, who have broken away slightly from Toro Rosso (52 points) in the battle for fifth in the championship, followed by Renault (42 points), Haas (37 points), and then McLaren (23 points), and Sauber (five points), who seem destined to finish 10th in the constructors’ championship.
Looking at trying to predict a result for the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix, I think that although it has been a couple of difficult weekends for Mercedes in terms of their speed, I would expect them to be back on top form at Suzuka, and although I think Ferrari and Red Bull will still be good in Japan, I believe Lewis Hamilton on a circuit tailor-made for him and his Mercedes, due to the long, fast corners, and the premium placed on having a strong power-unit, will dominate all of his rivals to claim victory ahead of a five-way battle for second and third between Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Max Verstappen.
The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (12pm and 4pm AEDT).
The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 12pm and 3pm local time (2pm and 5pm AEDT).
The 53 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (4pm AEDT).