F1: Japanese Grand Prix Preview

Fernando AlonsoLewis Hamilton leads the Formula One Drivers’ Championship following his victory in Singapore two weeks ago and will be hoping to increase his advantage at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix (Race: Sunday 07:00 BST, live on BBC and Sky Sports F1).

Hamilton took a clean sweep of pole position, fastest lap and the race victory in Singapore, ahead of the Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. His teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg dropped out early on due to an electronics problem.

Fernando Alonso (pictured) finished in a strong fourth place for Ferrari, just behind the Red Bulls and comfortably ahead of the Williams of Felipe Massa. Jean-Eric Vergne secured Toro Rosso’s best finish of the season in sixth. Force India achieved their eighth double-points finish of the year, with Sergio Perez in seventh and Nico Hulkenberg coming home ninth.

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Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) and Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) completed the top 10. Jenson Button was among the retirees after suffering a power box failure. The non-finish ended the McLaren driver’s run of five consecutive points finishes.

The Circuit

Suzuka first hosted the Japanese Grand Prix in 1987 and has been the venue for all but two of the subsequent events. It features a number of challenging sequences, alongside thrilling individual corners such as the 130R. Suzuka requires a medium-to-high downforce setup and is one of the world’s few widely used tracks to be arranged in a figure of eight.

Current weather forecasts suggest there is a high probability of heavy rain during Sunday’s rain. Pirelli has chosen their medium and hard compound tyres for this weekend’s event. In dry conditions, most drivers are likely to two-stop.

Qualifying

Rosberg put together a run of four consecutive pole positions between the British and Belgian Grand Prix, but Hamilton has fought back to take first on the grid in each of the last two races. Having taken a slender lead in the championship with victory in Singapore, the British driver will be high on confidence coming into this weekend’s event.

Hamilton also has the better record of the pair at Suzuka. He has qualified in the top three in four of his five races at the circuit, placing ahead of his teammate of the time on three of those occasions. Rosberg has won three and lost three of his inter-team qualifying battles at the circuit and was beaten by Hamilton last year in their first season as teammates. Hamilton is therefore the favourite to take pole position on Saturday.

The Race

Vettel secured his best result of the season by coming home second in Singapore, finishing ahead of his teammate Ricciardo for only the third time this year. He has won the Japanese Grand Prix in four of the last five seasons and can again be expected to run well this weekend at a circuit that should be suited to the Red Bull chassis.

The reigning four-time world champion is potentially just one power unit element failure away from a grid penalty. But if he can avoid engine problems, he will be confident of qualifying well and going on to secure a second consecutive podium finish.

Raikkonen has not enjoyed a particularly fruitful season to date. He has been comfortably outscored by his teammate Alonso and has struggled to get to grips with his Ferrari. He has, however, shown stronger pace in recent races, particularly in finishing fourth in Belgium, and is optimistic of scoring a good result this weekend at one of his favourite circuits.

Raikkonen won at Suzuka for McLaren back in 2005 and finished on the podium for the same team in both 2003 and 2004. Indeed, aside from his debut for Sauber, he has finished in the top six on each and every one of his visits to the circuit. The track suits his driving style and Raikkonen looks well placed to again finish in the top six this weekend.

Vergne drove very impressively to finish sixth in Singapore and has a solid chance of again scoring points in Japan. He has not previously achieved a points finish at Suzuka, but has made up a good number of places in the race on both occasions, climbing from 17th on the grid to 13th in 2012, and from 18th on the grid to 12th last year.

Toro Rosso should be very strong in the first and second sectors of the circuit. If Vergne and his engineer can get his car set up correctly, its relative lack of pace down the circuit’s two straights should not be too big of a problem. If he can qualify in or around the top 10, Vergne is capable of scoring his sixth points finish of the season on Sunday.

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