Despite a difficult weekend in Singapore last time out, Mercedes can be expected to return to the top of the podium at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix (Race: 6am BST, Sunday live on BBC & Sky Sports F1).
Mercedes struggled for pace in Singapore. They qualified fifth and sixth and were never really in the running for the race victory. Nico Rosberg came home fourth, while championship leader Lewis Hamilton was forced to retire due to a power-unit failure.
It was Sebastian Vettel who took full advantage to continue his excellent recent run of form by taking pole position and the race victory for Ferrari. The German driver is now just eight points behind second-placed Rosberg in the championship and has out-scored Hamilton, who he now trails by 41 points, over the course of the last four races.
Daniel Ricciardo achieved his best result of the season to date by coming home second for Red Bull ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Rosberg was fourth, ahead of the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kyvat’s Red Bull. Sergio Perez secured another solid points finish by coming home seventh for Force India.
There was some controversy in the battle for eighth after Max Verstappen refused to let his Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz (pictured) through in the closing laps despite the team requesting him to do so. It will be interesting to see how the pair interact this weekend. Felipe Nasr rounded out the top 10 for Sauber, securing his first points finish since Monaco back in May.
Suzuka is one of the world’s few widely used tracks to be arranged in a figure of eight and is a favourite among drivers due to its variety of challenging corners and sequences. The circuit, which was built in 1962 as a Honda test track, first played host to the Japanese Grand Prix in 1987 and has been the venue for all but two of the subsequent events.
Weather forecasts suggest that it is likely to be cloudy weekend with a chance of rain on both Saturday and Sunday. Pirelli have selected their medium and hard compound tyres for this weekend’s event, mirroring their choices from last year.
Mercedes’ relative struggles in Singapore have seen their odds for victory on Sunday become much more attractive than they have been in the build up to other recent Grand Prix. The team are confident that it was a one-off problem related to their inability to draw performance out of the supersoft tyres, and they expect to be back on top this weekend.
Hamilton won last year’s Japanese Grand Prix ahead of his team-mate Rosberg. While it is not a circuit at which he has always excelled, he has finished fifth or higher in five of his last six races at Suzuka. Rosberg has been unable to match him in recent races and given the likelihood of a Mercedes pace advantage this weekend, Hamilton is the most likely victor.
Perez continued his recent run of good performances by finishing seventh in Singapore last time out. The circuit was not one that was necessarily expected to suit the Force India yet he still drove well to secure a strong points finish to follow up his fifth and sixth place finishes in Belgium and Italy. Suzuka should prove a good fit for both chassis and driver.
Perez came through from 17th on the grid to finish eighth for Sauber at Suzuka in his debut year back in 2011 and qualified in an excellent sixth for the team in 2012 before spinning off following a feisty start to the race. He secured a points finish for Force India last year and appears well-placed to replicate his recent top-six finishes on Sunday.
Romain Grosjean has endured a mixed year at Lotus but has been able to secure six points finishes, including an excellent third place in Belgium two races ago. Both he and team-mate Pastor Maldonado are confident that the team’s package will be very well-suited to Suzuka and he should therefore have a good chance of picking up more points this weekend.
Grosjean has shown strong pace at Suzuka in the past. He qualified fourth on the grid in both 2012 and 2013, and on the latter occasion was able to convert that starting place into a podium finish. The Frenchman’s future appears to lie away from the Lotus team, but he can be fancied to do his current employers a favour by securing a good points finish on Sunday.
Our Preview’s F1 Japanese Grand Prix Betting Tips
We reckon there is some value to be had in counting on Mercedes to bounce back, and these are our preview’s F1 betting tips for this weekend: