Sebastian Vettel extended his already imposing lead in the Formula One drivers’ championship with victory in Korea last time out and could be crowned champion if results go his way at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 07:00am BST, live on BBC1 & Sky Sports F1).
Vettel will win the title if he is victorious and his nearest challenger Fernando Alonso finishes lower than eighth. Even if he is unable to clinch it this weekend, it is matter of when, rather than if, the Red Bull driver will be able celebrate his fourth consecutive drivers’ championship title.
The German was a comfortable winner in Korea, despite a safety car period bunching up the pack after he had opened up a commanding lead. He was followed home by the two Lotus drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, who scored the team’s third double podium of the year.
Nico Hulkenberg was the star of the day, holding off Fernando Alonso and later, Lewis Hamilton for a season-best fourth place finish for him and the Sauber team. He increasingly looks the most likely candidate for the vacant seat at Lotus next season.
With its unique figure of eight layout, a challenging first sector and iconic corners like Spoon and 130R in the latter part of the lap, Japan’s Suzuka circuit is almost universally loved by the drivers and usually provides a good deal of entertainment for spectators.
Current forecasts suggest there is a 50% chance of rain during the practice sessions on Friday, but that is set to clear up for qualifying and the race, with only a 10% chance of rain on Sunday.
It seems amazing that we have reached the 15th round of the season with only two teams, Mercedes and Red Bull, having qualified on pole position, but it looks likely to stay that way unless a wet session occurs between now and the end of the year.
Vettel has been the man on pole in each of the last three races and there seems little reason to suggest that he will not again head the field on Saturday. He is an ace around the Suzuka circuit and has qualified on pole position in each of the last four Japanese Grand Prix.
Force India endured a difficult time in Korea last weekend, with a poor qualifying session followed by a double non-finish in the race. They should have better pace at Suzuka, a circuit with broadly similar characteristics to Silverstone, where, before penalties, both of their drivers were quick enough to qualify in the top 10.
In Adrian Sutil, the team have a driver with an excellent record at Suzuka. With the advantage of a title-winning year in Japanese Formula Three prior to his time in Formula One, Sutil has out-qualified his teammate in each of his three previous appearances at the circuit and secured a superb fourth on the grid for Force India back in 2009.
If the team provide him with a capable car, which their performance at Silverstone suggests they should, Sutil is fast enough at Suzuka to make it count and reach the final session of qualifying.
It is difficult to avoid sounding like a broken record when tipping Vettel for success, but not only are he and Red Bull the current the class of the field (with victories in each of the last four races) but he also has a strong record at Suzuka, having won the race in three of the last four years.
Even as the odds on him winning races continue to shorten, with no rain expected and little to suggest that any of his rivals will be significantly improved for this weekend’s race, Vettel is again the best choice for victory on Sunday.
Sauber enjoyed an outstanding weekend at Suzuka last year, with local favourite Kamui Kobayashi qualifying fourth and finishing third. Kobayashi is not part of the team this year, and their car is not quite as quick as last year’s iteration, but they have still scored good points in each of the last three races.
Hulkenberg has been the man behind all 31 of the points Sauber have accumulated in this year’s championship and he drove superbly at Suzuka last year, rising from 15th on the grid to finish seventh for Force India. Having shown excellent race craft in Korea last weekend, he can be fancied for another strong finish on Sunday.
The odds on Hulkenberg to finish in the points are not hugely attractive, so there is better value to be found in backing him to finish top of a four driver group. For this race he has been grouped with Paul Di Resta, who has failed to finish any of the last five races, and the Toro Rosso drivers, neither of whom have finished ahead of him in the last three Grand Prix.
Japanese Grand Prix Betting Tips Verdict
- He is proving boringly profitable. Back Sebastian Vettel to qualify on pole position @ 8/13 with SkyBet, BetVictor, Stan James or William Hill.
- Bet on Adrian Sutil to reach qualifying session three @ 3/1 with Ladbrokes.
- Back Sebastian Vettel to win the race @ 4/7 with BetVictor or Stan James.
- Bet on Nico Hulkenberg to win Group C (Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Vergne, Di Resta) @ 11/8 with BetVictor.