Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are growing ever closer to reclaiming their world crowns, and they are look for a fourth win in succession as they arrive in Japan with just five rounds of the Formula 1 season left.
The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the most eagerly awaited of the year, and again Mercedes are looking to continue their dominance having won the last four races at Suzuka – with Hamilton winning three of those.
However, title rival Sebastian Vettel does have a fine record with four previous wins – although his last one came back in 2013.
Hamilton is looking for victory in Japan, like he tasted in Russia last week – but he is hoping to do it in slightly more comprehensive fashion after team-mate Valtteri Bottas let him through, under team orders, to allow the Brit to take maximum points.
And Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff insists they have no issues with how they won in Sochi.
“Lewis is hungry, focused and completely determined to succeed,” the Austrian said. “It has been great to see the power he has brought to this championship and how he’s taken it to the next level since the summer break.”
Hamilton himself added: “All around the car feels great. Engine performance is improving, efficiency is improving, car stability is improving.
“It is a good point of the year because the car is the best it has been.
“I can’t wait to drive around this track because it is going to be the fastest we have ever driven here in Suzuka.”
Vettel remains hopeful that they can claw back the gap, now at 50 points.
“I still believe in our chances, yes. It takes one DNF (did not finish) and then all of a sudden things look different,” said.
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) October 4, 2018
Bottas was gutted to hand over a likely win in Russia and admits he would probably have to do it again in Japan, if a similar situation arises.
“I know what I have to do and I am a team player. As a team, it was the best result we could hope for. I would do it again. It doesn’t mean I am not a racer,” he said.
“I just have to accept it because of what happened earlier in the season. I can’t fight any more for the world championship and we need to play as a team if we really want to win the title. That’s how it is.
“I am here to get pole and try to win the race but for sure I will be supportive. The team might not want to sacrifice my race as well. The team will always do the best for both championships.”
JAPAN GRAND PRIX – ROUND 17
Location: Suzuka Circuit, Japan
Track size: 3.6 miles with 18 turns
Number of laps: 53
2017 winner: Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
Lap record holder: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 1:31.540
Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Bahrain Grand Prix – Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
China Grand Prix – Winner: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Spain Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Monaco Grand Prix – Winner: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
Canada Grand Prix – Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
France Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Austria Grand Prix – Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
British Grand Prix – Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
German Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Hungary Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Belgium Grand Prix – Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Italy Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Singapore Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Russia Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
1 Lewis Hamilton GBR MERCEDES 306
2 Sebastian Vettel GER FERRARI 256
3 Valtteri Bottas FIN MERCEDES 189
4 Kimi Räikkönen FIN FERRARI 186
5 Max Verstappen NED RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 158
6 Daniel Ricciardo AUS RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 134
7 Kevin Magnussen DEN HAAS FERRARI 53
8 Nico Hulkenberg GER RENAULT 53
9 Fernando Alonso ESP MCLAREN RENAULT 50
10 Sergio Perez MEX FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 47
11 Esteban Ocon FRA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 47
12 Carlos Sainz ESP RENAULT 38
13 Pierre Gasly FRA SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 28
14 Romain Grosjean FRA HAAS FERRARI 27
15 Charles Leclerc MON SAUBER FERRARI 21
16 Stoffel Vandoorne BEL MCLAREN RENAULT 8
17 Lance Stroll CAN WILLIAMS MERCEDES 6
18 Marcus Ericsson SWE SAUBER FERRARI 6
19 Brendon Hartley NZL SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin RUS WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1
1 MERCEDES 495
2 FERRARI 442
3 RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 292
4 RENAULT 91
5 HAAS FERRARI 80
6 MCLAREN RENAULT 58
7 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 35
8 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 30
9 SAUBER FERRARI 27
10 WILLIAMS MERCEDES 7
We also spoke with Alistair Gill of Unibet to get their views on the GP
With the title looking like it is running away from him, it is now or never time for Sebastian Vettel. With that in mind the betting won’t make the most comfortable reading for the German as he finds him self yet again behind the favourite Lewis Hamilton. Vettel’s 2/1 price may look like value or not, depending on if you focus on how much he needs the win and will be motivated, or Lewis Hamilton’s imperious form. Hamilton, having won 5 of the last 6 races, albeit with a hefty chunk of help from Toto Wolff’s team orders in Russia, is a 17/20 shot, and all things considered, even at odds on it could represent value right now.
For an outside chance, after his mesmerising race in Russia coming from the back after engine upgrades, Max Verstappen finds him self a 10/1 shot to win the race and a 6/4 to make the podium, neither of which are out of reach should any of the big boys struggle or make a mistake