Just as it was last weekend in Singapore, Formula One returns to Suzuka in Japan for the first time since 2019 this Sunday. Following a two-year gap due to the COVID pandemic, racing resumes at the iconic Suzuka Circuit after last week’s eventful Singapore Grand Prix.
The race in Singapore saw Sergio Pérez shut down all the critics who questioned his capabilities as a Red Bull driver. Heading into the Japanese Grand Prix, there are several narratives at play, none bigger than Max Verstappen’s chance to secure his second World Title. The Dutchman will get the chance to wrap up the title for the second consecutive race weekend. Mercedes are another team in focus who had a race to forget in Singapore and will be looking to bounce back from their poor outing.
As the Japanese Grand Prix gets closer, we take a look at a few possibilities this weekend.
Be wary of the Lion
The Singapore Grand Prix was a win for Red Bull, albeit a bittersweet one. While Sergio Pérez took home a stunning, well-earned win, Red Bull’s poster boy and current Championship leader Max Verstappen had a weekend to forget.
After qualifying a low P8, Verstappen had a shocking start where he suffered from anti-stall and lost four places in the opening lap. The Dutchman did recover back to P7, though his final position was made up on the very final lap after he finally managed to get past Sebastian Vettel after trying for a host of laps. Earlier in the race, even with the faster car, Verstappen was stuck behind Fernando Alonso for a long time, and it was only Alonso’s retirement that paved the way for the Red Bull driver to move up.
It was a frustrating race for the Championship contender, and Sergio Pérez winning ended Verstappen’s run of five consecutive wins. His P7 finish also meant that he couldn’t secure his second World Title in Singapore, but he will have another chance to wrap it up in Suzuka.
More than securing that title, Verstappen would want to fight for the win. Count on the Dutchman to bounce back in Japan. While his Qualifying kind of ended his chances for a win in Singapore given the track’s layout and how hard it is to overtake in street circuits, Suzuka is a more conventional circuit as well as a high-speed one, which should suit the Red Bull machinery.
Expect Verstappen to be back on the top step of the podium. Should his other title rivals have a poor race, he might even be crowned the 2022 World Champion in Suzuka.
Pole prediction: Max Verstappen / Charles Leclerc / Sergio Pérez
Win prediction: Red Bull / Ferrari
Time to bounce back
To say it was a weekend to forget for Mercedes would be an understatement. The German team started the Singapore weekend strongly, with Lewis Hamilton topping the first practice session, but that was about it for the team. George Russell was knocked out in Q2, while Hamilton qualified on the second row.
Things got much worse on Sunday. While Russell struggled throughout the race and failed to find any grip or pace, his teammate had a horror show. Hamilton lost a place on the opening lap to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz after coming together with the Spaniard. Then, he had a host of unusual driver errors throughout the race, which effectively killed his chances for a good points haul.
The seven-time World Champion first went straight into the barriers, which damaged his front wing and left him needing an extra stop. After that, in an attempt to make up for his error, behind his old title rival Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton struggled immensely. He was unable to pass Vettel, who had a much slower car than his Mercedes, and locked-up and lost a place to Verstappen behind him.
While the Singapore circuit was always going to be a tough one for Mercedes, an extremely poor outing means Ferrari have some breathing space in the Constructors’ battle for P2.
Mercedes will look to make up lost ground in Suzuka. The track should suit the Brackley-based team more than the Singapore track did, so they can be expected to return to the front of the field, fighting for podiums.
Regain the lead
While the new regulations might not have entirely bunched up the grid, they certainly have made the midfield battle for the fourth spot in the Constructors’ Championship an interesting one.
The fourth position has been exchanged by McLaren and Alpine throughout the season, although Alpine began to run away with it in the last few races heading into the Singapore Grand Prix. While McLaren seemed to be going through a dip in form, Alpine seemed to have found pace and were strong on Friday and Saturday in Singapore. Their car seemed more suited to the twisty Marina Bay circuit than McLaren, but it all imploded on Sunday.
Alonso, who had a strong start, not surprisingly given the veteran’s penchant for stellar starts, retired on Lap 21 due to a mechanical issue. A couple of laps later, his teammate Esteban Ocon retired as well due to a mechanical issue, and, as strong as Alpine’s pace has been this season, reliability has been a big issue. Alonso himself has suffered a shocking four DNFs. The Spaniard even stated post the race in Singapore that mechanical and technical issues this season costed him around 60 points, which is massive, especially in a tight battle.
McLaren’s double top five finish in Singapore saw them take a four-point lead in the Constructors’ fight for P4, but the Suzuka track should see Alpine retake the lead, with the French team most likely to come out with a better weekend.
Dark horses for podium: McLaren / Alpine
Race details: When and where to watch (India)
Circuit: Suzuka International Racing Course
Venue: Suzuka, Japan
Practice Session 1 time: 08:30 am (IST), 7 October 2022
Practice Session 2 time: 11:30 am (IST), 7 October 2022
Practice Session 3 time: 08:30 am (IST), 8 October 2022
Qualifying time: 11:30 am (IST), 8 October 2022
Main race time: 10:30 am (IST), 9 October 2022
Where to watch: Star Sports Network | Disney+ Hotstar