The teams leave the bright lights of Singapore for Japan’s super circuit, where they will race beneath a different kind of artificial light, one from the thousands of flashes emitted by the cameras wielded by the hoards of Japanese fans that will fill Suzuka this weekend. Singapore was all glamour, where Japan is all racing. The track is one of the most notorious as well as popular, among drivers and fans alike. It’s blindingly quick and a tough track to master and very ready to punish any driver that loses concentration. Mercedes will hope to seal the Constructors’ Championship this weekend while their drivers will go head-to-head and resume their Championship fight after Rosberg’s unfortunate retirement in the last race.
The battle between the two Championship-hungry Mercedes drivers was swiftly defused as Rosberg’s car refused to move off the grid during the formation lap and permanently returned to the garage on lap fifteen. Hamilton went on to win the Grand Prix relatively unchallenged, despite the appearance of a safety car that bunched up the field. The Red Bulls’ pace was impressive; the pair filed in behind Hamilton to fill the remaining podium positions, with Vettel surprisingly finishing ahead of Ricciardo. Alonso finished in a familiar fourth place with former teammate Massa behind him. Vergne drove a spectacular race and despite suffering two penalties from the stewards, brought his Toro Rosso over the line in sixth. Tyre degradation played a big factor in the closing stages of the race, with Bottas in particular struggling to defend himself from an onslaught of overtakes. The Force India team continued their impressive season and both managed to finish inside the top ten yet again, split by Raikkonen’s Ferrari in eighth. Kevin Magnussen outperformed his veteran teammate and claimed the final point of the day, while Button was forced to retire in the later stages of the race when his car gave up after battling the muggy Singapore weather for 52 laps.
Suzuka is undeniably special. The track is steeped in racing history and attracts some of the most passionate racing fans in the world. The Japanese love their motor sport and the atmosphere at Suzuka over the race weekend is as much a part of the Grand Prix as the circuit itself. Another promising Formula 1 offspring will make his debut on Friday, at the tender age of seventeen. Max Verstappen will sit behind the wheel of a Toro Rosso for Free Practice on Friday and he’ll have his work cut out for him when it comes to mastering Suzuka’s dangerous curves. The one providing the biggest challenge will be the very famous and very fast 130R, which has been modified over the years to make it slightly less dangerous, but did little to decrease the rapid speeds that the cars reach when tackling the left hander. The compact track crosses over itself, adding another unique feature to the revered motorsport institution. A haven of speed and racing passion, Suzuka’s 53 laps are some of the most exciting of the season. Rain is predicted for the race, which should shake up the field and possibly provide a safety car to further impact the teams’ strategies. Pirelli’s hard and medium compounds will be put to the test as they battle through Suzuka’s tough corners and high speeds.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 7/10
Nico Rosberg 9/4
Daniel Ricciardo 9/1
Sebastian Vettel 12/1
Fernando Alonso 22/1
Valtteri Bottas 25/1
Felipe Massa 40/1
Kimi Raikkonen 100/1
Sebastian Vettel (12/1 a win, 16/10 a podium)
Given Vettel’s previous performances at Suzuka, one could argue that this is his race to lose. A four time winner and undoubtedly a master of the Japanese circuit, the German Champion is one to watch this weekend. Unfortunately for Vettel, the only Red Bull that has managed to beat the Mercedes this season is that of his teammate Ricciardo. Vettel made a return to the podium in Singapore, but the checkered flag still eludes him. He does tend to shine at Suzuka so a bet on a win isn’t unwise, but a podium for the German is a more likely outcome when considering his overall performance this season.
Fernando Alonso (22/1 a win, 2/1 a podium)
Alonso, like Vettel, is a World Champion yet to claim a win in 2014. A couple of podiums and consistent points finishes have left him fourth in the Championship standings but without a chance of actually winning it. He’s a previous winner at Suzuka, but a repeat of that seems unlikely considering the Mercedes team don’t appear to be relinquishing their iron grip on the checkered flag any time soon. He finished just shy of the podium in Japan last year and seems to be a fan of a fourth place finish this season as well. A win is a stretch but a podium is well within reach for Alonso. At 2/1, it’s worth betting on the Spaniard to fight his way into the top three.
Kimi Raikkonen (100/1 a win, 15/10 a Top 6 Finish)
Raikkonen has rarely featured in the top half of the points this season, preferring to lurk near the bottom of the Top 10 and on some occasions, outside it. It’s no secret that the former Champion has battled to get reacquainted with his Ferrari, but he seems to be getting the hang of it and has had a string of successful points finishes, including a fourth place in Belgium. The Flying Finn has a decent record in Japan, boasting a couple of podiums and even a win at Suzuka in 2005. He hasn’t finished outside the Top 6 at this Grand Prix since he retired here in his rookie season. A podium for Raikkonen is a stretch, the competition is tough and the three spots are intensely coveted. Take a bet on a Top 6 finish at 15/10 and hope that he continues his streak of positive results in Japan.
POLE POSITION: Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton has been quite open about his love for the Japanese circuit, despite the fact that he’s never managed to clinch a win at the historic track. He’ll be looking for his third consecutive win of the season on Sunday and with his recent return to the top of the Championship table, things are looking rather positive for the Brit, who seemed sure to lose out to his teammate because of reliability issues. Rosberg is now receiving his share of the Mercedes bad luck, while Hamilton returns to his preferred position at the top. The World Champion has always been a force to be reckoned with during qualifying, so expect much of the same on Saturday in Japan.
TO WIN: Daniel Ricciardo 9/1
The Grand Prix at Suzuka is traditionally won by World Champions, but the young Aussie is good at breaking tradition. As the only driver to crack the Mercedes monopoly of the checkered flag, Ricciardo has shown he’s got talent to spare. He’s a frequent visitor to the podium and he’s also a three-time winner. The Mercedes won’t relinquish their chance to seal the Constructors’ Championship this weekend without a fight but Ricciardo is definitely up to the challenge. Bet on the Aussie to take the win in Japan, at 9/1 there’s good money to be made if Ricciardo can take advantage of his Red Bull’s renewed pace and win at one of the biggest races of the season.
Think we’ve got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this one is going to play out.