Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix Race Preview and Predictions

The Formula One season is winding down as we’re down to five races remaining in the 2019 season. Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix will be the final race in the far east. From there, the F1 stars move to our side of the hemisphere with stops in Mexico-USA-Brazil.

Then, they’ll close the season in Abu Dhabi.

Here’s the main storylines for Sunday’s race as I have a feeling we’re in for a sensational race weekend.

Can Mercedes Keep It Going?

There’s no doubt about it, Ferrari gifted Mercedes a 1-2 finish in the last race of the season in Russia. While the record book shows that Mercedes has remained perfect in Sochi since F1 started going there in 2014, the eye test says that Ferrari is still faster than Mercedes right now.

What will happen in Japan?

So far, Mercedes looks superior again. They brought an upgrade and were 1-2 in both practice sessions on Friday. That’s pivotal.

Mercedes has also won every race in Suzuka under the hybrid era. The last non Mercedes win was 2013 by Sebastian Vettel with Red Bull Racing.

Lewis Hamilton has four podiums in his last five starts on the season and five straight in Japan too. He’s also won four of the last five years on the road course.

Valtteri Bottas was runner-up in this race last year and has been runner-up in two of the last three races on the season as well.

They sit 1-2 in the championship standings and hope to remain that way following Sunday’s race.

Will Ferrari’s New Found Pace Continue?

I was 18 years old the last time Ferrari won a race in Japan. That came by Michael Schumacher back in 2004. Historically, Japan hasn’t been too kind to the Prancing Horse’s. But, maybe that changes this weekend.

Ferrari has won every pole since summer break ended. They’ve by far had the quickest cars too. Will that play in their hands for a win on Sunday?

Vettel has just one podium in his last four starts on the season. He hasn’t scored a podium in Japan since 2015. In fact, since his win in 2013, his best results have been third. He was fifth and fifth respectively in practice on Friday.

Kimi Raikkonen had three straight fifth place finishes on this track as Vettel’s teammate and was fourth in 2015. Furthermore, Ferrari hasn’t even scored points on this Suzuka circuit since 2015.

Does that change this weekend?

Charles LeClerc has four straight poles and four straight podiums, two of which being wins. If he wants to catch Bottas, he has to find a way to beat the Mercedes this weekend. He was fourth quick in both sessions on Friday afternoon.

Could Be A Good Red Bull Weekend

Since 2009, the only two teams to have won in Japan has been Mercedes and Red Bull. I have a feeling it remains that way this weekend too. Max Verstappen is reeling with just one podium in his last four starts on the season, but he does have three straight podiums in Japan including two runner-ups (2016, 2017) and a third place run (2018) too. He was fifth and third respectively in his No. 33 Honda on Friday.

Alex Albon has four consecutive top six finishes with RBR and five in his last six tries. He was sixth in both practice sessions on Friday himself.

Daniel Ricciardo was third in 2017 and fourth last year with RBR, so look for this weekend to be a big fight among the “Big 3.”

Points Championship

The F1 points lead was extended by Lewis Hamilton in the last race at Sochi. Hamilton’s gap was dwindling but now it’s back up to 73 over his teammate Valtteri Bottas. He also leads Charles LeClerc by over 100 points now (+107) and Max Verstappen by 110. While it was looking like LeClerc and Verstappen were making up some major ground in winning three races in a four race span, Hamilton came out and won in Russia to pull further ahead.

With only five races left, I doubt that LeClerc and Verstappen can close the gap on Hamilton like they need to. The Mercedes driver is just too strong and just too wise to give up many points. He has finished outside the top five just once this year.

Prediction

  1. 44 Hamilton – Had to go against him this weekend. He won the last race of the season, won this race the last two years and four of the last five and was second in both practice sessions on Friday too.
  2. 77 Bottas – He was second last year, second in the last race and was quickest in both sessions on Friday. Mercedes’ upgrades get them a statement 1-2 finish this weekend.
  3. 33 Verstappen – Honda gets a podium on their home race. Verstappen, was third quickest in practice on Friday, was third in this race last year and has three straight podiums in Japan.
  4. 16 LeClerc – He was fourth in both practices on Friday and has four straight podiums heading into this weekend.
  5. 23 Albon – Honda gets two cars in the top five on Sunday. Albon, was sixth quickest in both practices on Friday and has four straight top six finishes on the season.

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