RACE DEBRIEF

    Max Verstappen’s winning streak was halted in Singapore but Red Bull are still on a roll as Sergio Perez extended the team’s victorious run to six races in a row – but who will take the spoils at Suzuka for the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix? Join in with the official predictor game, F1 Play...

    Vying for pole

    Teams have achieved massive consecutive streaks in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix with Ferrari (from 1998-2004), Red Bull (2009-2013) and Mercedes (2014-2018) having aced Suzuka qualifying over multiple years. Perhaps that’s because this is a medium-downforce circuit that favours a solid ‘all-round’ package – the kind of car that's consistently fast enough to win a World Championship.

    In 2019, Ferrari took a front-row lockout thanks to Sebastian Vettel’s pole position, and that SF90 car was rapid on Saturdays, with Vettel taking the fifth in a sequence of six consecutive pole positions for the Scuderia that season. This year, Ferrari are once again strong in qualifying, and should expect to contend for pole once again.

    READ MORE: Sainz demands Ferrari 'gather momentum' with strong run of results in final races of 2022

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    Vettel broke a streak of Mercedes pole positions by acing qualifying at Suzuka in 2019

    Red Bull have tended not to be as quick as Ferrari on Saturdays this season, before finding their pace on Sundays. The championship leaders last took pole in the Netherlands, courtesy of Max Verstappen, who delivered what was only their fifth qualifying win of the season. It wouldn’t be surprising if that trend continues in Japan.

    With rain expected to continue through the week and hit Friday practice at Suzuka, grip will be at a premium in Saturday’s qualifying (currently expected to be dry).

    Furthermore, with Suzuka’s track surface expected to stress the front tyres more than any other circuit, qualifying will be a serious test of the drivers’ composure.

    Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will need perfect execution for pole, with Sergio Perez and Verstappen keeping them on their toes.

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    Pole positions in the last five races:

    • 2019 – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
    • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2016 – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
    • 2015 – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: Despite the fact Charles Leclerc claimed pole in Singapore, he is way behind Max Verstappen in the voting to be fastest over a single lap at Suzuka this weekend. The Dutchman has almost five times as many votes as the Monegasque in the early F1 Play polling, despite those Marina Bay misfires.

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    Verstappen ended up eighth on the grid in Singapore – can he bounce back here?

    In the mix for victory

    Rain is forecast for Sunday but at this stage the Grand Prix itself is predicted to take place in dry conditions. If it does stay dry, this should be a face-off between Red Bull and Ferrari. And Verstappen, who needs victory and fastest lap to guarantee the championship on Sunday, will be gunning for that victory.

    Red Bull might enjoy a slight pace advantage over Ferrari on Sunday, and having clinched the last six Grand Prix victories, it’s easy to see why they are favourites this weekend.

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    Ferrari won’t be far behind, and with high front-tyre wear and strategy (a soft-medium one-stopper expected to be fastest) key in Japan, the Scuderia will again need perfect execution to beat Red Bull on Sunday.

    Half of the Japanese Grands Prix from 2014-19 have been disrupted by Safety Cars, a third of them disrupted by Virtual Safety Cars, and one disrupted by a red flag, which means that shrewd on-the-fly strategy choices could determine the winner.

    And given they are yet to take victory this year so far, it’s likely that Mercedes’ run of six-straight Japanese Grand Prix wins could end this weekend…

    Wins in the last five races:

    • 2019 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
    • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2016 – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
    • 2015 – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: It's a similar story in the voting to win the race – it's fair to say voters like Verstappen’s chances of wrapping up a second consecutive drivers’ title at Suzuka. He has two-thirds of the F1 Play votes so far, and three times as many as his nearest rival Leclerc. Hamilton is a distant third.

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    Singapore GP winner Perez has scored points in four-straight Japanese GP appearances

    Podium outsiders

    Not since 2013 has a non-Red Bull, Mercedes or Ferrari driver made the podium in Japan. And that was Lotus’s Romain Grosjean who took P3 in 2013, behind the leading Red Bulls. Again, this is a circuit that favours ‘all-rounders’ in the hardware stakes.

    Ferrari and Red Bull will be podium contenders in Japan, where three separate teams rarely grace the top three spots. In fact, the last time three different teams made the Japanese GP podium was in 2012, when Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi took a stunning P3 at home behind Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Red Bull’s winner Vettel.

    READ MORE: ‘We had a car to win’ – Russell admits he and Mercedes missed a golden opportunity in Singapore

    Mercedes therefore enter the weekend as slight outsiders, and Toto Wolff has already played down their qualifying chances – but said he hopes that will be “balanced out with a stronger Sunday afternoon”.

    If the Silver Arrows can capitalise on Safety Cars and possible retirements – of which there have been an average of just two per Japanese Grand Prix in the last five seasons – then they might be able to eke out a surprise podium on Sunday. But they’ll need fortune to fall their way.

    As for the rest of the field, Lando Norris remains the only non-Ferrari/Red Bull/Mercedes driver to clinch a podium this season, which underlines how unlikely it is that we’ll see a shock at Suzuka.

    Podiums in the last five races:

    • Mercedes – 9
    • Red Bull – 4
    • Ferrari – 2

    FAN VIEW: The balance of power in the Mercedes garage is clearly shifting. Hamilton boasts twice as many F1 Play votes as team mate George Russell in the battle for a podium spot at Suzuka on Sunday.

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    Mercedes have edged closer to Ferrari and Red Bull in recent weeks

    Points potential

    Engine penalties could come into play and shake the grid up at Suzuka, with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, the Aston Martins and Williams still to take their fourth set of power unit parts and the resulting penalties.

    McLaren are the team on form after they hauled in 22 points at Marina Bay, those points helping them leapfrog Alpine into P4 in the standings. Alpine, on the other hand, have not scored for two consecutive races. Both contenders for P4 will expect to score in Suzuka, and as the points tally below shows, midfield leaders generally sweep up the points in Japan.

    READ MORE: Have McLaren signalled a new design direction for F1 cars with their Singapore GP update?

    Aston Martin, fresh from double points in Singapore, will be hoping to make it to the top 10 as they have done in four out of the last five Grands Prix, while AlphaTauri, who have scored three times in the last five races, will hope that Yuki Tsunoda can score at home – though it’s more likely that Pierre Gasly will net points as Tsunoda hasn’t done so in 11 straight weekends.

    The situation at Alfa Romeo doesn’t look great as the team have taken just one point in the last eight Grands Prix – less than Williams – but P10 in Italy showed that Zhou Guanyu and 2019 Suzuka winner Valtteri Bottas still have the potential to score, at least.

    Points in the last five races:

    • Mercedes – 204
    • Ferrari – 103
    • Red Bull – 98
    • Racing Point/Force India – 46
    • Williams – 14
    • Lotus/Renault – 11
    • McLaren – 10
    • Haas – 10
    • Toro Rosso – 10

    FAN VIEW: Fernando Alonso is driving at the peak of his powers for Alpine, and despite a DNF in Singapore F1 Play gamers see him as a lock to go well at Suzuka this weekend. There is renewed faith in McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo after his fine P5 at Marina Bay, while Sebastian Vettel is also being well supported.