Following an eventful race in Malaysia last week, Adam Baylis previews the Japanese Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to add to his Drivers' Championship lead...
"He's (Verstappen) [8.8] to follow up on Sunday but Suzuka is a very different proposition to Malaysia. Noted as one of the toughest tracks on the calendar, the emphasis is placed much more on driver skill and car set up with balance being key."
Last Sunday's Malaysian GP may have been stripped of some first corner entertainment following Kimi Raikkonen's retirementbut it was nice to see Max Verstappen claim victory on his 20th birthday and this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix sees him return to the scene of his first outing in Formula One.
He's [8.8] to follow up on Sunday but Suzuka is a very different proposition to Malaysia. Noted as one of the toughest tracks on the calendar, the emphasis is placed much more on driver skill and car set up with balance being key. Verstappen claimed second place behind Nico Rosberg last year and the change in emphasis on downforce in Malaysia could see Red Bull go close again this week.
Lewis Hamilton had to settle for the runner-up spot at Sepang which given Mercedes' problems at the track is probably the best he could've hoped for with Ferrari's ongoing issues playing into his hands.
Japan meanwhile hasn't always been LH44's happiest hunting ground, he's recorded two wins from eight appearances but is yet to record a single pole position at the track. That being said, finishing atop in qualifying isn't everything round here with only 13 pole's converted to wins.
What will be of more concern to the Silver Arrows is the notable drop off in pace they suffered last weekend. Toto Wolff said "we were half a second down on Ferrari and probably if Max Verstappen had pushed to the end we would have been half a second down on Max". This looks to be largely down to tyre and track temperature so the forecast of cooler conditions will be welcome news.
Hamilton can be backed at [2.36] for the race win while his struggling team-mate Valtteri Bottas lies at [17.0]. Don't underestimate the importance of Bottas' loss of form to Hamilton's title charge either, as the protection he provided from Ferrari and Red Bull was invaluable at the beginning of the season.
And what of The Prancing Horse, just when they thought they could take solace from Sebastian Vettel's stunning charge up the grid in Sepang, they find themselves staring down the barrel of another penalty. Following that post-race collision with Lance Stroll, Scuderia are apparently hopeful that Vettel's gearbox will be usable in Japan and given Mercedes' aforementioned drop-off in pace they need to take advantage now. Vettel can be backed at [4.2] while teammate Kimi Raikkonen is [15.5].
Japanese Grand Prix Verdict
Mind games aside, there seems to be genuine concern at Brackley about the loss of pace experienced by the Silver Arrows last weekend and whereas it seems Ferrari have got their issues surrounding turbo sorted for Suzuka there's no word yet of stability from Mercedes. Given the volatility of both Scuderia drivers at the moment I'm inclined to side with another strong showing from Red Bull who seem to be regaining their competitive edge.
Daniel Ricciardo will no doubt be fired up after seeing his teammate waltz to victory in Malaysia and we already know how well Verstappen goes round Suzuka. [8.8] looks on the generous side for Max to record back-to-back victories and the Betfair Sportsbook offer 7/2 that Red Bull emerge with the winning car.
Japanese Grand Prix Winning Car - Red Bull @ 7/2 (Sportsbook)