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Formula 1 Preview: Japanese Grand Prix

Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Meghana Sree

Image Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images

As we draw towards the business end of the season, Formula 1 heads up to the serene slopes of Suzuka. Renowned for its challenging and high-octane nature, this proper ‘drivers’ circuit’ never fails to capture the hearts of those who dare to take it on. Thrilling races can always be expected here too, so strap yourselves in for some brilliant racing action.

Circuit Guide

Image Credit: Formula One

The Suzuka International Racing Course is unique on the F1 calendar for its famous figure-of-eight structure, meaning drivers will be racing both clockwise and anti-clockwise. It remains a very high-speed track, containing a singular DRS (Drag Reduction System) zone across the start-finish line. Among a plethora of highly spectacular sections in the circuit, the most well-known has to be the breathtaking 130R corner, which sees drivers fearlessly put their foot to the floor and endure considerable G-forces until they have to slam on the brakes for a tight chicane.

Weekend Format

While the weekend will run with the traditional format, timings for this weekend will be earlier than usual for European viewers due to the time difference from Japan.

Schedule (in BST)

Practice 1- Friday, 03:30 am

Practice 2- Friday, 07:00 am

Practice 3- Saturday, 03:30 am

Qualifying- Saturday, 07:00 am

Race- Sunday, 06:00 am

Weather Forecast

Unlike recent years, it is looking like searing track temperatures and minimal chances of rain in Suzuka. Without the wildcard of a wet race, we will most likely see how the teams truly stack up following Red Bull’s capitulation last time out.

Major Talking Points

  • Red Bull’s True Pace - How will this year’s utterly dominant team respond to a rare calamitous weekend? Was Singapore a reflection of the order now, or was it just a case of Red Bull struggling at a street circuit?

  • AlphaTauri Pair Proving Themselves - Among swirling rumours of which three drivers will join Max Verstappen as the Red Bull-managed drivers next year, can either Yuki Tsunoda or Liam Lawson make it impossible for Helmut Marko to overlook them this weekend?

Suzuka in Years Gone By

Image Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport/Getty Images

This magnificent circuit has had more than its fair share of dramatic moments and brilliant races, and none more so than the infamous 1989 and 1990 title-deciding clashes between fierce rivals Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. A mid-lap collision in 1989 saw Prost retire and Senna be controversially disqualified, handing the title to the Frenchman. They didn’t even make it to the first corner in 1990 before a race-ending collision occurred, handing Senna the championship much to Prost’s disgust. More recently, Kimi Raikkonen charged through the field in 2005 to take a memorable victory in a race of drama from start to finish. Lastly, 2012 saw a first-lap incident involving Romain Grosjean, clearing a path for Kamui Kobayashi to take a hugely impressive podium in front of his adoring home fans.

Last Race Recap

Amid a drastic shake-up of the order we’ve become accustomed to, both Red Bulls limped out of qualifying in Q2, leaving Carlos Sainz to take pole for Ferrari. The race was packed with thrills and a few spills, as a few drivers came off worse against the tight walls of the Marina Bay circuit. Eventually, the two Mercedes drivers looked to be on a charge for the win, but Sainz employed the ingenious tactic of slowing down to give Lando Norris the DRS behind, so that the Silver Arrows couldn’t mount any challenges to his well-deserved lead. Then, in a heartbreaking turn of events, George Russell ended his race in the wall on the final lap, gifting the final podium position to his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Meanwhile behind this battle, the Red Bulls had managed to recover to fifth and eighth position, showing that they still had some decent race pace.

Drivers to Watch

Image Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Max Verstappen - Raring for Revenge

This season’s runaway championship leader has taken victory in the vast majority of races so far, making last weekend’s result even more shocking. One can only envisage a dominant display from the Dutchman in Japan to make up for that disappointment, providing Red Bull can give him a competitive car.

Carlos Sainz - Purple Patch

In recent weeks, the Spaniard’s reputation amongst the Tifosi has skyrocketed, as he has taken the fight to Red Bull and left his teammate Charles Leclerc in the dust on some occasions. Last time out, we witnessed a truly brilliant performance from him on both Saturday and Sunday, cementing his second victory in the sport so far. Can he make it to two in a row for the East Asian double header?

The Other Contenders

Hamilton has five wins in Suzuka, needing only one more to equal Michael Schumacher’s record, so don’t count out the seven-time champion from adding to history once more this weekend. McLaren’s Norris has been there or thereabouts for a race win for most of the races since the Austrian Grand Prix, taking home another second place finish in Singapore, so there is every chance that he could break his duck in Japan. Then, Russell, Leclerc, or Sergio Perez could have a brilliant weekend and challenge for victory on Sunday too, so we will have to wait and see how it all plays out.

Marcus’ Predictions

I’m going to go bold this weekend, and predict yet another victory for Sainz. I’m thinking Verstappen and Red Bull will certainly be up from the last race, but they won’t quite have the pace on Sunday to outdo the flying Spaniard. P3 could be filled by five or six drivers realistically, but I’m going to back Hamilton’s experience around Suzuka, ahead of Norris, Perez, Russell, and finally Leclerc. Further down the order, Lawson will impress once again, taking home some more vital points for his shot at a 2024 F1 seat.

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