5 talking points ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix

By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent, Suzuka

Formula One heads to Suzuka this week for the Japanese Grand Prix.

With just five rounds remaining, Lewis Hamilton holds a 73-point championship lead over Valtteri Bottas.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.

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1. Hamilton ready to deliver knockout blow

Lewis Hamilton is closing in on the drivers’ championship (David Davies/PA)
Lewis Hamilton is closing in on the drivers’ championship (David Davies/PA)

Hamilton cannot win the championship in Japan, but a victory would put him in the driving seat to close out his sixth world title at the Mexican Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time. Hamilton needs to outscore Mercedes team-mate Bottas by just five points over the next two races to move out of the Finn’s reach. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen are 107 and 110 points behind Hamilton respectively with only 130 to play for. Sebastian Vettel is 128 points adrift of the Briton, who prepared for this weekend’s race by watching the Toronto Raptors see off the Houston Rockets in an NBA pre-season match at Tokyo’s Saitama Arena on Tuesday night.

2. Mercedes armed with upgrades to contain Ferrari challenge

Mercedes arrive in Japan with upgrades (Tim Goode/PA)
Mercedes arrive in Japan with upgrades (Tim Goode/PA)

Hamilton may have won last time out in Sochi, but Mercedes have been off the pace of Ferrari since the summer break. Indeed, the Italian team should have made it four out of four, only for Vettel to break down and the ensuing virtual safety car to deny Leclerc a certain win. Mercedes, who will wrap up a remarkable sixth consecutive constructors’ championship on Sunday if they outscore Ferrari by 15 points, have won every race staged in Japan since 2014. And they will tackle the 17th round of the campaign with some much-needed upgrades on their car. “The win in Sochi doesn’t change the fact that Ferrari had a stronger start to the second part of the season than we did,” said Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal. “We’ll bring some minor upgrades to the car in Japan which will hopefully help us take a step in the right direction.”

3. What next for Vettel?

Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders last time out (David Davies/PA)
Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders last time out (David Davies/PA)

Vettel is fighting to save his Ferrari future after he resisted multiple orders to move aside for team-mate Leclerc at the last race. Leclerc, who could secure a fifth straight pole position on Saturday, has emerged as the team’s main man, and how Ferrari manage their two drivers will prove an intriguing sub-plot for the remainder of the season. Four-time world champion Vettel will have been wounded by the team orders debacle in Russia, but he must stop the rot in Suzuka. The German has been out-qualified by Leclerc at the last nine rounds, while the young Monegasque is 21 points ahead of him in the championship, too.

4. Suzuka braced for super typhoon

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The schedule in Japan could be disrupted by super typhoon Hagibis, which is set to hit Suzuka this weekend. The storm will bring violent winds and heavy rain, and current forecasts suggest it will be at its most disruptive on Saturday. As such, qualifying could be delayed or postponed until the morning of Sunday’s race. The FIA is monitoring the situation and liaising with circuit officials. Five years ago in Japan, Jules Bianchi hit a recovery crane in torrid conditions before succumbing to his injuries nine months later.

5. Red Bull in spotlight at Honda’s home race

Verstappen has created one of the biggest followings in the sport, and he will take centre stage this weekend when he leads Honda’s charge on home turf. Verstappen’s Red Bull is powered by the Japanese manufacturer and, in the absence of a home driver, an expected sell-out crowd will be rallying behind the young Dutchman instead.

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