Lewis Hamilton can edge a step closer to claiming the 2018 Formula One Drivers’ Championship by securing victory at this weekend’s F1 Japanese Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 1:10am ET).
Hamilton took his third win in a row at last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix after his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas stepped aside under team orders and handed him victory. They were followed home by the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
The win extended Hamilton’s advantage over his sole remaining challenger Vettel to 50 points. Vettel could win all five of the remaining races and still not claim the championship as long as Hamilton is capable of securing four third-place finishes and one second. Given the excellent reliability of the Mercedes package, Hamilton is in a very strong position.
Both of the title contenders have strong previous records at Suzuka. Vettel won four of the five Japanese Grand Prix between 2009 and 2013, while Hamilton has won the race in three of the last four years, including a dominant victory from pole position last year.
Mercedes have been the clear class of the field in Japan since the switch to the current engine format for the 2014 season, taking four consecutive pole positions and victories. With recent updates having seemingly seen them overcome Ferrari’s earlier pace advantage, Hamilton’s march towards a fifth drivers’ championship is likely to continue this weekend.
The two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo recovered from lowly starting positions in Russia to secure fifth and sixth. They finished ahead of the Sauber of Charles Leclerc (again highly impressive), the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and the two Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.
Force India were somewhat disappointed to take only three points from that race after qualifying sixth and eighth, but they expect to enjoy a strong weekend in Japan. The team have taken double points finishes in three of the last four Grand Prix at Suzuka. Ocon led Perez home to sixth and seventh in last year’s race.
Had their points not been reset following the team’s takeover, after going into bankruptcy proceedings, prior to the Belgium Grand Prix, Force India would currently be fourth in the constructors’ championship. That’s the position they have finished in each of the last two seasons. As it is, their accumulation of 35 points in four races puts them seventh, and they still have their sights set on overcoming their 23-point deficit to McLaren in sixth.
A double points finish in Japan would be an excellent first step towards doing so. It is a result that Force India have a solid chance of achieving on Sunday.
The Japanese Grand Prix is the home race for Honda and they are expected to introduce their new specification engine for the Toro Rosso team this weekend. Calibration issues prevented them from using it in Russia, but its limited running in practice left the team impressed. They claim that the upgrade has seen Honda surpass Renault to become the third most powerful engine on the grid and are likely to deploy it in Japan.
While that is a decision that may provide benefits in terms of performance, it will also bring with it the risk of unreliability. Honda have undoubtedly improved in that sense this season after 14 retirements from the 40 combined entries the two Honda-powered McLarens suffered last year, but the Toro Rosso and Honda package has still been one of the most unreliable on the grid.
That has particularly proved to be the case in the hands of Brendon Hartley, who has suffered five retirements, including two in the last three races, and has twice more been classified despite not making the end of the race. While everyone in the team is determined to secure a good result at Honda’s home Grand Prix, there is a solid chance that at least one of their cars will fail to finish. If so, it is most likely to be Hartley’s.
Our Preview’s F1 Japanese Grand Prix Predictions & Picks Verdict
So, for those who fancy a wager on this F1 race, we come to our Japanese Grand Prix predictions and betting tips’ selections:
- Bet on Lewis Hamilton to take both pole position and the race victory, which is not yet an option with the United States of America-friendly sportsbooks. We expect Bovada may have this market nearer the race and anticipate the odds being around +150 (6/4).
- Back Force India to secure a double points finish (ie: both team drivers to finish in top 10) @ +125 with Bovada.
- Expect Brendon Hartley not to finish. The ‘not to finish’ market may not become available with any US sports betting sites, but the European bookmakers have this betting pick at +175.