Preview round 16 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, the Japanese Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel is clear to race Lewis Hamilton at the Japanese Grand Prix after Ferrari cleared his Malaysia Grand Prix gearbox of any damage from the post-race shunt with Lance Stroll that cost the Prancing Horse a wheel. Meaning no grid-penalties are guaranteed for the title-chasing German, as he looks to begin a sizeable turnaround at the only figure of eight circuit on the F1 calendar.
Hamilton’s Monza momentum saw the Briton go on and clinch victory in Singapore to make it three-wins in three-races. The only time this year a driver has done so, with no other driver able to clinch back-to-back race wins in 2017.
Then Formula One rolled into Sepang for what could be the very last time with the Malaysia Grand Prix ending its association with Formula One. For now at least, with murmurings in the paddock adding voice to a return in the not too distant future.
Malaysia did, however, go out in style with yet another strong performance from the pinnacle of motorsport at what is arguably the best Tilke-designed circuit used in F1. And one that will likely be missed should a return not be achievable.
One part of the race that made the farewell Grand Prix memorable was the disaster that befell Ferrari from qualifying to race day. With Vettel’s turbo failing on Saturday without a time posted in Q1. To Raikkonen suffering an electronics failure that ruled him out of the race while sat on the grid.
But from the back of the grid, and a new power unit that will give him the edge over Hamilton on way to Abu Dhabi, Vettel picked off drivers like nothing to pull himself into a podium fight.
Picking off nine drivers on the opening lap as others tangled. Before soaring again on the contrasting strategy to gap the field before pulling into the pits.
As noted, Vettel too has a fresher power unit now than Lewis Hamilton has in his Mercedes. But in bringing forward the engine change initially pencilled in for Japan, the German does not have the full upgrade package Ferrari were putting together.
Meaning should the Italian outfit wish to fit the gains found in the factory, another grid penalty will be handed amidst the tense-title fight.
What will come as comfort to Ferrari, though, is that for while Sepang was expected to be a Mercedes-track, just as Suzuka was originally, the race pace the Scuderia demonstrated highlighted the Ferrari’s gains over the course of the season.
Putting together a stronger package that out-shone the Silver Arrow, and now looks the all-around better car rather than just on the slower cornered tracks. Adding more fuel to the fire burning inside Vettel as he looks to pull off another astonishing title-chase in the flyaway races that close out the Formula One season.
Not all was the Ferrari stronger in Malaysia than the Mercedes, but the Red Bull did, too, as Max Verstappen clinched victory from an aware Hamilton who knew when not to take a fight.
Daniel Ricciardo also showed the Red Bull’s strength against a lack-lustre Valterri Bottas. Though the Australian could not challenge the Briton ahead, making it first and third for Red Bull.
Suzuka first appeared on the F1 calendar exactly thirty-years ago when the 1987 season rolled into Honda’s purpose-built test facility.
Bringing an extremely technical track to the sport, where rhythm is everything going through the double uphill esses that comprise sector one.
Flowing then under the final sector of the track where a heavy braking zone at the Turn 11 hairpin comes at the drivers fast and catches many out.
One downside to the aerodynamic gains brought in by the 2017 regulation changes, however, will be that 130R may no longer present the challenge it once did. With drivers always looking to build confidence and knowledge before flicking the car into the left-hander flat out. While this year it may be taken as if it were a straight.
While Ferrari overturned expectations in Malaysia, they were not alone. With McLaren demonstrating the potential of their chassis in the tricky middle sector before the Honda power units limitations were not as limiting on the long straights as potentially feared.
Meaning, for Honda’s final home Grand Prix as partners to McLaren in the current hybrid era, the power unit the Japanese firm offer, that is likely to struggle once more, may not prevent another strong weekend for the Woking outfit.
Conceivably saving Honda from more home humiliation, at the infamous sight of Fernando Alonso calling the engine a “GP2” unit as he trudged along the 750-metre pit-straight.
Fernando, too, will be looking for a strong weekend in Suzuka. For the two-time World Champion – without a title in 11-years – has now slipped behind his rookie team-mate in the 2017 standings following Stoffel Vandoorne’s seventh-placed finish last time out.
Should you wish to watch the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix weekend live in the UK, coverage comes via Sky Sports with Channel 4 only providing highlights of the meet. While Sky will also be broadcasting the Formula 2 and GP3 in Jerez.
Sky Sports F1
04/10 – 20:30 – F1 Report: Preview
05/10 – 07:00 – Driver Press Conference
05/10 – 21:15 – Paddock Uncut
06/10 – 01:45 – Practice 1
06/10 – 05:45 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
06/10 – 08:00 – Team Press Conference
06/10 – 08:50 – The F1 Show
06/10 – 12:00 – GP3 Series – Jerez – Qualifying
06/10 – 14:30 – Formula Two – Jerez – Qualifying
07/10 – 03:45 – Practice 3
07/10 – 06:00 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
07/10 – 09:55 – GP3 Series – Jerez – Race 1
07/10 – 10:55 – Formula One – Qualifying Replay
07/10 – 12:55 – Formula Two – Jerez – Feature Race
08/10 – 04:30 – Race
=> 04:30 – Track Parade
=> 05:00 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 05:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live (also Sky Sports Main Event)
08/10 – 09:55 – GP3 Series – Jerez – Race 2
08/10 – 11:15 – Formula One – Race highlights
08/10 – 12:55 – Formula Two – Jerez – Race 2
08/10 – 14:15 – Formula One – Race Replay
11/10 – 20:30 – F1 Report: Review
Channel 4 F1
07/10 – 13:00 – Qualifying Highlights
08/10 – 15:00 – Race Highlights
BBC Radio F1
04/10 – 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
06/10 – 01:55 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06/10 – 05:55 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/10 – 03:55 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/10 – 06:55 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08/10 – 05:30 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)