Red Bull need score only a point more than Mercedes at Suzuka on Sunday to retain their Formula 1 Constructors’ Title and trigger celebrations after last weekend’s Singapore shock.
After failing to win for the first time this season, and 15 victories in a row dating back to the end of last year, the Champions look likely to be back to their dominant ways in Japan.
Last year in a rain-shortened race Max Verstappen sealed his second F1 Championship with teammate Sergio Perez completing the one-two.
The runaway Championship leader, now 151 points clear of Perez, must wait a while longer for his third F1 Title but Red Bull are set to complete their half of an inevitable double at a track owned by partners Honda.
They currently have a 308 point advantage over Mercedes and 332 over Ferrari, with only 309 points – including those from sprint races and fastest laps – still to be won after Suzuka.
Another win for Verstappen, who has his 26th birthday to look forward to on September 30, would be the Dutch driver’s 13th of the campaign and set him up for a likely Title celebration in Qatar in October.
“I think we will be quick in Suzuka,” Verstappen said last Sunday. “It should be good for our car. The track is always super-fun to drive so I hope as soon as we put the car on the track that it’s in a good window.”
Suzuka is also decidedly old-school, designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz with a figure of eight layout, and punishes mistakes.
Should Red Bull not return to their previous dominance, then questions that were asked in Singapore about the impact of a recent technical directive on flexible bodywork will become louder still.
That directive was issued just before Singapore
“I know all of you would love to blame the TD, but unfortunately we can’t even blame that because it has not changed a single component on our car,” Horner said after Singapore ended Verstappen’s record run of 10 wins in a row.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, the winner in Singapore, will be going for his third pole in a row as Ferrari seek to overhaul Mercedes for the runner-up slot in the Championship.
“We’ve had two great weekends in a row, but I think the two tracks that we’ve been to have suited our car,” said the Spaniard.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they (Red Bull) are still winning the last few races of the season. I think Singapore gave us the chance and we just did well.
“But I still think the Red Bull is going to be up there in the remainder of the season and they’re going to be very, very, very, very difficult to beat,” Sainz insisted.
Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin will also hope to be fighting for the podium.
Norris, still chasing his first F1 win, said he laughed when he saw from Verstappen’s onboard camera footage how poorly the Red Bull was performing in Singapore.
“Max also laughed about it. So, we’ll see next weekend. I think they’ll probably be back at the top,” said the Briton.
New Zealander Liam Lawson will again be standing in for the injured Australian Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri while Canadian Lance Stroll is back for Aston Martin after missing the race in Singapore due to a crash in qualifying. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)
Round 16 of the 22-race 2023 FIA Formula 1 World Championship:
Lap distance: 5.807km. Total distance: 307.471km (53 laps)
2022 pole position: Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull one minute 29.304 seconds
2022 race winner: Verstappen
Race lap record: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes, 2019: One minute 30.983 seconds.
Start time: 0500GMT (1400 local)
Red Bull will retain their constructors’ championship if they score one point more than Mercedes and Ferrari do not outscore them by 24.
Red Bull currently have a 308-point advantage over Mercedes and 332 over Ferrari, with only 309 points — including those from sprint races and fastest laps — still to be won after Suzuka.
Should Red Bull end the weekend only 309 points clear of Mercedes, they will still be champions on race wins.
Sunday’s race will be the 37th Japanese Grand Prix in world championship history and 33rd at Suzuka.
The narrow, high-speed circuit is old-style in a figure-of-eight layout, with fast corners Degner 1 and 2, Spoon and 130R, taken at 295kph.
Of current drivers, Hamilton has won five times in Japan (2007 at Fuji, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018) and Fernando Alonso twice (2006 Suzuka and 2008 Fuji). Other winners are Verstappen (2022) and Valtteri Bottas (2019).
Mercedes have won six of the last seven Japanese Grands Prix.
Ferrari last won at Suzuka, a Honda-owned circuit, with Michael Schumacher in 2004. The German won the Japanese Grand Prix a record six times.
In 32 races at Suzuka, the winner has come from the front row on 27 occasions and been on pole in 16. Kimi Raikkonen won from 17th on the grid in 2005 with McLaren.
Nine of the last 16 winners have started on pole.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda is the only Japanese driver on the starting grid.
Victories, Pole Position, Podium & Fastest Laps
Verstappen has won 12 of 15 races this season, his record run of 10 wins in a row ending in Singapore last Sunday.
The Dutch driver has 47 wins from 178 starts and is fifth on the all-time list. Alain Prost, with 51, is fourth.
Red Bull have won 14 of 15 races, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz winning in Singapore. Red Bull have also had a team record six one-two finishes in 2023.
Hamilton has a record 103 victories from 325 starts but has not won since Saudi Arabia in December 2021. Aston Martin’s Alonso has 32 wins, most recently in Spain in 2013 with Ferrari, from a record 370 starts.
Ferrari’s Sainz is chasing his third pole in a row.
Hamilton has a record 104 poles.
Red Bull have been on pole 10 times this season. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took the top slot in Azerbaijan and Belgium, Hamilton in Hungary and Sainz in Italy and Singapore. Verstappen has eight poles for 2023.
Six teams and 10 drivers have made a podium appearance this season: Red Bull, Alpine, Aston Martin, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Verstappen’s fifth place in Singapore was the first time he had been off the podium since Brazil last November.
Verstappen holds the record for most podiums in a season — 18 in 2021 — and has had 14 so far in 2023. Michael Schumacher is the only driver to have finished on the podium in every race of a season, in 2002.
Seven different drivers have taken fastest laps this season – Alonso, Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou, Verstappen (6), Perez (2), Hamilton (3), Mercedes’s George Russell and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.