F1: Another Perspective – Land of the Rising Sons
Mercedes are all set to defend the constructor title in style, and Lewis Hamilton has long had his name engraved on the silverware. Why then, is the word “crisis” being associated with the Silver Arrows?
A second double failure to reach the podium, with Hamilton suffering his first retirement of the season, has set alarm bells ringing. A punishing schedule gets no easier for Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with a second consecutive weekend of racing taking place, this time at the unforgiving Suzuka Circuit.
Trouble in Paradise
The Japanese circuit needs no introduction – its reputation for speed and trickery is almost unrivalled, and this could favour Sebastian Vettel’s gameplan as the fruits of Ferrari’s work appear to be blossoming after a disappointing Italian Grand Prix.
Mercedes still has the advantage in terms of machinery, but (unlike Ferrari) there has been little incentive to improve and develop on what remains the standard to beat.
As of Monday, the Mercedes autopsy remains in full flow, with a desperate search for the ideal setup in a short space of time. In the past two grands prix, Mercedes has inexplicably lost pace, and a mere week is insufficient to gain the required amount of telemetry to make an informed decision.
Hamilton has the style but Vettel has the substance, and it is the latter attribute that will count when faced with the hazardous chicanes and tight corners of Suzuka. Furthermore, Vettel is just two Suzuka victories away from emulating boyhood hero Michael Schumacher’s seemingly unbreakable total of six wins in Japan.
A man fuelled by incentives such as this is a force to be reckoned with but, on the evidence of last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, Vettel is much more than a man…
The scrap for the remaining points is set to be an interesting one, although overtaking is difficult on a circuit like Suzuka. The long straight after Spoon Curve is set to be the acid test for drivers that aspire to threaten the podium, and there are several drivers that are in sufficiently good form to make a fight of it.
Every weekend brings a surprise package that surges from a seemingly hopeless position to finish within the points, but there is one driver in particular that is presently capturing the imaginations of those who still believe in the underdog.
Daniel Ricciardo’s performance at the Singapore Grand Prix represented a continuation of his recent purple patch, which began in style at Monza Circuit, where he surged from P19 on the grid to a points finish. He continually cut into Vettel’s lead, but found himself thwarted by a combination of inferior machinery and the drunken antics of a spectator. The resulting VSC deployment, the second of the evening, ruined any chance (however slim) of victory for the Red Bull driver.
Although the Red Bull-Renault feud has no doubt had a detrimental effect on the constructors from Salzburg, form and fortune has now changed drastically. Emerging from the now-dissipating fog created by Mercedes dominance over F1, Ricciardo’s strength of character provides a flashback to halcyon days in which drivers were afforded no computerised luxuries, relying on skill alone to achieve results.
Suzuka presents a different type of challenge that could stop Ricciardo from making such a podium push yet again, but a top-six finish is certainly within the Australian’s capabilities.
Future World Champion
Suzuka Circuit is seen as the end of the line for a driver with anything less than three F1 seasons under their belt – but try telling Max Verstappen that!
Defiant to the last, disobeying orders to concede a position to teammate Carlos Sainz Jr, Verstappen is set to impress the world of F1 with another display of dauntless driving. Opportunities for manoeuvre will be at a premium in Japan, but his determination to prove himself is unrivalled by any driver.
Expect another strong show from the 17-year old – after all he finished fourth at the Hungaroring, on a circuit which (like Suzuka) demands shrewd, live calculation of several sharp corners.
For live updates of the Japanese Grand Prix visit Motorsport24.com – race begins at 1.00am UTC on Sunday, September 27.