Mercedes have already dominated FP1 and FP2 at Suzuka and allied to the positive comments from Lewis Hamilton about some semblance of normality returning to the team, all seems rosy again. Lewis is a happy boy after a very satisfying race in Singapore and rising to the top of the points table. Nico Rosberg on the other hand has been fairly quiet after dealing well publicly (even though he was no doubt seething) with the catastrophic Singapore GP. Nevertheless, as we have seen several times this season, one spark is all that is needed.
Reliability, pit stops & driver disobedience
Mercedes are fortunate to have such a great car as reliability messy pit stops, driver disobedience and more have at times looked like de-railing a certain driver and constructor sweep. Lewis – as the one who is most public in his emotions – after a rollercoaster year is the more likely to ratchet up the tension if things don’t go his way in Japan. Another bad race for Rosberg of course could incite a more aggressive response from the German however.
Williams and wet weather
Williams are talking up their chances to be back challenging at the front with new development parts and assuming wet weather does not become a factor, the high speed, sweeping turns of Suzuka could favour the slippery Williams-Mercedes package. With the ever-present risk of rain at Suzuka, there is also cause for optimism for the likes of Button and Alonso.
Both will excel in wet conditions and both have drives to fight for. Given Alonso’s remarks that his future is now in Ferrari’s hands, both are at the mercy of others for next season. For Button, the best he can hope for is a 1-year extension to his contract at McLaren to iron out the Honda gremlins before Alonso steps in to take over. Beyond that it seems certain he will retire from F1 rather than slide down the grid.
Alonso in Honda’s back yard
With things seemingly peaceful (for now) at Mercedes, Alonso was likely to find himself back in his two-option conundrum. Yet it now seems clear that it is not so much that Alonso is desperate to leave, but Ferrari ready to let go. I still believe that if the Mercedes pressure-cooker explodes again, that the Spaniard would push to replace Hamilton/Rosberg but for now it seems McLaren is the most likely destination. Alonso needs to feel the support of a team around him; Ferrari gave him that and he worked with it but they never did give him the car. It feels wrong that Ferrari would use Alonso’s few outbursts and his consideration of other options as justification to let go given how much he has dragged them to places their cars have not deserved to be. Do Honda wine and dine him in Japan this weekend and seal the deal? Keep your eyes peeled.
Time running out for the minnows
With the battle at the sharp end of the field very much advantage Hamilton, there is arguably more excitement further down the grid. For Sauber and Caterham it is ‘do or die’ time as both need constructors points desperately. The financial position of both teams seems precarious even though recent cash injections to Caterham seem to have stablised them for now.
Sauber’s confirmation this week that promising former-IndyCar racer Simona de Silvestro has effectively been dropped from her programme to reach F1 due to ‘financing issues’ provides a fairly solid indication times are exceptionally tough in Hinwill. A wet-weather, crash-laden Japanese race might assist both in grabbing that all-important point but given their driver line-ups, you fear they would be in the gravel too.