As speculating rumbles on about Formula 1‘s budget cap, there is a race this weekend and it’s the Japanese Grand Prix which is back for the first time since 2019.
There’s a much higher chance Max Verstappen will become a two-time world champion at Suzuka compared to Singapore with a win, along with the fastest lap enough to guarantee the title.
He won’t have it easy though as the nature of the Suzuka circuit will see Ferrari and Mercedes threaten a Red Bull team that is on a six-race winning streak.
Similarly to Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka is an iconic circuit yet there have been few classic races over the last decade.
It doesn’t help there is just one DRS zone (along the home straight) and that the high-speed turns make it difficult to follow.
Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful track to drive and the aerodynamics of the cars are tested too as the drivers take as much speed as possible through the Esses and into the Degners.
Then there is Spoon Curve, two turns which you take as one, often with the wind making it difficult in the middle of the corner.
It’s so important to get a good run out of here and down the long back straight, through the flat out 130R and back hard onto the brakes for the final chicane.
With the emergence of new street circuits, these old-school tracks must remain as the risk versus reward factor is a challenge that F1 badly needs to have.
Will Verstappen become champion?
Verstappen will be fired up after his mistake at Singapore when trying to overtake Lando Norris, which meant he finished down in seventh.
Red Bull and AlphaTauri will carry Honda logos on the car for the remainder of this season, starting in Suzuka with the Japanese manufacturer still playing a role to design and operate their engines this year despite officially leaving at the end of 2021.
A win from Verstappen or Sergio Perez would do wonders in terms of marketing and the joy for the people of Honda.
“It would be very nice if it happens here,” said Verstappen. “But if it doesn’t happen here, I will be more in favour [to win the title] at the next race.
“It doesn’t really change anything. You just want to have a good weekend and try to maximise everything you can.
“I need a perfect weekend to clinch the title here, but to be honest, I’m not really thinking about it too much.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t be here last year in a title fight, so that’s why we are looking forward to being back here, then we’ll see what happens. We need a perfect weekend, for sure.”
As much as people may blast Verstappen for his Sunday in Singapore, don’t forget that he was going to be on pole position by over a second the day before if Red Bull didn’t tell him to abort his final two laps.
Will Mercedes be competitive?
A high-speed track and harder tyre compounds will play into the hands of Mercedes but they will still find it very difficult to be on the front row of the grid.
Through Sectors 1 and 2, Mercedes should be able to keep up with Ferrari and Red Bull but the long back straight where low drag and plenty of grunt is needed could be their downfall.
“I’d love for it to be as competitive as it was last weekend,” George Russell told the press. “But I think it’s going to be a little bit more of a struggle.
“I think Ferrari have been very fast in the medium, high-speed corners this year.
“The Red Bulls have been really slippery down the straights, which obviously, with only the one DRS zone here, they’ll probably be in a good place as well.
“So it’s not going to be straightforward, but I think we always show quite good pace on a Sunday. So there’s no reason why we can’t be in the fight.”
Sainz must improve
Carlos Sainz is have too many poor race pace days now after he was nowhere in Singapore, something he admits.
He finished third which was a good result, but at the Hungaroring, Zandvoort and Singapore, he was well off the pace compared to Leclerc.
“I cannot be happy because I wish I could have put some pressure together with Charles and Checo and we could have been both up there to play a bit with Checo,” said Sainz about his Singapore race.
“But I simply didn’t have the pace and it’s something that I need to look at. That’s why I’m not happy at all, because it’s normally the conditions where I normally am quite quick and normally execute good races.
“[It’s] something to look at but of course I am not happy and I will look at this race with good analysis and come back stronger in Suzuka.”
How will Tsunoda fare on home soil
On raw pace, Yuki Tsunoda has had a big improvement in his rookie campaign and has been a match for Pierre Gasly.
But, he is still making some unforgivable mistakes with his latest incident taking place on Sunday as he went straight into the barrier on cold dry tyres.
It gave flashbacks to Canada earlier this year when he crashed when coming out of the pit lane, so it’s clearly an area Tsunoda needs to improve significantly.
You cannot be making those types of errors at this level and it must have hurt his confidence, knowing that every time you come out of the pit lane, the car will have less grip on colder Pirelli rubber.
He is racing on home soil for the first time since he clinched the Japanese F4 title in 2018 and points would be a big result for the 22-year-old.
If, and when, Gasly leaves the team, Tsunoda will need to step up once more in what will be a make or break season.
It would be great for him if he can take some momentum into 2023 with a run of consistent, strong performances which he is keen to do.
“I think I have to learn lots of things still in, in the rest of five races, from Pierre, for example,” said Tsnuoda.
“For sure the kind of mistakes I did in Singapore have to definitely reduce, and lots of things for example, penalties, whatever. Also those things is unnecessary.
“So those things definitely have to improve but at the same time, the pace, especially one lap, I’m quite happy and having good progress so far. So, I’ll just keep like this momentum until the next year.
“Just for the race, I think just experience more. Definitely, I have to get good back into the normal rhythm or good rhythm, like I had the first half of the season.
“I think this will be probably a good opportunity to back into the rhythm. But I think still learning, lots of things lots of things to learn but I seem to have quite good confidence to do that.”