The title is on the line once more for Max Verstappen as F1 returns to Suzuka for the first Japanese Grand Prix since 2019. Red Bull look to extend their winning streak, Mercedes defend their six-race Suzuka streak and Yuki Tsunoda competes on home soil for the first time. Here’s what to watch out for at the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix!
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F1 is back at the legendary Suzuka
The unique, tight, twisting, figure-of-8 Suzuka circuit plays host to the 18th round of F1’s 2022 season. Back in Japan for the first time since 2019, drivers and fans alike are happy to see one of the most demanding circuits anywhere in the world back on the schedule. There are three things which are common at Suzuka: wins from the front row of the grid, first lap incidents and rain.
Valtteri Bottas’ victory in the last Japanese Grand Prix in 2019 was the first at Suzuka to not come from the front row of the grid since 2006. While a good qualifying result is almost essential to a strong race, that isn’t always the case – just ask Kimi Raikkonen, who won having started 17th back in 2005.
Due to the nature of Suzuka’s opening corners, first lap incidents are common at Suzuka. The first lap of the last race here resulted in contact between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, which compromised both of the frontrunners’ afternoons. 23 first lap retirements have been recorded in the previous 31 Suzuka races. Watch out for trouble at the start of Sunday’s race.
And finally: rain. You may remember Typhoon Hagibis in 2019, which prevented qualifying from taking place as planned. While wet weather is common over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, it has only fallen on race day once in the last 17 races at Suzuka. The wet stuff is, unsurprisingly, forecast for this weekend.
Verstappen’s second shot at second title
Suzuka has earned its place in Formula 1 folklore partly thanks to the number of title deciders it has hosted. 11 World Championships have been decided here since the track joined the calendar in 1987. That includes two classic showdowns involving Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher securing the first title win for a Ferrari driver in over two decades back in 2000 and, most recently, Sebastian Vettel’s charge to his second title with Red Bull in 2011.
Just like Vettel in 2011, Max Verstappen is on the hunt for his second title with Red Bull here this weekend. The permutations are more favourable for Verstappen at Suzuka than they were one week ago in Singapore. If he wins and sets the fastest lap, Verstappen will be champion. If he wins without the fastest lap, Charles Leclerc must finish second to stop Verstappen being crowned this weekend.
There are a number of scenarios in which Verstappen could secure the honours at Suzuka – but he must finish at least sixth to have any mathematical chance of getting the job done. A top six finish should be easy enough for the Dutchman, given Red Bull’s form and his previous races at the track. While he’s yet to win here, Verstappen had three successive podiums between 2016 and 2018, finishing as runner-up twice. His 2019 Japanese Grand Prix did not go to plan, as he made contact with Leclerc through the opening turns and subsequently retired from the race.
Max Verstappen to win the Japanese Grand Prix1/2
Can Red Bull’s win streak continue?
Sergio Perez was in stellar form at the Singapore Grand Prix and continued Red Bull’s winning streak. They’ve now won all of the last six races. Impressively, it’s their second streak of six
successive victories in 2022.
The team has had just one longer streak of victories, with Sebastian Vettel having won all of the last nine races in the 2013 season with the team. Should Red Bull extend their current streak to seven this weekend, it would make Honda very happy.
The Japanese manufacturer, who supplied engines to the team until the end of the year and is still
involved in Red Bull’s current engine programme, will have their branding on the car from this weekend and for the rest of the season. Honda last won
Tsunoda’s first home race
Talking of home races, Yuki Tsunoda finally gets the chance to race at home in the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix. He’ll become the first Japanese driver to race in the Japanese Grand Prix since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014. Kobayashi secured the only podium result of his career at Suzuka in 2012.
Tsunoda has plenty of past experience at the venue, having won both Japanese F4 races here in 2018. Perhaps his past experience can help him pick up some points – a feat which he has not been able to achieve since May’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Mercedes' Suzuka streak to end?
Mercedes are yet to lose a Japanese Grand Prix in the V6 hybrid era. Sadly for the Silver Arrows, that streak seems likely to come to an end this weekend. The team is not as dominant as they were last time they raced here in 2019. That year, Valtteri Bottas claimed their 12th win of the season at Suzuka. In 2022, they’re yet to secure a single victory.
Lewis Hamilton showed promise in qualifying in Singapore but the race didn’t go to plan. Hamilton crashed, necessitating a pit stop, and finished a disappointing ninth. George Russell started from the back of the grid but had a troubled evening, finishing only 14th.
While Russell came home 16th on his Japanese Grand Prix debut with Williams in 2019, Hamilton has finished in the top three at all of the last six Suzuka races, winning four of them. A win may be out of reach for Mercedes in 2022, but Hamilton could be in a position to continue his podium streak in Japan.