Lewis Hamilton heads to Suzuka for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix looking to extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship.
The Briton has pulled further clear of main title rival Sebastian Vettel despite both he and his Mercedes team insisting they are unhappy with the car’s current performance.
Here, we look at the main talking points heading into what could prove to be a pivotal race in this season’s championship fight.
Ferrari need luck to turn their way
Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen should have taken more points from the last two grands prix than the feeble fourth-place achieved by the German last weekend in Malaysia. The pair collided with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen on the first corner in Singapore in the previous round before engine and battery woes struck both cars in Kuala Lumpur. If Ferrari are to reel in Mercedes in the both championships they need for these incidents to be at an end heading to Suzuka, otherwise they will be all-but handing Hamilton his fourth world title.
Silver Arrows should be more competitive for Hamilton
Hamilton and Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff both spoke in negative tones despite his impressive second-place finish in Malaysia. The car had been slower than both Ferrari and Red Bull for much of the weekend but, after storming to a surprising pole, Hamilton took 18 points which could prove vital come the end of the season. Mercedes should be quicker here, especially in the cooler conditions forecast for the weekend, so not only can Hamilton battle it out on a level playing field but his team-mate Valtteri Bottas will be hoping to be back on form, too.
Will Red Bull add extra energy to title fight?
Verstappen won superbly in Malaysia for Red Bull’s second victory of the season and the flying Dutchman was joined on the Sepang podium by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. The team have battled back towards the front of the grid having been surpassed by Mercedes and, for much of the season, Ferrari. But now they can be a big player in the title picture with both Verstappen and Ricciardo capable of taking important points from either Hamilton or Vettel – providing they are as competitive as in Sepang.
Happier homecoming for Honda?
Since Honda returned to Formula One in 2015 they have failed to impress, lurching from failure to farce despite a huge budget – now at their home race the spotlight will be back on them. It has already been announced Honda will end their partnership with McLaren at the end of the season and will instead provide power units to Toro Rosso next year. But things have looked up recently as Stoffel Vandoorne has taken two consecutive seventh-placed finishes to not only leapfrog his experienced team-mate Fernando Alonso in the standings but also provide a much-needed boost for Honda.
Time running out for Palmer
Jolyon Palmer’s future in F1 continues to look bleak as the Renault driver heads to Suzuka still searching for a drive in 2018. The Briton has lost his seat to Carlos Sainz for next season and there are very few options remaining for the 2014 GP2 champion. Palmer has entered 36 races since his debut but has managed just two point-scoring finishes, including sixth in last month’s Singapore Grand Prix. Two incidents in Malaysia showed that the 26-year-old still has much to learn but, with just five races of the season remaining, sadly for him the world of F1 is not a place renowned for its patience.