Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Japanese Grand Prix talking points: Vettel and Ferrari must win at Suzuka to keep title hopes alive

A look ahead to Sunday's race, with Mercedes-GP looking to Bottas to find more pace after poor displays in Singapore and Malaysia.

Sebastian Vettel needs to return to winning ways in Japan for the sake of his drivers' championship hopes. Lars Baron / Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel needs to return to winning ways in Japan for the sake of his drivers' championship hopes. Lars Baron / Getty Images

Ferrari need to make it count

If Sebastian Vettel does not win the 2017 drivers' championship it will feel like the title that got away, rather than one he lost.

The SF07H chassis has been the class of the field at the past two races in Singapore and Malaysia, but rather than gaining ground on Lewis Hamilton, Vettel has lost 31 points to the Mercedes-GP driver to now be 34 adrift.

The ill-judged attempt to squeeze Max Verstappen's Red Bull Racing car in Singapore at the start, which was the catalyst for the contact that took Vettel, Verstappen and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen out of the race, was an error that could be put at the door of the German.

However, Vettel was blameless for the turbo failure that meant he failed to set a lap time in qualifying in Malaysia and left him at the back of the grid. His drive through the field to finish fourth was superb, but highlighted what he could have done had he started from the front.

Vettel and Ferrari were the fastest package at both races, yet only collected 12 points for their efforts.

Ferrari have not won in Japan for 13 years, but the fast sweeping turns of Suzuka should suit the SF07H.


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Vettel's last win, in Hungary in July, feels an age ago, and the fact Hamilton has outscored him 93-45 in the past four races shows the momentum is with the Briton despite the fact the Ferrari's pace has been more than a match for Mercedes.

If Ferrari are again the pace-setters this weekend, Vettel must win to keep his hopes alive. There will still be four races remaining after Suzuka but it is hard to believe Vettel will be champion if he leaves Japan with his 34-point deficit even wider.

Bottas has lost a step

Mercedes-GP driver Valtteri Bottas. Edgar Su / Reuters
Mercedes-GP driver Valtteri Bottas. Edgar Su / Reuters

Mercedes were not at their best in Malaysia but Hamilton still made the best out of it with second place.

However, his teammate Valtteri Bottas was horribly off the pace, finishing fifth, beaten by his teammate, both Red Bull Racing cars of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and Vettel, despite the German having started from the back of the grid.

Bottas made an impressive start to life at Mercedes after replacing world champion Nico Rosberg, but since the summer break he has been unable to match Hamilton, and was disappointing in both Singapore and Malaysia.

Hamilton needs all the support he can get with Vettel and Ferrari looking strong, so he will want Bottas to be closer to him on speed than in Malaysia, where he crossed the line 43 seconds behind him.

Importance of Suzuka

Japanese Grand Prix's Suzuka Circuit. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Japanese Grand Prix's Suzuka Circuit. Clive Mason / Getty Images

History indicates that the winner of Sunday's race can be confident of being world champion come the conclusion of the season at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26.

Not since 2011 when Jenson Button won in his McLaren for the last time has a driver won and not gone on to be champion.

Fifteen of the past 20 races at Suzuka, stretching back to 1995, were claimed by the man who would go on to top the championship standings.

Vettel desperately needs the victory to revitalise his title hopes, but if he can prevail in Sunday's 53-lap race then it can give him a lot of cause for optimism.


Schedule (All times UAE)
First practice: Friday, 5-6.30am
Second practice: Friday, 9-10.30am
Third practice: Saturday, 7-8am
Qualifying: Saturday, 10-11am
Race: Sunday, 9am-midday 

Race venue: Suzuka International Racing Course
Circuit Length: 5.807km
Number of Laps: 53
Watch live: beIN Sports HD