Suzuka has a history of deciding the Formula One World Championship and this weekend could see the Japanese fans acclaim another in Sebastian Vettel. While a lot of the focus will be on the future four-times champion, many other drivers have a lot to race for as The Checkered Flag’s Form Guide investigates…
|Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull Racing Renault – 272 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st||Best In Japan: Winner (2009, 2010, 2012)|
Four wins from the last four races have placed Sebastian Vettel on the verge of world title number four. With Red Bull having overtaken Mercedes in terms of outright qualifying pace, Sebastian has the perfect platform to scamper away in the early stages and control the race from there. The smart money will be on another demonstration at Suzuka, Vettel has taken pole position every time he has driven there in a Red Bull. Whether that will be enough to wrap up the championship will depend on the performances of others.
|Fernando Alonso – Ferrari – 195 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 5th, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 6th||Best In Japan: Winner (2006, 2008)|
After three straight second places, Fernando Alonso’s failure to replicate his recent flying starts saw him bottled up in traffic in Korea, with sixth the end result. The Spaniard felt Ferrari had performed miracles to finish best of the rest in Belgium, Italy and Singapore and Korea appeared to prove his point with Lotus and Mercedes having the measure of the scarlet cars. If he’s lucky, Fernando may start on the third row and all eyes will then be on his finishing position, and if he can keep the title race alive.
|Kimi Raikkonen – Lotus Renault – 167 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 2nd, DNF, 11th, 3rd, 2nd||Best In Japan: Winner (2005)|
Ninth to second looks like another vintage performance but Kimi Raikkonen had his fair share of luck in Korea. The Finn had another disappointing qualifying session and although he produced another excellent recovery drive, second wouldn’t have been his but for the safety car. That said though, the opportunistic move to pass Romain Grosjean underlined his class and anybody who has seen the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix would be foolish to write him off this weekend.
|Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 161 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 1st, 3rd, 9th, 5th, 5th||Best In Japan: Winner (2007)|
Suzuka has a reputation as one the great ‘driver’s circuits’ on the calendar but Lewis Hamilton doesn’t have as good a record there as you might think. During their three years together, Hamilton never beat Jenson Button here with his only Japanese victory coming at Fuji six years ago. Korea saw Lewis reassert his authority over Nico Rosberg though and as long as Mercedes can avoid the strategic slip-ups that hurt him so much last Sunday, he should figure at the sharp end.
|Mark Webber – Red Bull Racing Renault – 130 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 4th, 5th, 3rd, 15th, DNF||Best In Japan: 2nd (2010)|
For Mark Webber, Korea could be best placed in the file marked ‘ones to forget’ after his Red Bull went up in flames thanks to Adrian Sutil’s out-of-control Force India. The Australian had been driving well before his luck ran out and will be relieved to be starting on a level playing field this time after his grid penalty at Yeongam. With just five races of his Formula One career remaining, surely a victory at Suzuka would mean more than any other for Mark. Don’t rule it out.
|Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 122 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 19th, 4th, 6th, 4th, 7th||Best In Japan: 5th (2009)|
Seventh place didn’t quite reflect Nico Rosberg’s efforts in Korea with the bizarre front wing failure doing his cause no good whatsoever but the fact remains that Nico hasn’t stood on a Formula One podium since his win at Silverstone. Mercedes were certainly closer to Red Bull than they were in Singapore though and with Suzuka’s abundance of fast corners sure to suit the W04, Rosberg will be setting his sights on the rostrum on Sunday.
|Felipe Massa – Ferrari – 89 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 8th, 7th, 4th, 6th, 9th||Best In Japan: 2nd (2006, 2012)|
For a driver racing for his career in Formula One, Korea wasn’t the best showcase of Felipe Massa’s talents. The Brazilian spun at turn three on the opening lap, narrowly avoiding his teammate, and although he recovered to score a couple of points, the damage had been done. An excellent drive to second place at Suzuka last year went some way to securing his eighth season with Ferrari and with Felipe still without a seat for 2014, a similar performance might be in order.
|Romain Grosjean – Lotus Renault – 72 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 6th, 8th, 8th, DNF, 3rd||Best In Japan: 16th (2009)|
With Kimi Raikkonen exiting the team, Lotus will have been looking to Romain Grosjean to step up and show why he should be their team leader moving forward. The performances in Singapore and Korea will have done just that with Romain clearly the faster of the two and without the safety car, would surely have finished second last Sunday. Grosjean’s last visit to Suzuka saw him branded a “first lap nutcase” and this weekend, the Frenchman has the chance to show how far he’s come.
|Jenson Button – McLaren Mercedes – 58 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 7th, 6th, 10th, 7th, 8th||Best In Japan: Winner (2011)|
With no Japanese drivers in the field, Jenson Button may be the closest thing to a home favourite at Suzuka this weekend given his popularity in the country. His drive to victory in 2011 must surely rank among the finest of his career but he may have produce a performance that eclipses even that to get on the podium this weekend. The Briton’s recent results illustrate just where McLaren are at the moment and a top six finish is probably the best he and the Woking squad can hope for.
|Paul Di Resta – Force India Mercedes – 36 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 18th, DNF, DNF, 20th, DNF||Best In Japan: 12th (2011, 2012)|
If any driver in the field is in need of a good result, surely it’s Paul Di Resta. The Scotsman came perilously close to another embarrassing exit in Qualifying 1 last weekend before another accident in the race, one that Di Resta was quick to admit responsibility for. Worryingly for Paul, the Force India didn’t exactly excel in the middle sector at Yeongam which features the fast corners which Suzuka boasts so many of. A trouble-free weekend would surely do just fine at the moment.
|Nico Hulkenberg – Sauber Ferrari – 31 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 11th, 13th, 5th, 9th, 4th||Best In Japan: 7th (2012)|
Nico Hulkenberg is surely approaching the point where he is impossible for the top teams to ignore where 2014 is concerned, weight issues or not. His drive in Korea showed incredible maturity, mental capacity and outright speed to finish fourth, beating world champion after world champion along the way. The Sauber’s traction out of slow corners and exceptional straight line speed certainly played its part but with Suzuka not being a circuit that plays particularly to those strengths, surely he can’t do it again?
|Adrian Sutil – Force India Mercedes – 26 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: DNF, 9th, 16th, 10th, 20th||Best In Japan: 8th (2007)|
Despite counting Suzuka among his favourite tracks, and having added experience here from his Japanese Formula 3 title winning season, Adrian Sutil doesn’t have the results to match. The German didn’t cover himself in glory in Korea either with the spin that eliminated Mark Webber but he remains Force India’s best bet in qualifying and any inclement weather would surely play to his advantage.
|Sergio Perez – McLaren Mercedes – 23 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 9th, 11th, 12th, 8th, 10th||Best In Japan: 8th (2011)|
Beating teammate Jenson Button in qualifying will have been a boost for Sergio Perez but the fact that neither McLaren reached Q3 in Korea no doubt dampened any enthusiasm. The Mexican was then beaten by Button in the race yet again and was set to finish behind even before his dramatic tyre failure. With McLaren looking around for potential replacements, Perez needs a big result and beating Button on one of his strongest circuits may sway his employers towards retaining him.
|Daniel Ricciardo – STR Ferrari – 18 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 13th, 10th, 7th, DNF,||Best In Japan: 10th (2012)|
Toro Rosso were nowhere in qualifying last year but Daniel Ricciardo drove a fine race to snatch the final point, holding off Michael Schumacher in the closing stages. The Australian looked set to perform a similar act in Korea by scoring points from a difficult qualifying before a brake failure late on. With Sauber having moved ahead of the Faenza outfit in the constructors championship, the pressure is now on Ricciardo to lead the team back into seventh place overall.
|Jean-Eric Vergne – STR Ferrari – 13 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 12th, 12th, DNF, 14th, 18th||Best In Japan: 13th (2012)|
Jean-Eric Vergne had a poor weekend in Korea and as soon as the race had finished, was already looking ahead to Japan. It was easy to see why after qualifying down in sixteenth before high tyre degradation diverted him onto a three-stop strategy in the race. A similar problem to the one that befell his teammate eventually stopped Vergne and the Frenchman will be desperately hoping for a change of luck as he looks to end his seven race pointless run.
|Pastor Maldonado – Williams Renault – 1 Pt|
|Last 5 Races: 10th, 17th, 14th, 11th, 13th||Best In Japan: 8th (2012)|
After a brilliant start and perfect placement of his car at turn three, Pastor Maldonado will have thought he was in with a chance of scoring points, running ninth early on. The Williams team gambled on an exceptionally long final stint after the safety car was withdrawn and it so nearly worked before the tyres hit ‘the cliff’ and Pastor plummeted to thirteenth. The improvement of Sauber had left Williams nailed in ninth place in the constructors standings but that won’t curb Maldonado’s enthusiasm this weekend.
|Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber Ferrari – 0 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: DNF, 14th, 13th, 12th, 11th||Best In Japan: Debut|
The gradual improvement of Esteban Gutierrez continued in Korea with the Mexican rookie reaching Q3 for the second race in a row, proving that Sauber are very much the growing force in the second half of the season. Gutierrez was the first to find a way past Pastor Maldonado’s Williams in the back end of the race but that wasn’t enough to score points as he was eventually relegated to eleventh. If he keeps up his recent form though, the first point is surely right around the corner.
|Valtteri Bottas – Williams Renault – 0 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: DNF, 15th, 15th, 13th, 12th||Best In Korea: Debut|
After a miserable time in Singapore, Valtteri Bottas was much more like his old self in Korea, although that wasn’t enough to get him out of Q1. Without a queue of cars behind him, the Finn managed his tyres better than Maldonado and finished ahead of his teammate, despite being in the wrong place when all hell broke loose on lap one. Even with the brief time he got in FP1 last year, Bottas fell in love with Suzuka and will be hoping to punch above his weight on his race debut there.
|Jules Bianchi – Marussia Cosworth – 0 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 16th, 18th, 19th, 18th, 16th||Best In Japan: Debut|
Jules Bianchi found himself on the wrong side of the stewards a little too often in Korea, first getting relegated to the back of the grid for blocking Paul Di Resta in Q1 and then ignoring yellow flags in the race which earned him his third reprimand of the season. With a ten-place grid penalty to his name, the Frenchman already knows where he will be starting but in truth, it won’t disadvantage him too much and will still have an eye on challenging the Caterhams.
|Charles Pic – Caterham Renault – 0 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 15th, DNF, 17th, 19th, 14th||Best In Japan: DNF (2012)|
Like Bianchi, Charles Pic will be demoted ten places on the grid after failing to slow down sufficiently under yellow flags. With the exception of that particular lapse, Korea was a good weekend for Pic who won the four-man mini-battle in qualifying before taking fourteenth in the race, just one position short of what Caterham needed to leapfrog Marussia. If he’s to secure that elusive thirteenth in Suzuka though, the Frenchman will have to rely on attrition with conditions set to be dry.
|Giedo van der Garde – Caterham Renault – 0 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 14th, 16th, 18th, 16th, 15th||Best In Japan: Debut|
Korea was nothing if not eventful at the back of the grid with Giedo van der Garde picking up a drive through penalty for being a little too forceful in his battle with Max Chilton early on. The Dutchman recovered and with the assistance of the safety car, finished right on the tail of his teammate in fifteenth. Giedo will at least have 22 laps of Suzuka experience to draw on from FP1 last year so will be looking to regain the upper hand over Pic this weekend.
|Max Chilton – Marussia Cosworth – 0 Pts|
|Last 5 Races: 17th, 19th, 20th, 17th, 17th||Best In Japan: Debut|
The grid penalty for Jules Bianchi means Max Chilton will start ahead of his teammate for just the second time all season but staying there will be the challenge for the British youngster. Marussia were a little closer to Caterham in Korea than they had been in previous races and given the penalties in play at the back, Chilton will be carrying the team’s hopes of outqualifying Caterham’s main challenger Giedo van der Garde.