Japanese Grand Prix 2013: Preview

After the last four races, chances are if you are a betting fan, you won’t get good odds on a Sebastian Vettel victory this weekend.

Indeed, given the traits of the Suzuka circuit should play into the strengths of the Red Bull, you could argue that it is a forgone conclusion already. But, on a day he turned 90, I’m going to use a famous quote Murray Walker once said: “anything can happen in Formula One, and it usually does.”

As last weekend’s Korean Grand Prix showed, there is still plenty of good action to enjoy this season. Formula One is now in the closing stage of the 2013 championship, with drivers who have not yet signed a contract for next year being desperate to impress.

Something you’ll be hearing about this weekend is how Sebastian Vettel can wrap up his fourth consecutive championship. Even Fernando Alonso has conceded that the driver’s title is now lost, but it is more likely than not that the Spaniard will still be in the title hunt after the race.

Vettel will need to win the race (perhaps, given his and Red Bull’s recent form, not a big ask) but will also require Alonso to have a difficult Sunday. The easiest way Vettel could clinch the title would be for the Ferrari driver not to score points at all. But, if Alonso fails to finish above ninth place, and Sebastian wins, he will be celebrating another title regardless, just as he was at this very track in 2011.

Alonso had a low key performance, for his lofty standards, last time out in Korea. However, he remains an incredibly consistent points finisher and it is therefore unlikely to see such a situation arise.

Despite this, it is surely only a matter of time before Vettel does take the title. Alonso will be having flashbacks to twelve months ago, where his race was over within a few seconds after a first corner clash with 2014 team mate, Kimi Raikkonen. It was the moment that saw the wheels come off his 2012 championship hunt.

Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, may well be Vettel’s closest challenger once again. The Finn recovered from ninth place in qualifying to finish second in Korea, and has a strong record at Suzuka. He also has no fear of overtaking at this historic track. In 2003, he surged from eighth on the grid to second, while two years later he took a famous victory after qualifying seventeenth.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the Mercedes cars were able to match the Red Bulls through the second sector at the Yeongam circuit.  It shares similar characteristics with Suzuka, so there would seem to be a possibility for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to have a competitive weekend.

However, following yet another high profile failure last weekend, the tyres are likely to be the topic of conversation once again. Vettel struggled to manage his tyres at this high speed circuit two years ago, when a championship was similarly on the line, and could only come home third.

There is hope that Vettel may just be challenged this weekend then, but any chance of the title being re-energised is very much a forlorn one.