By Neil Leverett
- Round 17 of 2019 Formula 1 season rolls into Suzuka this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton holds 73-point World Drivers’ Championship lead after win in Russia a fortnight ago
- Both qualifying and race day will take place on Sunday, due to suspension on Saturday as Typhoon Hagibis hits
SUZUKA, JAPAN – As Lewis Hamilton homes in on a sixth World Drivers’ Championship, can the Briton go a step closer to sporting history this weekend in Japan?
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Hamilton closes on super six
With just five races left the 2019 Formula season, Lewis Hamilton stands on the precipice of sporting history once more this weekend, as Round 17 of the campaign rolls into wind-swept Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Having ridden out the summer storm at McLaren-Mercedes, the five-time World champion ended a run of three races without a win in Russia a fortnight ago, after another thrilling race on the Black Sea in Sochi.
Overcoming the dual Ferrari threats of the rising Charles Leclerc and a somewhat resurgent Sebastian Vetttel, the Briton finds himself in a stronger points position than back in August, despite having passed the chequered flag first on just one occasion during F1’s late-season homeward stretch.
Indeed, Hamilton rolls into the Land of the Rising Sun this weekend, in the knowledge he can put himself in pole position to win title number six in Mexico City in two weeks’ time -in what would be the Briton’s earliest crowning in his career.
Unanswered questions for Ferrari
With Ferrari poised to win their fourth race on the bounce last time out, the hand of fate placed itself firmly on the Prancing Horse’s shoulder to hand Mercedes and Hamilton a win on a silver platter.
Despite hopes of a dash to the line from Leclerc, the Monagesque came in third behind the sixth Mercedes 1-2 of the campaign. But after Vettel’s forced retirement due to the failing of his MGUK system, the German’s failure to give any lee-way to his teammate in the opening laps in Russia, adds further fuel to the fire of simmering bad feeling amongst the two Ferrari drivers.
This weekend is expected to see the Italian manufacturer off the pace having encountered engine problems in the break between Rounds, and after Valtteri Bottas pipped Hamilton in third practice for Sunday, together in the knowledge they have not won here in 15 years, indications may not be far off the mark.
With both Ferrari men far off the championship trail, 21 point separate both Leclerc and Vettel however, which could see a pitched battle develop between the duo, if nothing else for bragging rights come Abu Dhabi in less than two months’ time.
Suzuka prepares for Hagibis
As the F1 paddock descend on Suzuka, so too does a rather more unwanted visitor in Typhoon Hagibis, which has already caused havoc to the Rugby World Cup schedules with Yokohama squarely in its’ path on Saturday.
Though over 300km separates the two differing geographical environs, this weekend’s GP has not been immune to Hagibis’ huge potential for destruction and as result in a rare move by the FIA, both qualifying and racing will take place within hours of each other on Sunday – with competition suspended for Saturday.
As preparations are made to safeguard the circuit and its’ surroundings, sandbags have been a common site around Suzuka in the past few days, with the starting lights on the finishing straight also having been removed as a safety precaution.
Teams across the paddock have removed the vast majority of their respective electrical and telemetry equipment into safe housing – more commonly used by the circuit safety cars and extra pit crew technical teams – whilst racers and teams themselves are expected to hunker down in the nearby F1 team hotels on site, and in the surrounding areas.
There are not expected to be any complications for Sunday when action resumes, but as the Hagibis – reportedly set to be the most powerful storm this year – makes landfall in the early hours of Saturday morning, Japan will be braced for impact. 24 hours later however, the hope remains that any turbulence will be felt on the track, leaving Hagibis in its’ shadow this Sunday.
Round 17 of the 2019 Formula 1 season takes place this weekend in Suzuka, with both qualifying and the race itself on Sunday morning, with lights out at 6:10 am UK time.
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