Second time lucky for Verstappen?
Verstappen’s 2022 coronation was postponed after finishing seventh in what he described as being a “terrible” weekend at the Singapore Grand Prix last time out.
Despite his disappointment, Verstappen still stands on the verge of becoming a two-time world champion, and will get his second shot at wrapping up this year’s world title on Sunday in Japan.
Last weekend’s results have made the permutations slightly more complex, but there is a high chance Verstappen will mark Honda’s homecoming by sealing the deal with four races to spare.
Unlike in Singapore, Verstappen’s destiny is in his hands.
The Dutchman needs to come away from Japan with a lead of 112 points over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to take the title.
Victory in Japan with the bonus point for setting the fastest lap would see him crowned champion, regardless of where Leclerc finishes.
This could create some late drama if the main championship protagonists are running 1-2 in the closing stages of the race when the fastest lap point would come into play.
If Leclerc finishes second behind Verstappen but gets the fastest lap, the title fight will continue on to the United States Grand Prix on October 23.
In a scenario where Verstappen is leading Leclerc and holds the fastest lap, would Ferrari, or even Mercedes, pit one of their drivers in the final few laps to snatch the bonus point away and keep Verstappen waiting?
Another wet weekend in store?
After a three-year enforced absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Suzuka makes a long-awaited return to the calendar this season.
The Japanese Grand Prix is a home race for both Honda and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, who will be the first Japanese driver to compete in their home grand prix since 2014.
Just as the Singapore Grand Prix was hit by heavy rain, there could be more wet weather in store this weekend.
Early forecasts suggest Friday practice could be wet, ahead of a dry day of running on Saturday, before mixed conditions for the race on Sunday. Temperatures are also expected to be cool across the weekend.
At the last Japanese Grand Prix, qualifying had to be cancelled and moved to Sunday morning due to Typhoon Hagibis. There is no threat of a typhoon impacting this weekend.
Constructors’ championship tightening up
The drivers’ title may be effectively done and dusted, but with five races remaining, things are hotting up in the constructors’ championship.
In the battle for P4, McLaren snuck back ahead of Alpine thanks to their double top-five finish in Singapore, though the gap is only four points.
Can McLaren extend their slender advantage this weekend, or will Alpine return to form and bounce back from their disappointing double DNF?
Sixth place is currently held by Alfa Romeo, though Aston Martin’s strong result in Singapore helped reduce their deficit to 15 points.
Just three points separates Aston Martin in seventh (37) from AlphaTauri in ninth, with Haas sandwiched in-between on 34 points in eighth.
One big result for either of these teams in the final five rounds could have dramatic implications on the championship and subsequent prize money on offer.
It is set up to be an intense fight until the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.
Will a key piece of the driver market fall into place?
Pierre Gasly’s expected move from AlphaTauri to Alpine could be announced this weekend in Japan.
The switch would set the final pieces of the 2023 driver market puzzle into motion, with Nyck de Vries poised to replace Gasly at AlphaTauri.
The F1 2023 driver line-up is nearing completion with Gasly’s anticipated switch to Alpine one of the few remaining major changes.
With the saga involving Alpine and AlphaTauri potentially closed in a matter of days, that would leave seats to fill at Williams and Haas respectively.
Current incumbent Mick Schumacher and ex-Renault racer Nico Hulkenberg are believed to be the only two drivers in the frame to partner Kevin Magnussen at Haas next season.
With de Vries set to join AlphaTauri, Williams could promote their junior driver Logan Sargeant from F2, though such a move depends on whether he secures a superlicence.
Williams boss Jost Capito has also confirmed that Schumacher is “definitely an option” for the Grove-based team.