JAPANESE GRAND PRIX: The Malaysian GP was shaping up to be a truly seminal moment in this championship when Sebastian Vettel suffered an electrical problem in P3 and required an engine change in the short turnaround to Qualifying. The engineers frantically rebuilt a new engine and were still installing it as Q1 kicked off. By some miracle, Vettel pulls out of the garage with over half the session remaining, plenty of time to put in a representatively lap and then… Pop! The brand new turbo immediately blew on his out lap. Back to the garage and right to the back of the grid for the race. Despite this, Vettel put in a great drive combined with clever strategy to recover fourth. Moreover, his rival, Lewis Hamilton, couldn’t maximise his gain and only finished second to a surprisingly fast Max Verstappen.
What could have been a nail in the coffin of the championship, as pessimists on social media would have you believe, turned into a small change in the standings. It is still the case that if Vettel wins every remaining race, he wins the championship regardless of what Hamilton does. That makes Malaysia a very successful mitigation exercise for Ferrari, considering the constructors championship was merely a faint hope for them anyway.
We can also look elsewhere for things that are really positive for a competitive drivers championship; namely to Red Bull Racing. The team have developed aggressively, as is their style, and now have what is probably the best chassis on the grid. Vettel supporters will be hoping RBR can manage to put themselves in between Ferrari and Mercedes in the remaining races and steal points from the latter. At Texas and Abu Dhabi, this seems like a realistic outcome, as it may well be at the Japanese GP this week.
The Suzuka track is largely a power dominated track but with enough mid-high speed corners that Monza-esque setups will be punished. Normally the common wisdom would say it will be a close Merc/Ferrari battle with RBR a distant third but this track is quite similar to Malaysia. It would be hasty to discount the Austrian team based on power deficit just after such a dominant performance at a power track like Malaysia. They likely need some inclement weather to get a win, but Red Bull are poised to mix it up with Bottas and Raikkonen, regardless of the conditions. This makes podium finishes for either driver good bets.
Moving to the midfield, Force India are once again the stand out team. That Mercedes engine will do them a service and if they can avoid bad luck, they are a prime candidate for a double points finish. Teams like Renault, Williams, Toro Rosso and Haas look equally ill equipped for this track so it’s a glorified toss up figuring out who will complete the points finishing positions.
McLaren Honda will officially be divorced next year, much to the delight of both teams, but Honda will still have their fingers crossed for a good performance at their home grand prix. The team has shown really surprising pace at various places this year and with Vandoorne’s career best of seventh last week, they will be hoping to scrape some points here.
At the moment, the odds would suggest Hamilton is a clear favourite. That is the case if Mercedes can stay on top of tyre temperatures but that has been their achilles heel all season long. Most of their lack of pace in Malaysia was down to this and Mercedes are very concerned. Currently, Japan is scheduled for changeable weather so if that comes to fruition, expect the odds to swing towards Vettel closer to the time. Given the disparity in odds, Vettel is the pick of the two favourites right now at 4.0, though the price will likely shift closer to the time. Otherwise, look no further than Red Bull for an outsider bet. Although shortened, either driver are still a great bet, currently trading at over 8.0.
We have a number of opportunities for good bets this weekend. “Mercedes Dominance” makes a comeback at the power hungry track and Williams in particular are lengthening the price to 17. “Pretty in Pink” has become quite a likely outcome, reflected in the price of 2.1. The “McHonda Reliability Meal” deserves an honorary mention for Honda’s home GP and offers good value at a price of 2.6 for the developing team. Finally, “Sharp End of the Grid” offers that familiar and safer bet of the top 6 drivers all finishing in the points for 2.6.
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