Suzuka, Japan – Honda’s home race will provide a brutal examination of McLaren’s form since their reconciliation.
The Japanese Grand Prix will mark a year since the tragic accident of Jules Bianchi after he collided with a recovery vehicle during a safety car. Bianchi suffered severe head trauma and subsequently passed away from his injuries in July this year.
Suzuka is a classic; favoured by fans and adored by drivers, and for Jenson Button it is his second home race after Silverstone. He has spent much of his time in Japan, he created a blossoming partnership with Honda the first time and the fans took them to their heart. His model wife Jessica Michibata was born in Japan and his triathlon team are named Ichiban – “number one” in Japanese.
Suzuka will be the evaluation of this years form for McLaren and Honda. It will either provide a much-needed improvement in the quest for points or a damning verdict of Honda’s power unit. The company created the track in 1962 and hence it being a high-speed circuit, unfortunately McLaren are set to struggle once more. The ‘figure of eight’ track doesn’t contain many straights, and the DRS doesn’t make a huge difference, so there are small positives to look for. It must be unbearable after a double DNF last weekend for Button and Fernando Alonso to retain the hope, or at least publically, that their fortunes will be changing anytime soon.
This weekend we should all be a step closer to knowing whether Button will stay on at McLaren for a seventh season, 17 in total, or whether he will decide to bow out. If he does, it will be on his terms, and to look for a new challenge where he can be as competitive. It’s known throughout the paddock that whilst they have two young drivers in Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen who have earned the respect from management in McLaren, Honda are keen to retain Button as he is a safe bet to earn points when the situation arises.
The short straights and heavy breaking don’t just challenge the tyres, they challenge any driver trying to overtake here as well. Qualifying on Saturday will be crucial for any prospect of getting on the podium. Expect Ferrari to try and replicate their blistering pace of last week and get half the job done. Mercedes will be hoping for a return to form after a shock lack of pace and retirement of Lewis Hamilton’s car stopped the Mercedes domination.
To set the perfect hot lap the infamous “130R” corner needs to be taken flat out and the “S” curves need to be taken exactly on the racing line. Drivers will need to hit the kerb at the right point each time to set themselves up for the slower Dunlop corner coming up straight after.
After a brilliant weekend for Formula 1 in Singapore last week, the grid order changed dramatically and shone a light on the flaws of Mercedes. This won’t be so visible this weekend but from now on the fight will be much tighter after Ferrari’s use of their engine tokens have been used more productively than Mercedes.
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff, explained after the Singapore Grand Prix to the Formula 1 website last weekend that they hope the disappointing result is an anomaly and they look to be back on top form for Suzuka.
“There were times in the race when the pace looked okay but the guys in front were managing their tyres, too, so we must be realistic about our level of performance at this circuit. Now we need to analyse everything precisely, understand the wrong turn that we took this weekend to learn the right lessons – and then close this chapter. One bad weekend doesn’t overshadow our achievements so far this year but we know that there is no room for complacency after a weekend like this. We will aim to hit back strongly next weekend in Suzuka.”
The Japanese Grand Prix starts at 6am and is live on Sky Sports F1 and the BBC.
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