Hamilton vs Vettel promises to be a classic Suzuka showdown

2017 Japanese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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The two championship contenders occupy the front row of the grid at Suzuka. It’s hard not to be reminded of the many past occasions that provided the scene for an epic race.

In 1997 it was Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher. Three years before that it was Schumacher up against Damon Hill.

And of course F1’s most notorious rivalry was forged at this track. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost locked out the front row of the grid for three years in a row at Suzuka. On the last of those occasions, Senna didn’t let Prost get as far as turn two.

Japanese GP qualifying and practice in pictures
The championship cannot be decided between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel tomorrow but the stakes are still high. Vettel hasn’t taken any points off Hamilton since July. If he fails to do so in Japan he could win all the remaining races and still lose the title.

You only need to look back as far as Singapore for a reminder of how uncompromising Vettel can be at the start of a race. But what he really needs is for Hamilton to have the kind of disastrous start which wounded his title hopes at this race 12 months ago.

Although he’s won twice at this track, Suzuka hasn’t always been a happy hunting ground for Hamilton. “Every single time I’ve struggled here,” he admitted after qualifying. “Struggled with finding the right balance, often not starting on the right foot and then just struggling. Sometimes I’ve started on the right foot and led the car in completely the wrong direction.”

But on his ninth visit to Suzuka he appears to have nailed it. “This is the first time, and I would say definitely the first car, that I’ve really felt that it’s been underneath me all weekend,” he said. “Small tweaks here and there but in the right direction. So, I think fundamentally a better job done globally. Particularly with my engineers.”

However Hamilton is wary of the season-long traits of his car and Vettel’s. “Generally we take step a bit slower when we get to the races, whereas the Ferraris do the opposite.”

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If Vettel can’t get ahead of Hamilton at the start, might the race strategy open up an opportunity for him? Pirelli have suggested this race might buck the recent trend of one-stoppers, particularly if conditions continue to get warmer as forecast.

Suzuka has a fairly short pit lane so the time penalty of making an extra pit stop is not as high as elsewhere. The crucial point will be whether the championship leaders can make early pit stops and come out in clear air. The position of their team mates, both of which are starting further back, will therefore become important. There would be no point for Vettel to make an early first pit stop if he’s just going to get stuck behind Bottas.

The Red Bull pair should be in better shape in race conditions as well. They have diverged slightly on set-up, Daniel Ricciardo carrying less wing than Max Verstappen in the home it will make him more competitive on the straights.

And of course should any drama break out between the title rivals, the two Red Bulls are perfectly placed to collect another win.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’29.0471’27.819 (-1.228)1’27.319 (-0.500)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’29.3321’28.543 (-0.789)1’27.651 (-0.892)
3Sebastian VettelFerrari1’29.3521’28.225 (-1.127)1’27.791 (-0.434)
4Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’29.4751’28.935 (-0.540)1’28.306 (-0.629)
5Max VerstappenRed Bull1’29.1811’28.747 (-0.434)1’28.332 (-0.415)
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’29.1631’29.079 (-0.084)1’28.498 (-0.581)
7Esteban OconForce India1’30.1151’29.199 (-0.916)1’29.111 (-0.088)
8Sergio PerezForce India1’29.6961’29.343 (-0.353)1’29.260 (-0.083)
9Felipe MassaWilliams1’30.3521’29.687 (-0.665)1’29.480 (-0.207)
10Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’30.5251’29.749 (-0.776)1’30.687 (+0.938)
11Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’30.6541’29.778 (-0.876)
12Nico HulkenbergRenault1’30.2521’29.879 (-0.373)
13Kevin MagnussenHaas1’30.7741’29.972 (-0.802)
14Jolyon PalmerRenault1’30.5161’30.022 (-0.494)
15Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’30.5651’30.413 (-0.152)
16Romain GrosjeanHaas1’30.849
17Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’31.317
18Lance StrollWilliams1’31.409
19Marcus EricssonSauber1’31.597
20Pascal WehrleinSauber1’31.885

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton30.625 (1)39.394 (1)17.211 (1)
Valtteri Bottas30.883 (2)39.530 (2)17.238 (2)
Sebastian Vettel30.903 (3)39.566 (3)17.289 (4)
Daniel Ricciardo31.157 (5)39.687 (4)17.462 (6)
Max Verstappen31.020 (4)39.820 (5)17.492 (7)
Kimi Raikkonen31.314 (6)39.911 (6)17.273 (3)
Esteban Ocon31.381 (7)40.083 (7)17.520 (8)
Sergio Perez31.419 (9)40.226 (8)17.455 (5)
Felipe Massa31.555 (11)40.263 (9)17.588 (9)
Fernando Alonso31.402 (8)40.459 (11)17.768 (15)
Stoffel Vandoorne31.550 (10)40.500 (13)17.728 (14)
Nico Hulkenberg31.909 (16)40.292 (10)17.620 (10)
Kevin Magnussen31.722 (12)40.601 (14)17.649 (12)
Jolyon Palmer31.879 (14)40.484 (12)17.622 (11)
Carlos Sainz Jnr31.903 (15)40.678 (15)17.725 (13)
Romain Grosjean31.870 (13)41.103 (18)17.876 (17)
Pierre Gasly32.517 (19)40.947 (17)17.853 (16)
Lance Stroll32.151 (17)40.940 (16)18.081 (20)
Marcus Ericsson32.365 (18)41.283 (19)17.949 (19)
Pascal Wehrlein32.550 (20)41.449 (20)17.886 (18)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari311.6 (193.6)
2Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes308.3 (191.6)-3.3
3Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes307.9 (191.3)-3.7
4Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes307.6 (191.1)-4.0
5Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari306.3 (190.3)-5.3
6Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes303.6 (188.6)-8.0
7Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer301.3 (187.2)-10.3
8Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes301.2 (187.2)-10.4
9Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes301.0 (187.0)-10.6
10Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari300.2 (186.5)-11.4
11Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari299.0 (185.8)-12.6
12Fernando AlonsoMcLarenHonda298.1 (185.2)-13.5
13Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer297.3 (184.7)-14.3
14Pascal WehrleinSauberFerrari297.1 (184.6)-14.5
15Jolyon PalmerRenaultRenault297.1 (184.6)-14.5
16Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari296.5 (184.2)-15.1
17Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenHonda296.3 (184.1)-15.3
18Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault296.1 (184.0)-15.5
19Pierre GaslyToro RossoRenault295.7 (183.7)-15.9
20Carlos Sainz JnrToro RossoRenault295.2 (183.4)-16.4

Drivers remaining tyres

Lewis HamiltonMercedes101103
Valtteri BottasMercedes101103
Daniel RicciardoRed Bull012003
Max VerstappenRed Bull102003
Sebastian VettelFerrari101103
Kimi RaikkonenFerrari101112
Sergio PerezForce India101004
Esteban OconForce India101004
Felipe MassaWilliams101004
Lance StrollWilliams101032
Fernando AlonsoMcLaren011013
Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren011014
Daniil KvyatToro Rosso012022
Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso011032
Romain GrosjeanHaas101032
Kevin MagnussenHaas011014
Nico HulkenbergRenault011014
Jolyon PalmerRenault011014
Marcus EricssonSauber012013
Pascal WehrleinSauber01201

Over to you

In whose favour will the championship turn tomorrow? And how will Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen fare from their compromised starting positions?

Share your views on the Japanese Grand Prix in the comments.

2017 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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10 comments on “Hamilton vs Vettel promises to be a classic Suzuka showdown”

  1. If Lewis finishes 1st and Seb 3rd for every race until and including Mexico, Lewis wins it in Mexico as I predicted and I believe he’ll give the final punch to Sebs morale tomorrow. So WDC is actually done here. The Mercedes has been running without chaotic engine woes since winter-testing, so or it happens tomorrow, or it doesn’t matter any more.

    Tomorrow humidity is too high, track temp too low. Mercedes will not get into problems with tyre wear. The drag will cause Vettel not to be able to pass Hamilton on track and I believe Bottas will also be able to pass the RBs and get Vettel. The only thing Ferrari has going for him is that he seems to have a more responsive handling into S-curves and the first part of S2, but there is no overtaking possibility there. Kimi could use that to keep the RBs at bay if he jumps them.If Kimi manages that only if he can mess with Lewis in his second stint there can be some chance Vettel can get him late in the game. and even then with the headwind on the back-straight Lewis will probably sail past.

    So only a two stop in a regular race with some SC luck can help him, but then Seb has to deal with Bottas or Ricciardo at one point (or Max, poor Seb). And they’ll probably be on fresher tyres as Seb will probably try to undercut Hamilton. So.. end of story for Ferrari it seems.
    Palmer will go out in fashion. Like he deserves. McLaren already seems to have passed Renault, but I think that same headwind for S3 will cause the GP2 engine to relegate McLaren to outside the top 10.

    1. I’m not brave enough to make detailed predictions as @xiasitlo, but I set my alarm anyway, although I don’t hold strong hopes for this race. I agree it will be an easy win for Hamilton. The only consolation we may have are some overtakes by Kimi and Botas, and some entertainment provided by the RedBulls.

  2. Potentially, Hamilton also has the advantage of a closer to the leaders Bottas. Kimi is completely out of position to make Lewis’ life a little bit more difficult. And Mercedes also has the Red Bulls to compromise Seb’s chances, although they could potentially damage Lewis’ races too.

  3. If all things were equal it would be a really good duel, but in F1 nothing ever is.
    Ferrari have special dispensation after dispensation spanning more than 30 years and it is not beyond them out of desperation to get their back Street drivers to lend an helping hand.
    Would merc do so? They could or might but somehow I think Toto Woolf has more integrity in his little finger than Ferrari have in their whole body corporate and Lauda even though an ex Ferrari man will have more integrity than to resort to serious subterfuge. Would they whisper in Max’s ear? Who knows?
    So a fair fight? Never

    1. Well, I think things have improved since the nadir of 2008, when Hamilton was given a drive-through penalty at Fuji for –
      wait for it – causing Raikkonen to deviate from his path. Just let that sink in: Vettel causes a 4 car DNF at Singapore by sweeping across the track and gets no penalty. Hamilton locks up into the first corner 9 years ago and was deemed to have ‘severely inconvenienced’ a Ferrari driver. Still I think Mercedes probably have enough clout now to make any potential Ferrari-FIA collusion much more difficult.

      1. I still remember that 2008 farce, including the bourdais penalty giving massa a bonus point. Made the final result all the more sweeter though from memory.

  4. Think there’s another twist in the tale here still, feel Hamilton’s luck will end soon, my heart still says this is Vettel’s year.

    Today’s race: Vettel super aggressive and forces Hamilton wide (drops down order and fights back upto 3rd)

    Top 6: Vet, Ric, Ham, Bot, Ver & Per

    1. Curious to know what makes you think he has been lucky so far?

      1. He hasn’t been unlucky?

        Lewis is the best on the grid. Winner winner.

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