The F1 Season Is Almost Over. Here’s Why You Should Still Care.
For starters, the Japanese Grand Prix is cool!
If you think F1 is dying; that the racing isn't fun to watch, that the engines are too quiet and the drivers too boring, well–you might want to tune in to the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend. This racing season is quickly coming to a close and there's a championship on the line. Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are one and two in the points this season, and the race at Suzuka is considered a must-win for the Englishman if he wants to win his fourth championship. Here's how the weekend is shaping up:
Nico Rosberg- AMG Mercedes F1
Rosberg is in the catbird seat. Leading the championship standings by 23 points over Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg could be on track to win his first championship. However, he’s blown big leads in the standings before, and it’s been suggested that mentally Rosberg doesn't have the same fortitude as his Mercedes teammate.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 2nd place. Hamilton loves Suzuka and Rosberg doesn’t need any more inter-team drama. He'll play it safe and happily take his championship points.
Lewis Hamilton- AMG Mercedes F1
You can't count out Lewis Hamilton. The three-time and reigning champion is looking for a fourth, and he’s hungry. He also has a knack for getting in Rosberg’s head, and with 25 points at stake if he wins in Japan, it just takes one slip up on Rosberg’s part to put Hamilton back in the lead.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 1st. Hamilton doesn’t just want to win this race, he needs to.
Daniel Ricciardo- Red Bull Racing
The fan favorite Red Bull driver has solidified his hold on third place, with a win in Malaysia. While not uncatchable, Ricciardo just needs to maintain form through the rest of the season to hang on to his place in the standings.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 5th. Unless Ferrari implodes, again, which they might, Red Bull is going to have a hard time keeping them at bay.
Kimi Raikkonen- Scuderia Ferrari
The fast Finn has had a surprisingly quiet 2016 championship campaign, with four podium finishes and just two retirements. Unless something drastic happens in the final five races, this could be Raikkonen’s third season in a row without a victory. Remarkably, his last came at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, with Lotus. Despite not winning a single race since his return to Ferrari, Raikkonen has already been confirmed to stay with the team for 2017.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 4th. Raikkonen's ahead of teammate Vettel in the standings, but he'll have to depend on Vettel's penchant for fireworks in order to stay in front of him at Suzuka.
Sebastian Vettel- Scuderia Ferrari
The four-time series champion certainly hasn't had the quiet season of his teammate. Vettel has six podium finishes to Raikkonen’s four, but those hard-won points are undone by his three retirements and one non-start. Vettel has found himself drawing the ire of his former Red Bull team more than once after tangling with drivers Dany Kvyat and Max Verstappen. If Vettel finishes the season without a victory, it will be only the second season in his F1 career without a win. Really, the only bright spot of Vettel’s season has been his radio messages.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 3rd. Or last. Vettel has finished on the podium at Suzuka since F1 racing returned to the circuit in 2009, no question he's a force to be reckoned with. But then, so is entropy.
Max Verstappen- Red Bull Racing
Max Verstappen has been one of the most polarizing figures in F1 this season. Praised for his brass and derided for his race craft, Verstappen has been at the center of some of the 2016 season's pivotal moments. From his maiden win with Red Bull in Spain, to crashing multiple times in Monaco–just one race later–his sophomore year in F1 has made for an amazing highlight reel. The promotion to Red Bull racing early in the season helped boost the 19 year old in the championship standings, but Verstappen only just 5 races left this year to prove he is consistent–as well as fast.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: The quiet 8th place finish he needs.
Valtteri Bottas – Williams Martini Racing
Sitting pretty in 7th place this season, Valtteri Bottas is the best of the rest outside of the three big teams. The Finn hasn’t had a particularly flashy season, a 3rd place in Canada being the highlight so far, but he's ahead in the championship thanks to consistent points finishes and just one retirement. Williams is locked in a pretty tight battle with Force India in the constructors championship standings, so at Suzuka Bottas just needs to do what he’s been doing all season–bring home points.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 9th. Because every point counts.
Sergio Perez –Sahara Force India
The Mexican driver has a surprisingly large lead over his much-lauded teammate, Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights for the season include two podiums in Monaco and Azerbaijan. Perez needs to turn up the wick if Force India want to extend their scant three point lead over Williams.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 7th. Just getting pipped by his teammate, but not enough to make a dent in his points advantage.
Nico Hulkenberg –Sahara Force India
The German driver and 2015 LeMans winner has had a rough 2016 campaign. He has been plagued by incidents and bad luck that have allowed his teammate, Perez, to score almost 50% more points in the standings—50 to 74. Nico Hulkenberg has yet to stand on an F1 podium; and at this rate it's not likely to come this season, but expect him to run in the points at Japan. In five races there he has finished in the top ten four times.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 6th.The same place he's finished in Japan twice before.
Fernando Alonso – McLaren Honda
Fernando Alonso and the McLaren team have made great strides since 2015. That, in and of itself, is upsetting. Former champions like Alonso and McLaren really shouldn’t be celebrating solid midpack finishes–yet here we are. Alonso is known for getting the most out of his equipment, and that’s exactly what he’s done this year; sitting ahead of teammate Jenson Button despite missing the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 10th. Sadly, solidly, midpack.
Felipe Massa – Williams Martini Racing
Massa announced his retirement this year and likely won’t be going out on a high note. He’s been outperformed by his teammate, Bottas, for much of the season and has yet to stand on the podium. A good finish in Japan would be a real coup for the fan-favorite, but it's not likely.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: An unlucky 13th.
Carlos Sainz Jr.– Scuderia Toro Rosso
Sainz has been the invisible man in the Red Bull stable this year. He’s played second fiddle to the A team of Verstappen and Ricciardo, and he hasn’t stirred up nearly the drama that Dany Kvyat has. Perhaps surprising for the son of a rally champion, Junior's season has been quiet, but solid; and that trend will likely continue for the rest of the year.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: A surprisingly racy 14th place.
Romain Grosjean – Haas F1
The little team that could has exceeded expectations with Frenchman Grosjean at the helm. Unfortunately, a brilliant start has quickly slid into continuous troubles for the team. Don’t expect more than, at best, a handful of points for Grosjean in the rest of the season. But the 28 points he banked for the American Haas F1 team early in the season? Nothing short of impressive.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: a laborious 17th, if the brakes hold on.
Dany Kvyat – Scuderia Toro Rosso
Kvyat has been the a magnet for drama this season. Despite an early podium finish, he’s been relegated to Red Bull's B-team and hasn’t done much to earn back the love of driver development honcho Helmut Marko.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: Nothing that would make Marko proud.
Jenson Button – McLaren Honda
It has already been announced that Button is taking a sabbatical year from F1 to help develop the 2017 McLaren and third driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Which we should read to mean spending more time in LA with his model girlfriend. He likely won’t do much of interest in the last 5 races of the season.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: The 2009 F1 champ should get around to finishing somewhere between 13th and 20th.
Kevin Magnussen – Renault
Magnussen may have a McLaren sized chip on his shoulder after being dropped in favor of Fernando Alonso at the end of 2014–but he hasn’t exactly done anything with the Renault that would justify said chip. Whether that’s the fault of the car or the driver is up for debate.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: Battling with Jenson Button all race long.
Jolyon Palmer – Renault
Palmer scored his first point of the season last race in Malaysia. Likely his only.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: Behind Button and Magnussen.
Pascal Wherlein – Manor
The Mercedes wunderkind was farmed off to Manor racing and has been surprisingly impressive–despite racing a car barely inside the 107% rule. His one point scored this season will likely be his only, unless serious attrition hits the field.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 20th.
Esteban Gutierrez – Haas F1 Team
Gutierrez became the first Haas driver to make it into the third round of qualifying at the end of the European season in Italy, but he has yet to score a point in for the team. The young Mexican has, however, finished 11th five times.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: The sun will rise. The tides will change. And Esteban Gutierrez will finish 11th.
Marcus Ericsson – Sauber
Ericsson most notable achievement this season is crashing into his teammate, Felipe Nasr, in Monaco.
Japanese Grand Prix Prediction: Broken. Or 21st.
Felipe Nasr – Sauber
The most notable thing Nasr has done this season is crash into his teammate, Marcus Ericsson, in Monaco.
Japanese Grand Prix prediction: 21st. Or broken.
Esteban Ocon – Manor
Sometimes quick in qualifying. Hardly ever quick in the race.
Finishing position in Japan in 2015: Last, but running.