The spotlight falls on duelling Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg once more at the spectacular Suzuka track for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Their title rivalry now closer on points than it’s been all season, Hamilton will be looking to continue the brilliant form and momentum he’s carried through the last two events with another win – an eighth victory of the year for the British star. Rosberg, now firmly on the back foot after his retirement from the Singapore Grand Prix, will be doing anything he can to stop his teammate’s recent run of results.
The German driver has cut a somewhat downbeat figure since the very public fall-out from the Belgian Grand Prix in August, his recent podium booing from fans combined with some overwhelming cheers for Hamilton in the last few races perhaps weighing on his mind.
We’ve yet to witness Rosberg in a title fight, and as we reach the final five races of the season his ability to deal with the overwhelming pressures of a tense title battle will be fascinating to observe. He fluffed his braking distances twice in Monza, handing victory to his teammate. He also failed to capitalise on an error from Hamilton going into the final qualifying runs last time out. Can Rosberg cope with the tension when it counts and respond to his rival’s current upswing in form?
Hamilton has found himself in a title fight at the Japanese Grand Prix before. In 2007 the event was held at the historic Fuji track. Hamilton, in his rookie season, delivered one of the drives of his career, taking victory in torrential conditions, as his then teammate Fernando Alonso spun into the barriers.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) September 29, 2014
In 2010 Hamilton found himself fighting for the title in Japan once more, this time at Suzuka. On that occasion a scruffy lap in practice saw his McLaren pile into the wall at the famous Degner curve. He went on to experience gearbox gremlins in the race; Sebastian Vettel took victory on his way to his maiden championship for Red Bull.
Further down the field there are several other intriguing battles underway. Who will be best of the rest behind the Mercedes team? With Ferrari seizing the initiative in their fight with Williams for third place in the constructors championship last time out, the Maranello squad will be eager to extend their narrow lead.
The passionate Japanese crowds will be cheering on local hero Kamui Kobayashi. With his Caterham team currently suffering from a severe lack of funding and established management, rumours in the paddock persist that this might be their final season. Kobayashi will be keen to impress other teams this weekend as he returns to the scene of his emphatic 2012 podium finish for Sauber.
With the prospect of torrential rain threatening to disrupt proceedings, and so much at stake in the championship fight, Suzuka looks set to deliver what could be the race of the season.