There are just five races remaining in the 2018 Formula 1 season and there are few better venues to start the final push to Abu Dhabi than the iconic Suzuka Circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The unique figure-of-eight layout has played host to many championship-defining moments over the years and several season finales as well as earning a reputation as a real drivers circuit because of the demanding array of corners.
Lewis Hamilton heads to this race in blistering form with five wins in six race and has won in Japan in three of the last four years. With a 50-point lead over Sebastian Vettel, the German is desperate for Suzuka to upset the apple cart once again and if there is one thing we do know, it’s that anything can happen at this race.
About the race
Considered on a similar level to the likes of Spa and Silverstone, Suzuka is one of the most challenging tracks on the calendar with a design more akin to a Scalextric.
The sweeping ‘Snake’ in the first sector, Spoon curve at the far end of the circuit and the once-terrifying 130R are just some of the most famous sections of the Japanese track and unlike most modern venues, gravel traps are waiting to punish any error of judgement.
Since the first race in 1985, Suzuka has seen many notable moments, particularly between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost with the pair colliding at the chicane in 1989 while driving for McLaren and again at the start the following year in 1990 after the Frenchman had moved to Ferrari.
The controversial incidents earned each driver a world championship as a result in what remains one of the great rivalries in F1 history. In 1998, Mika Hakkinen secured his first world title after a season-long battle with Michael Schumacher but the German would enjoy success of his own ending Ferrari’s 21-year wait for a driver’s world championship in 2000.
One of the greatest races took place in 2005 with an epic performance from Kimi Raikkonen seeing him overtake Giancarlo Fisichella at the start of the final lap to claim victory having started 17th on the grid. A remarkable move by recently crowned world champion Fernando Alonso on Schumacher at 130R was also seen by many as the changing of the guard in F1 after the five years of domination by the German and Ferrari.
Most recently, however, Suzuka saw tragedy with the 2014 race impacted by Typhoon Phanfone and the terrible crash for Jules Bianchi which saw the young Frenchman suffer severe head injuries having hit a recovery vehicle after going off at the Dunlop curve. The promising young Frenchman would eventually die from those injuries the following July becoming the first F1 fatality since Senna in 1994.
Looking ahead, here are our picks for your fantasy teams this weekend in Japan.
Top driver picks
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes ($31.3m)
While there are comparisons between Suzuka and Silverstone, where Ferrari won, the decreased power sensitivity and more braking zones for greater ERS recovery mean the traditional strength in medium and high-speed corners should give Mercedes the edge at Suzuka. Add to that the current run of momentum that Hamilton is on plus the potential for rain – which has always been to his benefit so far this season – and it’s hard to look past the Briton winning once again.
Esteban Ocon, Force India ($9.6m)
Having had their in-season development delayed by earlier financial problems, recent improvements since their takeover mean Force India are looking strong in the final races of the season as their rivals largely switch focus to 2019.
Sitting towards the front of the midfield, Esteban Ocon continues to have the slight edge over teammate Sergio Perez, despite the pair being very evenly matched, therefore, it is the cost value which makes the Frenchman our pick sitting over $2m cheaper than the Mexican.
Charles Leclerc, Sauber ($6.1m)
The Monegasque continues to go from strength from strength ahead of his big move to Ferrari next season and he proved that once again with an excellent drive to seventh in Sochi, comfortably leading the midfield pack. Though the technical layout of Suzuka may not suit his Sauber car quite as well, Leclerc is more than making up the difference right now making him a must-have in your team.
Worst driver picks
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes ($24.8m)
Despite a great weekend in Russia, how Bottas moves on from the frustration of having to give up a victory to teammate Hamilton will be an interesting story in Japan. Should another close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari emerge, with Red Bull also a team to watch, it is possible that the Finn’s confidence could have taken a hit, particularly as he continues in his role as the wingman.
Carlos Sainz, Renault ($9.8m)
There’s something strange going on with Sainz right now as he appears to be struggling most at a time when his Renault team is also starting to drop off the pace of those around them. A gamble in Sochi horribly backfired leaving him almost bottom of the classified finishers and the Spaniard just doesn’t seem quite his usual self as the end of the year approaches.
Top team pick
Though Mercedes is the team to beat right now, spending a third of your total fantasy budget on them appears a little much and that is why Ferrari continue as our team pick with their ability to challenge for podiums and the victory consistently, even if stopping Hamilton is proving much easier said than done right now!
That’s all for our picks and preview for the Japanese Grand Prix, now all you need to do is pick your team and play.