A frustrated Max Verstappen failed to clinch his second successive Formula One title in Singapore last weekend but the Red Bull driver has a much stronger chance of getting the job done at Suzuka on Sunday.
Japan is home territory for power unit partner Honda and Verstappen, who made his F1 weekend debut at the circuit in 2014 when he drove in Friday practice, will be champion again if he wins with fastest lap.
The Dutch 25-year-old has a 104-point advantage on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who finished second in Singapore behind Red Bull’s race winner Sergio Perez. The Mexican is two points behind Leclerc.
“We have another chance to win the drivers championship, we have to have a perfect weekend but it could be possible, we’ll give it our all,” said Verstappen.
Leclerc and Perez are now his only mathematical title rivals with five races remaining.
Verstappen needs only a 112 point advantage over his closest challenger to be champion at Suzuka, which hasn’t crowned a drivers’ champion since 2011 when Sebastian Vettel won his second of four titles with Red Bull.
“It’d be a phenomenal thing,” said team boss Christian Horner in Singapore. “We take nothing for granted. We go to Japan, attack the weekend and see what result comes out at the end of it.”
Honda, who officially pulled out of the sport last season but continue to assemble Red Bull’s power units in Japan, will have an enhanced presence from Suzuka with their branding on Verstappen and Perez’s cars as well as sister team AlphaTauri.
Verstappen’s 2021 title was the Japanese manufacturer’s first since 1991, when late Brazilian great Ayrton Senna clinched his third and final one with their engines in his McLaren.
Honda has not had a home race since 2019, however, with the Japanese Grand Prix left off the calendar for the last two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company owns the Suzuka circuit and is the title sponsor for this year’s event.
Red Bull last won there in 2013, the final year of Vettel’s era of dominance while Ferrari’s last success in Suzuka was with Michael Schumacher in 2004.
Mercedes, still chasing a first win of the year, have enjoyed an unbeaten run of success at Suzuka going back to 2014, with the reigning champions even wrapping up their sixth constructors’ title at the track in 2019.
With Red Bull winning 13 of this year’s 17 races, and Ferrari the others, that could all change this weekend.
“It will be hard to repeat the qualifying performance we saw in Singapore,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, with the German marque’s challenger having been more effective around tight twisting layouts.
“But I hope that will be balanced out with a stronger Sunday afternoon.”