Red Bull need score only a point more than Mercedes at Suzuka on Sunday to retain their Formula One constructors’ title and trigger celebrations after last weekend’s Singapore shock.
After failing to win for the first time this season, and 15 victories in a row dating back to the end of last year, the champions look likely to be back to their dominant ways in Japan.
Last year in a rain-shortened race Max Verstappen sealed his second championship with team mate Sergio Perez completing the one-two.
The runaway championship leader, now 151 points clear of Perez, must wait a while longer for his third title but Red Bull are set to complete their half of an inevitable double at a track owned by partners Honda.
They currently have a 308 point advantage over Mercedes and 332 over Ferrari, with only 309 points — including those from sprint races and fastest laps — still to be won after Suzuka.
Another win for Verstappen, who has his 26th birthday to look forward to on Sept. 30, would be the Dutch driver’s 13th of the campaign and set him up for a likely title celebration in Qatar in October.
“I think we will be quick in Suzuka,” Verstappen said last Sunday.
“It should be good for our car. The track is always super-fun to drive so I hope as soon as we put the car on the track that it’s in a good window.”
Suzuka is also decidedly old-school, designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz with a figure of eight layout, and punishes mistakes.
Should Red Bull not return to their previous dominance, then questions that were asked in Singapore about the impact of a recent technical directive on flexible bodywork will become louder still.
That directive was issued just before Singapore.
“I know all of you would love to blame the TD, but unfortunately we can’t even blame that because it has not changed a single component on our car,” Horner said after Singapore ended Verstappen’s record run of 10 wins in a row.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, the winner in Singapore, will be going for his third pole in a row as Ferrari seek to overhaul Mercedes for the runner-up slot in the championship.
“We’ve had two great weekends in a row, but I think the two tracks that we’ve been to have suited our car,” said the Spaniard.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they (Red Bull) are still winning the last few races of the season. I think Singapore gave us the chance and we just did well.
“But I still think the Red Bull is going to be up there in the remainder of the season and they’re going to be very, very, very, very difficult to beat.”
Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin will also hope to be fighting for the podium.
Norris, still chasing his first F1 win, said he laughed when he saw from Verstappen’s onboard camera footage how poorly the Red Bull was performing in Singapore.
“Max also laughed about it. So, we’ll see next weekend. I think they’ll probably be back at the top,” said the Briton.
New Zealander Liam Lawson will again be standing in for the injured Australian Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri while Canadian Lance Stroll is back for Aston Martin after missing the race in Singapore due to a crash in qualifying.