The 2022 F1 Japanese GP will mark the sport's return to the east Asian nation after the COVID-19 pandemic. The race holds significance as it comes at a pivotal point this season.
Lest we forget, it is Honda's home race and the Japanese manufacturer's presence will be quite prominent. Suzuka is famous for being termed one of the best tracks for driving an F1 car and it is one of the favorite tracks for all drivers.
How will the weekend then pan out? What are the things to keep an eye on? Find out in our preview and predictions for the 2022 F1 Japanese GP.
2022 F1 Japanese GP: Preview
#1 Max Verstappen's impending championship crowning
If you're Max Verstappen, the equation is very simple for you to win the title. You have to win the race with the fastest lap and the championship will be yours. The motivations, however, to win the F1 Japanese GP are available in surplus as the Red Bull driver had a wretched race in Singapore this past Sunday and he left the event with a sour taste.
Additionally, the F1 Japanese GP will be the home race for Honda. If Max Verstappen can seal the title in Honda's home race, there could be no bigger flex than that.
Verstappen is heading to the F1 Japanese GP with dominance on his mind and it will be very interesting to see how he executes it.
#2 The notorious Japanese weather
Rain is forecast to make an appearance on Friday and Sunday. The southeast Asian region has been going through a late-season rain phase which was evident even during the MotoGP race in Motegi just a few weeks ago. For the MotoGP weekend, part of it was run in mixed conditions while the other part saw quite a few delays as well.
In Japan, it gets dark very early so the delays could be a concern. The organizers will need to be very careful with how they manage the rain disruptions during the sessions as the early sunset time does give them a very tight window to operate in.
#3 The remnants of the 'Cost-Cap' drama
FIA in its vintage fashion has kicked the can further to October 10 as the date when the cost cap assessment report will be revealed. While this does calm down the storm, the after-effects of the mudslinging that Red Bull had to endure last week will surely be there this weekend.
The cloud of the cost cap report will be hanging over the weekend. It will be very interesting to see how combative Red Bull is during the 2022 F1 Japanese GP should it come to that.
McLaren has staged an impressive comeback in the last two races as the team snatched P4 in the championship back from Alpine in Singapore. In terms of pace, it's been a toss-up between the two teams at different tracks. What has been impressive about McLaren is its ability to continually extract the maximum possible points from the package at every race.
Heading to the 2022 F1 Japanese GP, the Woking-based squad will be hoping to continue on the same trajectory.
Out of form
3 DNFs in 2 races is a poor reading for a team trying to finish P4 in the championship. Sadly, that has been the state of affairs for Alpine as the team has struggled massively with reliability issues. In terms of car performance, the Enstone-based squad has shown impressive improvements. At the F1 Japanese GP this weekend, the team will be hoping to bring the cars home and make use of the impressive speed that the car has.
2022 F1 Japanese GP: Predictions
Who wins the race?
Home race for Honda, an opportunity to seal the 2022 F1 title, and most importantly, seething from a bad result in Singapore. We're picking Max Verstappen to win the F1 Japanese GP this weekend.
Surprise of the weekend (Team)
Suzuka is a track that tends to have more tire degradation because of the loads experienced in the first sector (the Senna Esses). While the conditions are expected to be somewhat cooler, this is not a track where a team needs to worry about generating temperatures in its tires.
Mercedes has had its struggles with generating tire temps, conversely, the car has had great tire life. Ferrari, on the other hand, has had no issue in firing up the tires, but when it comes to tire life, there are question marks. For the 2022 F1 Japanese GP, we are backing a Mercedes fightback as we expect the German team to have a strong weekend, and maybe even challenge for the win.
Surprise of the weekend (Driver)
Sebastian Vettel loves Suzuka! He's had some spectacular drives at the track and has often talked about how he feels about it. The last time he raced here, he scored pole position and finished on the podium. This time around, he does not have the car to fight for a podium or a pole position. Regardless, expect a strong weekend for the German on the back of a strong race in Singapore.
Disappointment of the weekend (Team)
AlphaTauri now finds itself 9th in the standings after Aston Martin leapfrogged the team in Singapore. The 2022 F1 season has not been a good one for the Silverstone-based squad, but the car's fluctuating form from race to race has been interesting.
At Monza's high downforce layout, the car was easily a top-10 contender, but in Zandvoort, it struggled too much. The track layout at Suzuka is a mix of low downforce and high downforce segments. The problem for AlphaTauri will be S1 as the car will struggle there extensively. Although this is Honda's home race, expect AlphaTauri to struggle this weekend to get a good result on the board.
Disappointment of the weekend (Driver)
Daniel Ricciardo raised a few hopes with an impressive P5 finish in Singapore. The Australian drove very well that weekend but it cannot be denied that he massively benefitted from the safety car timing.
At the F1 Japanese GP this weekend, expect the Australian to fall back once again in the pecking order as he struggles to match his teammate.