Having been handed victory in Russia, Lewis Hamilton will be seeking to lay down a marker when Formula 1 heads to Suzuka for one of the driver’s favourite races of the year.
Given its place on the calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix has seen plenty of classic showdowns between title rivals, most memorably the Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost crashes of 89 and 90.
However, Mercedes have been so dominant in Japan for the last four years that it is tough to see Sebastian Vettel getting close to Hamilton come race day.
Hamilton to win the Japanese Grand Prix @ 20/29
It is no fun plumping for the favourite but it is nearly impossible to look beyond the Brit, who already has four wins at Suzuka under his belt, three of which have come behind the wheel of a Mercedes.
The 33-year-old is arguably in the form of his life having won five of the last seven races, finishing inside the top-two in every Grand Prix since being forced to retire in Austria.
His win in Russia last time out did not come about by the usual methods, the Silver Arrows ordering team mate Valtteri Bottas to step aside to let Hamilton claim victory.
That triumph took the four-time world champion 50 points clear of Vettel with a maximum of 125 points available over the five remaining races. The title is all but Hamilton’s and he should take a step closer in Suzuka given his dominance of the race last year.
The unique make-up of the track suits the Mercedes, the best all-rounder on the track, and the former McLaren man lead from start to finish last year.
Max Verstappen podium finish @ 7/4
Hamilton was chased home by the Red Bulls 12 months ago, Vettel having been forced to retire after four laps, and Max Verstappen is expected to lead the charge again.
There is less of a reliance on straight line speed in Japan with aerodynamics key, and that plays into the hands of Red Bull.
Verstappen is driving as well as he has done in his F1 career and looks a good price to finish on the podium for the seventh time this year, while he has come home second in the last two races in Japan.
As for Ferrari, Vettel does have four Japanese Grand Prix wins to his name but none of them have been driving a Scuderia. The German is 11/5 to come out on top on Sunday but given his best finish for Ferrari at Suzuka is third, he might be one to avoid.
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