The World Championship is not over, but the fat lady – to steal a phrase – is getting warmed up. Lewis Hamilton’s win in Russia, aided by team orders, has given him a 50-point lead in the title race, one that now puts him in sole control of his own destiny over the last five races.
After Japan this weekend, Grands Prix in the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi follow with a maximum of 125 points available.
The Briton can win the title with second places for the rest of the season, which is why he is as short as 1/25 with Mansionbet to take a fifth World Championship title, and given the pace and strategy that Mercedes have shown in the latter stages of the season – Hamilton has won the last three Grands Prix – it looks more likely that Hamilton will seal the deal rather than vice versa.
The only figure of eight in the calendar, Suzuka is one of the most difficult circuits to set up for engineers due to the sheer contrasts from one section to the other. One of the most difficult flying laps in the calendar starts with the “esses” section from turns three to six that punishes those without perfect entries or exits of the first turn.
The next five corners all depend on that opening and are followed by the nearly flat out Degner 1 corner. This is followed by and Degner 2 (taken a little slower in third gear). There are long, sweeping quick sections like those through the first turn, Dunlop and the double-apex Spoon, in contrast with the hairpin and the Casio Triangle chicane, perhaps the best overtaking point on the circuit.
Mercedes looked in jeopardy last weekend when Hamilton was stuck behind Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin after 14 laps early on, putting Vettel right behind him. Tyre troubles were also in the mix, and with 25 laps gone, Mercedes ordered Bottas – second at the time – to move and then block Vettel. The move worked, and Hamilton was never going to miss from there even with slight difficulties.
Vettel could have possibly made the race extremely close, but Ferrari have not looked as powerful over the last month and Bottas staying second suggests the advantage on race pace has been closed.
Therefore, Hamilton is 17/20 on 888Sport for a win that would all but seal the title, and Hamilton should feel confident given that he has won three of the last four Grands Prix here.
Also ominous for Vettel is that Hamilton has won two of the last three races without taking pole position, with the Englishman’s race craft and race management coming to the fore. He would make more appeal than the 2/1 that is widely available on Vettel taking a much needed victory.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Riccardo started at the back of the grid but Verstappen in particular drove a brilliant race in Russia as they finished fifth and sixth respectively. Starting on the hardest tyre, Verstappen was up to 12th place by the end of the first lap and was fifth by the ninth lap whilst team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was still 12th.
Verstappen was second in Singapore and has won two races this season, so from a good grid position the 16/1 available for him to win with Ladbrokes looks like a very big price, and so does the 18’s for Daniel Riccardo with the same firm.
The same firm are running a very interesting special, where you can get 8/11 on them to have both cars finish in the top six. They had been struggling with retirements but for the last two weeks they have both finish in the top six and this despite grid penalties in Russia last time out.
The double points finish has also been a fond selection of ours this season and Force India look like good candidates for that market once again.
Both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez have finished in the top 10 in three of the last four Grands Prix and they can lay a genuine claim to have the fourth fastest car on the gird, no mean feat ahead of what is a packed midfield. Bet365 will offer 11/8 about both of them taking points and that looks a good one.