Before his mightily impressive victory against a resurgent Ferrari at the Sochi Autodrom, Lewis Hamilton hadn’t won a race since the Hungarian Grand Prix, before the mid-season break.
From some quarters in the media, despite his points advantage, Hamilton was the man under pressure heading into Sochi. Yet, as he so often does, the Englishman confounded his critics yet again with a masterful display.
Whilst Ferrari’s tactics, particularly regarding team orders in 2019 have been questionable, Hamilton has had to overcome trickier situations than this to win titles in the past and he surely won’t be denied with five races remaining.
Another obstacle for Ferrari will be the fact that Mercedes is bringing ‘minor upgrades’ to Suzuka in an attempt to arrest the Scuderia’s recent upturn in form.
“The win in Sochi doesn’t change the fact that Ferrari had a stronger start to the second part of the season than we did,” said team boss Toto Wolff.
“We’ll bring some minor upgrades to the car in Japan which will hopefully help us take a step in the right direction; however, we know that we need to extract absolutely everything from our car and the tyres if we want to be able to challenge for a win.”
“Our targets for the final quarter of the season are clear and it's up to us to make sure we achieve them.”
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) October 8, 2019
Furthermore, Suzuka is a circuit that Mercedes and Hamilton enjoy, having won all five races hosted at the iconic circuit in the hybrid era, including locking out the front row since 2014.
“We have a strong track record there, having won every Japanese Grand Prix in the hybrid era, but we expect this year to be challenging given the strength of our opponents,” added Wolff. “It will be a very close battle on track – and one that we very much look forward to. Our targets for the final quarter of the season are clear and it’s up to us to make sure we achieve them.”
For Ferrari, despite another controversial moment concerning team orders and Hamilton’s victory, the pace is clearly still there with in-form Charles Leclerc having taken a fourth successive pole in Russia.
“Our performance level was good in Sochi, which is how we managed to take our fourth straight pole position, but we know that in order to be at the front in Japan, every aspect of our work must be perfect,” said team boss Mattia Binotto. “That’s the way we are going to approach the race in Suzuka, trying to extract all the available performance from the car package. If we can do that, then we hope to be able to be as competitive as we have been in recent races.”
Behind the leading protagonists, Red Bull will again be hoping to throw a spanner in the mix, but it looks for certain to be another straight fight between the silver and scarlet machines.
— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) October 7, 2019