F1 Japanese Grand Prix predictions: Hamilton could make most of dry Saturday
Max Verstappen could seal the world title in Japan, while Lewis Hamilton will be aiming for his first pole position of the season in Sunday's race.
Verstappen's run of five victories came to an end in Singapore last weekend, but Red Bull's winning streak goes on as the world champion's team-mate Sergio Perez claimed a superb victory in mixed conditions.
Heading into this week's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Perez is still mathematically in title contention, as is Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who finished second in Singapore.
But with a 104-point lead in the standings and only four more races on the calendar after this weekend, if Verstappen is able to outscore Leclerc by eight points and Perez by six in Japan, he will seal his second world championship.
Ferrari lacking race pace
Leclerc took his ninth pole position of the season in Singapore — a tally which now cannot be beaten this season, but once again the Monegasque driver was unable to show the same speed during the race.
The Ferrari star lost the lead at the start as Perez beat him to the first corner, and although the pair came close a couple of times, the Mexican took a fairly comfortable victory in the end.
That means Leclerc has now failed to convert any of his last seven pole positions into race victories.
Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz, despite finishing third in the second Ferrari, struggled for pace throughout and quickly dropped out of contention.
Ferrari's main problem has been keeping the tyres alive, and that is a weakness that could really hurt them in Japan.
The Suzuka circuit features long sweeping curves and many high-speed changes of direction which tortures tyres.
Hamilton could be hot in qualifying
Mercedes will have been looking forward to the visit to Suzuka for some time, as the track should be ideal for their car.
The Silver Arrows revel in long corners where the car's trait of keeping its tyres cool give it an advantage, particularly over a long distance.
So team boss Toto Wolff and drivers Hamilton and George Russell will have been gutted to see rain forecast for much of the weekend.
A wet track totally changes the characteristics of the circuit and would negate Mercedes' strengths, as we saw last week when they struggled for grip in the rain.
But Saturday's forecast is dry and after missing out on pole position by just 0.05 seconds in Singapore, Hamilton will quietly fancy his chances of taking a first pole of the season.
For once, Verstappen was far from perfect in Singapore, fluffing the start, going off the track shortly after a safety car restart and almost colliding with a competitor, but the Dutchman is a deserved favourite to put that behind him and win in Japan.
However, team-mate Perez has won both rain-affected races this year and the confidence boost last week will have given him could well carry him to the top three at Suzuka.
Perez has eight podiums from 17 races this year — all either first or second-place finishes — and he he will be aiming to add to that tally this weekend.
Lance Stroll is another who enjoys wet conditions, as his season-best sixth place at Singapore showed and the Canadian Aston Martin driver is available at 11/10 via LiveScore Bet for a seventh points finish of the season.
Saturday is expected to be the one dry day of the weekend and, while Hamilton has not added to his career tally of 103 pole positions this year, this looks to be one of his better chances and he is available at 10/1 to earn top spot on the grid.