Mercedes hopes upgrades will keep Ferrari at bay in Japan GP

Ferrari has won three of the four races since the mid-season break, leading to action from Mercedes ahead of this weekend's race in Suzuka.

Lewis Hamilton in action at the Russian Grand Prix.   -  Getty Images

Mercedes will bring upgrades for the Japanese Grand Prix as it looks to regain its Formula One stranglehold in the final stretch of the season.

Ferrari won the first three races after the mid-season race, with Charles Leclerc claiming back-to-back victories in Belgium and Italy before Sebastian Vettel's triumph in Singapore.

However, the Silver Arrows were back on top at the Russian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton leading home Valtteri Bottas in Sochi to take a 73-point lead in the drivers' standings.

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff is hopeful of building on that and believes changes to the car will boost its chances of success at Suzuka, where it has won the past five grands prix.

"Claiming a one-two in Sochi after three races without a win was a great feeling," said Wolff. "We delivered a strong race in Russia, made the most of our opportunities and both Lewis and Valtteri drove flawlessly.

"We brought home 44 points, built the gap in both championships and are highly motivated to keep our foot on the throttle for the remaining five races.

"However, 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.

"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.

"We have a strong track record [at Suzuka], having won every Japanese Grand Prix in the hybrid era, but we expect this year to be challenging given the strength of our opponents.

"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 is clear and it's up to us to make sure we achieve them."

 

TALK OF THE PADDOCK

Vettel refused to obey team orders and let Leclerc pass after taking the lead at the Russian Grand Prix, but he eventually did so.

However, an engine issue forced him to retire and led to a virtual safety car, which Hamilton crucially pitted under and retained the lead.

Leclerc had to settle for third and Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto knows they cannot afford similar mistakes if they are to return to the top step of the podium.

"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 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."

However, having impressed in his three previous Japanese Grands Prix, Max Verstappen is hoping Red Bull can throw a spanner in the works.

"I'm really looking forward to going back to Suzuka as it's a special place for me. I made my Formula One debut there in a practice session when I had just turned 17 and it's a memory I'll never forget," said Verstappen.

"I've had a lot of good results at Suzuka with second and third place podiums but never a win, so obviously we would love to go one step higher."

 

RACEWEEK SCHEDULE (all times local)

Friday
FP1 (10:00-11:30)
FP2 (14:00-15:30)

Saturday
FP3 (12:00-13:00)
Qualifying (15:00-16:00)

Sunday
Race (14:10-16:10)

F1 FACT

The lack of straights at Suzuka, which is a figure-eight circuit, mean it is one of only two tracks, alongside Monaco, to feature just one DRS zone.

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2018: Lewis Hamilton
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Nico Rosberg

DRIVER STANDINGS

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 322
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 249 (-73)
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 215 (-107)
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 212 (-110)
5. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 194 (-128)

CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS

1. Mercedes 571
2. Ferrari 409 (-162)
3. Red Bull 311 (-260)
4. McLaren 101 (-470)
5. Renault 68 (-503)