2015 Japanese Grand Prix Preview

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As we enter the twilight of the 2015 season, Formula 1 ventures to the land of the rising sun for the Japanese Grand Prix at the iconic Suzuka circuit.

Suzuka has etched itself a unique place in F1 history over the past three decades, being the site of numerous title deciders and duels, including those infamous battles between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1989 and 1990.

In recent years, the track has been something of a stronghold for Sebastian Vettel, who arrives in Japan with the wind in his sails following his crushing victory at the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend.

Vettel’s lights-to-flag charge brought him back into the championship fight – albeit as the outsider – as Mercedes endured a weekend to forget. Lewis Hamilton was resigned to his first retirement of the season thanks to a power unit problem, while Nico Rosberg could only finish fourth, leaving him 41 points behind his teammate in the title race.

In Japan this weekend, the teams will renew their battle for supremacy at the front, but with a number of storylines meandering throughout the field, there is plenty of play for at Suzuka.

2015 Japanese Grand Prix – Talking Points

Can Mercedes bounce back?

Mercedes’ lack of pace in Singapore was something of a shock to everyone in the F1 paddock. All weekend long, the Silver Arrows found themselves battling for fifth and sixth place at best, lagging well behind the pace of Ferrari and Red Bull at Marina Bay.

Most have put it down as a one-off, and are expecting Mercedes to roar back at Suzuka and surge to a one-two finish. The tire allocation certainly suits the W06 Hybrid far better, but Ferrari’s engine updates make it a force to be reckoned with. Vettel’s Suzuka form is second to none – four wins and two podium finishes in six appearances – making this weekend far from being a two-horse race.

Vettel the outsider

Vettel may be a serious contender for the race win at Suzuka this weekend, but he remains the outsider in the championship battle. The 49-point deficit to Lewis Hamilton at the top is not a great amount if we are to consider Rosberg (41 points down) to still be in the title fight, yet it requires Singapore repeating itself another three or four times in the final six races of 2015.

Nevertheless, what Vettel continues to do is not only justify his move to Ferrari, but also prove his own greatness. Those who wrote off his four world championships with Red Bull by attributing them to car and the car alone have been silenced. Vettel is excelling with Ferrari, and his excellent Suzuka record makes him a threat to Mercedes on Sunday.

Retirement rumors

Jenson Button’s future remains the biggest talking point in a largely static F1 silly season, with reports earlier this week claiming that he would be announcing his retirement from the sport ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

However, Button remains engaged in “good talks” with McLaren about 2016, meaning that we are unlikely to get a decision anytime soon. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if anything about the driver market comes out of this weekend. Sergio Perez has signed up with Force India for another season, leaving only Lotus, Manor and Haas to be finalized.

Running on fumes

For Lotus, though, there are bigger problems at play. After having a High Court hearing adjourned until September 28 last week, the team is facing an increasingly difficult fight to survive. At Suzuka, its freight only arrived at the track midway through Thursday due to outstanding payments from last year, putting pressure on everyone in the team.

If the hearing on Monday goes against the team, it could be game over. Talks with Renault about a buy-out for 2016 are ongoing, and it is hard to see a future for the Enstone operation if they are not successful.

Nevertheless, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado continue to fight the good fight, and will be hungry for points at Suzuka this weekend.

Forza Jules

Aside from all of the on-track action this weekend, the paddock will have a heavy heart as it returns to the site of Jules Bianchi’s accident 12 months ago.

Bianchi died in July following a nine-month fight, having suffered a severe head injury when he collided with a recovery tractor during the closing stages of last year’s rainy Japanese Grand Prix.

Just as the grid did Jules proud in Hungary, we can hope for another thrilling event this weekend.

2015 Japanese Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Suzuka Circuit
Laps: 53
Corners: 18
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:31.540 (McLaren, 2005)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:32.506
2014 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:51.600
DRS Zone: Main Straight (T18 to T1)

2015 Japanese Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 9pm ET 9/24
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 1am ET 9/25 NBCSN
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 11pm ET 9/25
Qualifying: NBCSN 2am ET 9/26
Race: NBCSN 12:30am ET 9/27

All sessions will be streamed live at f1stream.nbcsports.com.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
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Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
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Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2