MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Japanese GP

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Formula 1 makes its annual visit to Suzuka this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix as title rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton look to continue their ongoing brawl.

Hamilton looked poised to reclaim control of the championship when he enjoyed a 20-second lead over the field in Malaysia last weekend. After Rosberg was tagged at the first corner and left to fight his way back up the order, everything appeared to be ‘coming up Milhouse’ for Hamilton.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. An engine failure with 17 laps remaining forced Hamilton to retire from the race, while Rosberg finished third to extend his points lead to 23.

With five races to go, the battle for the title is finely poised, making the MST picks as devilishly difficult as ever.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. I’ve backed Hamilton for the last few races, believing that he will dig himself out of his rut and finally return to the top step of the podium. He didn’t put a foot wrong in Malaysia, yet I believe that with the scars of that defeat still fresh, he’ll falter at Suzuka. Rosberg for victory.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. Seb always goes well at Suzuka, having won the race four times in the past. That said, it’s perhaps a rather damning reflection of Ferrari’s season that picking Vettel to finish third may be deemed a surprise…

Most to Prove: Lewis Hamilton. Time is running out in the title race…

Additional Storyline: Haas’ ongoing malaise. A double DNF in Malaysia was a tough pill for Haas to swallow, particularly when it came as a result of two mechanical failures. The pointless run dating back to Austria is still going, while the Japanese Grand Prix marks three years since Esteban Gutierrez’s last F1 point. Time for those droughts to end.

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. After engine failure in Malaysia, the champ makes an important bounce back weekend, which is needed to sustain any realistic title hopes. This is a pivotal weekend for him with Austin to come after this.

Surprise Finish: Jenson Button. This is a spiritual home race for Button given his ties to Japan and long-standing relationship with Honda. So I’ll peg him for a strong points finish here.

Most to Prove: Sebastian Vettel. Vettel’s inconsistency this year in the wake of Kimi Raikkonen’s consistency hasn’t helped matters in terms of the constructors’ championship. Rare to ever need to put the 4-time World Champion under the microscope but he needs a good weekend here.

Additional Storyline: The rain. Suzuka’s often entertaining anyway and more rain would only serve to spice it up.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull