Lewis Hamilton is looking to hit back from his defeat in Malaysia at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, scene of a bizarre ‘Snapchat’ row that overshadowed last year’s race.
Britain’s triple world champion was forced to play second fiddle to Max Verstappen in Sepang on Sunday after securing his ninth pole of the season and 70th of his career.
The 32-year-old stretched his world championship lead over Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel to 34 points with five races left.
Ahead of the race in Suzuka, AFP Sport takes a closer look at the major talking points.
Lewis Hamilton limbered up for Suzuka by joining NBA superstar Stephen Curry for a spot of golf in China.
Britain’s world championship leader will hope some of the Golden State sharp-shooter’s magic rubs off on him after Curry donned Hamilton’s yellow helmet to take a tee shot.
Looking like a member of electronic music duo Daft Punk, Curry fluffed his drive before removing the lid to whack one down the middle of the fairway — with a power and precision Hamilton will want to emulate in Japan.
Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne blamed a “young team” for the reliability issues that plagued them at last week’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
After Sebastian Vettel had to start last because of engine trouble, Kimi Raikkonen failed to take up his second place on the grid after suffering similar gremlins.
Employing some serious manager-speak, Marchionne promised Ferrari would be “making some organisational changes” after insisting both red cars could have won in Malaysia.
Whether it be Max Verstappen’s seat-of-the-pants style of driving or Daniel Ricciardo’s eye-watering “Shoey” celebration, Red Bull are without doubt Formula One’s coolest team.
Dutch flier Verstappen’s second career win in Malaysia fired a warning to Mercedes and Ferrari, while Ricciardo also finished on the podium.
The only downside of continued success for the F1 hipsters is that more poor souls will be forced to drink champagne from the Australian’s sweaty boot.
Fernando Alonso’s frustrations at McLaren have sparked more than the occasional tantrum from the Spaniard over the team radio.
One of Alonso’s more memorable meltdowns came in Japan two years ago when the former world champion barked: “GP2 engine, GP2 engine, very embarrassing!”
Engine suppliers Honda were far from amused and it remains to be seen if Alonso will show more charity this weekend after McLaren recently ended their ill-fated partnership.
And speaking of Honda, how they would love to go out with a bang with McLaren at their home track — albeit it figuratively, rather than literally.
Honda are set to supply Toro Rosso next year, which may fill the Red Bull-owned team with a sense of foreboding.
But a strong showing at Suzuka would sweep away much of the gloom and doom that has followed the Japanese manufacturer around again this season.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won the final edition of the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton finished second to extend his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel to 34 points.
Verstappen, 20, starting from second after Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari failed to make the grid, overtook pole-sitter Hamilton on lap four before clinching the second victory of his career and first this season.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was third ahead of Vettel, who weaved through the field to finish fourth after starting from the back of the grid following engine problems.
The results mean Hamilton enjoys a big championship lead over Vettel with five races left in the season, starting next week in Japan.
Here, we take a look at five talking points from Sepang.
A furious Fernando Alonso labelled Kevin Magnussen “an idiot” and claimed the rest of the drivers agreed with him after they clashed on lap 33.
Alonso shouted on team radio “Hulkenberg was right”, a reference to the Renault driver calling the Dane “an arsehole” after Magnussen forced him off the track at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July. Magnussen told the German to “suck my balls” in response.
After the race Alonso wasn’t finished. “For his driving, we more or less agree with the other drivers, it’s 19 to one,” he told reporters.
Sergio Perez was struck down with a sickness bug in Malaysia but somehow managed the almost superhuman effort of finishing sixth for Force India at the most physically demanding grand prix on the calendar.
Perez felt so bad he thought might have to miss the race and thanked doctors for getting him through despite the heat and humidity.
“It was probably the hardest race of my career,” he said.
While Lewis Hamilton was extending his championship lead at Sepang, teammate Valtteri Bottas admitted he was searching for answers after finishing in fifth behind Vettel who has started from stone last.
“Being honest, it may be the most difficult time of my career so far, in terms of how it feels every time I go in the car,” said Bottas.
“If I keep doing races like this for long, that is not going to be a good thing for anyone. Like I said many, many question marks. I need to have a good look in the mirror again.”
Red Bull chief Christian Horner hailed victorious Max Verstappen and compared him to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The result ended a tough run for Verstappen, without a podium since China in April.
“Max is a very different character to Sebastian but what you see in standout drivers, you see similarities,” Horner said.
“Where Sebastian was very strong under big pressure moments, Max has that ability too. He was so cool today leading the grand prix. He was the coolest guy out there.”
Jolyon Palmer’s blamed a gust of wind in Malaysia for wrecking his chance of a top-10 finish for the second successive race.
The British driver who is being replaced by Carlos Sainz at Renault next season was 12th and closing on Hulkenberg before he went off and allowed Alonso to pass him.
“We saw there was a big tailwind, which is affecting you in the tow, and you’re in the gust. I turned in pretty much the same as the other laps and suddenly I had no rear. Then just one lap, it was very different to the other laps, it really caught me by surprise.”
On the surface, it might be ludicrous to suggest it but Mercedes are worried, and with good reason.
Their lead driver Lewis Hamilton currently boasts an impressive championship lead of 34 points, and their advantage in the constructors’ championship is an even more sizeable 102 points with just five races remaining.
Most would suggest both championships are a done deal but the Mercedes team hierarchy were left scratching their heads in the wake of the Malaysian Grand Prix.
That Lewis Hamilton finished second was no small miracle after an incredibly tough weekend in which both Mercedes perpetually struggled for balance and speed.
The ease with which Max Verstappen scythed past the pole-sitter and then pulled well clear is baffling to understand for a team that has been dominant at a few circuits this season and incredibly fast at the vast majority.
In short, no one from Hamilton to team boss Toto Wolff to their rivals and those watching in the stands expected Mercedes to endure such a drop in pace in Malaysia.
After all, the prognosis was that this would be the first circuit at which Hamilton and title rival Sebastian Vettel would truly be racing wheel to wheel, the nuances of a maverick circuit, on paper at least, playing to the strengths of both cars.
The Mercedes engine – generally regarded as the quickest in 2017 – should have been flying down Sepang’s two long straights while Ferrari was expected to be in the ascendancy through many of the corners.
The fact that Vettel finished only 25 seconds behind Hamilton at the chequered flag having started at the back of the grid said it all about the pace discrepancy, equating to about half a minute over the course of the race.
Mercedes have been here before this year: in Russia and Monaco most notably, where it became a simple case of damage limitation.
The Mercedes thrives in those 90-degree left-right corners, ones in which both driver and car can be aggressive, but in other corners suddenly the balance goes completely awry.
As they transition out of such corners, the rear end comes imbalanced and it creates a double whammy of oversteer and understeer. The car thereby loses its flow and with it raw pace, plus it causes increased degradation on the tyres.
And Hamilton struggled on both the softs and super softs in Malaysia.
What’s the answer? Somewhat worryingly, Mercedes don’t have one. It is, as they put it, a “fundamental issue” with their car for which there is no short fix.
Team boss Wolff’s succinct summary was thus: “How can a car that is so fast on many circuits lose so much with the tyre that is overheating?”
The vagaries of the Mercedes from one race weekend to the next is what makes the last five races of the championship so thrilling, and mean Vettel is far from out of it.
The Ferrari is quick and, for the most part, reliable, plus they have the added strength of a resurgent Red Bull whose drivers could potentially park themselves between the Ferraris and the Mercedes.
It’s all speculation of course as Mercedes have had a propensity for bouncing back but there are just six days until the next race in Japan.
Suzuka should be a better fit for Mercedes, but Ferrari will be the more confident going into the race weekend.