14 F1 storylines for the Japanese Grand Prix

This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix may offer something Formula 1 fans have not seen yet this season.

No, not a team other than Red Bull winning a race, as fans were treated to that two weeks ago when Carlos Sainz Jr. drove past Max Verstappen in the early stages of the Australian Grand Prix. Verstappen’s RB20 suffering a subsequent brake duct failure opened the door to Sainz’s stunning victory just weeks after an appendectomy, pulling Ferrari closer to Red Bull in the Constructors’ standings.

Rather, what fans may see for the first time this season is racing in the wet.

Early forecasts for the Japanese Grand Prix are calling for rain, and potentially a significant amount. According to the most recent reports from Weather.com, there is a 43% chance of showers on Sunday, the day of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Interestingly enough, the Japanese Grand Prix was moved to April this season, rather than the September/October date it typically held on the calendar. While a main reason for this was to further F1’s sustainability goals, tying the Japanese Grand Prix with races in Australia and China on the calendar, the move also shifted the race away from Japan’s traditional typhoon season. The Japanese Grand Prix has often been impacted by heavy rains, including the 2022 race which saw the Grand Prix shortened due to heavy rain.

Yet, if recent weather reports hold true, teams and drivers may still be dealing with wet conditions this weekend.

The biggest question facing each team on the grid

Last week we worked through the entire grid, taking a look at the biggest question facing each team. For those who did not check out that series — or those who are looking for a refresher — this is the perfect time to take a look.

  • Alpine: How quickly will the progress come?
  • Sauber: Can they fix things in the pits?
  • Williams: Will there be a hangover from what happened in Australia?
  • Haas: Have they truly fixed their biggest problem from 2023?
  • Visa Cash App RB F1 Team: Is Daniel Ricciardo really in trouble?
  • Aston Martin: Can they get the development right this season?
  • Mercedes: Can the Silver Arrows turn things around?
  • McLaren: Can they stay hot?
  • Ferrari: Can they truly challenge Red Bull?
  • Red Bull: Are they really vulnerable?

Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Could Adrian Newey really be on the move?

Could Adrian Newey, and his legendary notebook of secrets, truly be on the way out from Milton Keynes?

Teams have tried to poach perhaps the greatest engineer in F1 history in the past, but could this time be different? According to recent reports, Lawrence Stroll has made Newey a lucrative offer that would put his salary on par with some of the drivers on the grid.

The timing is certainly notable, as the reports come during a Red Bull season rocked by off-the-track drama. From the whispers of a power struggle at the top to the ongoing investigation into Team Principal Christian Horner — and the potential fallout — the time could be ripe for Newey to make a change.

Maybe Newey does make a move. Maybe not. But the driver transfer market might not be the only movement to track this season.

The driver transfer market heats up

Speaking of the driver transfer market …

The impressive start to the season for Carlos Sainz Jr. — a podium and a win sandwiching an appendectomy — has many wondering just where the Ferrari driver will be next season. With Lewis Hamilton sliding into his seat next year, Sainz is a free agent, and should have no shortage of suitors.

Could that include Red Bull, his former team?

Senior Advisor Dr. Helmut Marko opined on that and more recently, as he is wont to do. “Of course, his form is fascinating,” Marko told Laola1.

Marko then turned to the current occupant of a seat beside Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez.

“But you have to realise that Checo [Pérez] delivered three good races this year. The fact that he fell back so much in Melbourne was due to the damaged underbody and [tire] degradation.

“His only weakness is in qualifying. If he can improve there, there’s no need to think about it. The atmosphere in the team is very good also as far as he is concerned.”

If not Red Bull, then where for Sainz? Mercedes may be an option, meaning we could get a driver flip with Hamilton taking Sainz’s spot at Ferrari while he then takes his former spot with the Silver Arrows. There have also been long-running rumors of a move to Sauber, ahead of that team becoming the Audi works team in 2026. Sainz’s father is a rally driver for Audi, so there is a connection.

Given his hot start to the season, Sainz may be the top choice for teams with a seat to fill for the next season. And for the driver, it might make sense to strike while the iron is hot, and lock in a seat for 2025.

Certainly a story to watch this week.

Yuki Tsunoda at home

Another driver who has been linked with a potential move to Red Bull?

VCARB driver Yuki Tsunoda.

After a frustrating start to the season in Bahrain, punctuated by some frustration at some team orders, Tsunoda has settled in and impressed over the past two weeks. He delivered a strong result for the team in Australia, as his seventh-place finish banked six critical points for the team, and propelled VCARB to sixth in the standings.

Additionally, Tsunoda has out-qualified teammate Daniel Ricciardo — who has also been linked to a potential move to Red Bull — in each of the three races this season, while scoring their only points.

Now Tsunoda gets to race at home, and while he failed to score points a year ago after advancing to Q3 in last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, he has showed more potential in this year’s challenger, and is coming off a pair of Q3 appearances.

In addition, he will be driving in FP1 alongside countryman Ayumu Iwasa, as VCARB is letting the F2 driver participate in FP1 in Ricciardo’s place. It will be the F1 debut for Iwasa, another talented member of the Red Bull driver program.

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Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ayao Komatsu’s home debut

Tsunoda is not the only figure on the F1 grid competing at home this weekend.

For new Haas Team Principal Ayao Komatsu, this is his first race with the team while in the big chair.

“Yeah, it’s pretty special,” said Komatsu in a video released by the team ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix. “I left Japan 30 years ago and I did not think that in 30-years’ time I would be back at the Japanese Grand Prix as a Team Principal.

“I think it is a pretty special moment.”

For Komatsu, while he is hoping the team has solved their biggest problem from a year ago — tire degradation — he is concerned about the high-speed corners Suzuka has to offer.

“Having done three races this year on very different circuits, I’m really pleased that we’ve scored twice out of three events, with one point in Jeddah and three points in Melbourne. We’ve shown our race pace is better than our qualifying pace, especially in Melbourne, so that’s clearly a strength,” said Komatsu in the team’s media preview. “At the same time, qualifying in Melbourne showed the weakness of the VF-24 and it will be a bit similar in Suzuka unfortunately in terms of circuit requirement, as Suzuka has sector one with high-speed corners.”

“When we saw those high-speed corners in Bahrain, in Jeddah around sector 1, and in Melbourne, we saw our car is not quite there in the high-speed areas, so sector 1 in Suzuka is going to be a huge challenge for us,” added Komatsu. “How we’re going to manage that lack of high speed, grip and balance needed to perform in qualifying in Suzuka will be important, as it’s not an easy circuit to overtake.

“That’s going to be a challenge for us, but we’ve got a couple of ideas, so we’ll be looking to do a few experiments on Friday to improve that side. Regarding race pace, like in Melbourne, I think it will be stronger than our qualifying pace, so thinking about our race strategy we’ll need to look at how we can capitalize on that, having a better race strategy in Suzuka.”

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