Suzuka is a playground for Sebastian Vettel. Qualifying for Sunday’s race saw him continue his run of taking pole position every time he has appeared at the track – this was his fourth in a row. Every time he has got the job done with his first effort, securing places in Q2 and Q3 without using too many tyres then clinching pole position in the top ten shootout.
Unusually, the biggest threat to his pole position came after the session had ended. The stewards announced he was being investigated for holding up championship leader Fernando Alonso. Twice already this year we’ve seen drivers lose pole position due to penalties. But after keeping everyone in suspense for three hours the stewards decided only to reprimand Vettel without docking him any places.
That leaves him the clear favourite to win at Suzuka for the third time in four years. On Wednesday this column advised backing him when his odds of winning were 5.0. They have now been slashed to 1.5.
Vettel is in a strong position heading into the race. He’s on pole position with his team mate Mark Webber alongside. After that he has three more cars between him and his major rivals: Alonso and the McLarens.
The greatest threat to Vettel’s chances of winning could be the reliability of his car, which has failed twice in races this year, costing him victory in Valencia. If you already backed him when the odds were longer you may wish to consider insuring yourself against that possibility. The odds on him failing to complete the race are 5.0.
Long odds on the rest
Red Bull have been the team to beat at Suzuka this weekend and that is reflected in the odds for the race. After Webber (5.0 to win), the next shortest odds are 18.0 on Alonso and Jenson Button (sixth and eighth respectively on the provisional grid).
Kamui Kobayashi starts third on the grid with odds of 25.0 to win. This makes him one of the most attractive long-shots we’ve seen all year. From third on the grid he has a decent chance of getting past Webber, who often makes poor starts. Sauber have introduced an upgrade for their car which has worked well and the C31 is already one of the best on the grid when it comes to preserving its tyres.
Make no mistake, this would be a fairytale result if it happened. Kobayashi has never been on the podium at an F1 race and no Japanese driver has ever won a Grand Prix, let alone their home race.
Fastest lap bets
As Vettel looks like poor value for the win at this stage, it’s worth looking at other betting options. Fastest lap usually offers longer odds and it doesn’t disappoint this weekend.
Fastest lap is a tricky bet to make. It is often taken by a driver who ends up on a fresh set of tyres late in the race without traffic in front of him. That’s not easy to predict.
Michael Schumacher is worth a look here. He starts 23rd following his penalty from Singapore and will have to pursue an unorthodox strategy to gain ground. In qualifying he took care to save sets of fresh tyres for the race.
With most drivers expected to make two stops for tyres Schumacher could be the one to gamble on a three-stopper, and be well-placed to set fastest lap late in the race. At odds of 20.0 it’s 13 times better value than picking Vettel to win.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.