Formula 1

Nico Rosberg must beat Lewis Hamilton at Japanese Grand Prix

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Nico Rosberg is set for the most crucial racing weekend of his career as F1 heads to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.

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After losing his championship lead to Lewis Hamilton, following his retirement in Singapore two weeks ago, the momentum has very much swung back in the Briton's favour, who is now three points ahead of Rosberg and in search of a third straight win this weekend.

A must win

Rosberg has failed to capture a win since his dominant home victory at Hockenheim in July and has been somewhat out of sorts ever since he was riled by Mercedes for causing the incident between himself and Hamilton at Spa three races ago.

In Italy, the German gifted his team-mate the victory after making a mistake under braking into the first chicane and, despite only being a few thousandths of a second slower than Hamilton in qualifying, didn't appear quite on the same pace as the Briton even before his trouble-hit race in Singapore.

Therefore this weekend's race in Suzuka has all the hallmarks of the Monaco Grand Prix back in May. After losing his championship lead for the first time in Spain, following four straight wins for Hamilton, Rosberg dug in and claimed a controversial pole but would go on to take a key victory on the streets of Monte Carlo and turn the tide in his favour.

A repeat of Monaco is needed in Japan otherwise, should Hamilton win, his lead will extend to at least 10 points and with only four races to go after this one, despite the double points in Abu Dhabi, it would be very difficult to see Rosberg recovering that gap.

Super Suzuka

Certainly for Rosberg he couldn't ask for a venue more steeped in championship-defining history than Suzuka.

This used to be the place where it was all decided as the Japanese race used to be the finale not too long ago and Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Sebastian Vettel and Ayrton Senna have all won championships at what is a very challenging track.

I'll go into more detail in the track guide but a basic snapshot of this great circuit is one of sweeping curves, an unique figure-of-eight design and some of the most recognisable sights on the calendar.

From the 'Snake' to Spoon and the legendary 130R, Suzuka is a Spa of the East and indeed comes close to rivalling the great Belgium track as the favourite among fans and drivers alike.

Ricciardo's race?

The sweeping turns also provide another great opportunity for Red Bull to try and get on terms with Mercedes once again.

With only one long straight and plenty of technical turns to make up for a lack of top speed it could be a key race for the outsider in the championship charge Daniel Ricciardo.

The Australian is only 60 points off the championship lead and with Mercedes weary of reliability, he still has to be considered a viable threat should the Silver Arrows slip up.

With tensions still high between the two Mercedes drivers, despite the team's best efforts to keep them as low as possible, a circuit like Suzuka, which was infamous for collisions in the great Senna - Prost rivalry, is also more than capable of presenting Ricciardo with a chance to further put the pressure on the Brackley hierarchy.

All eyes on Fernando

Away from the championship aspect, this promises to be a fascinating week for speculation over the future of Fernando Alonso.

Talk is rampant over whether the Spaniard is preparing to leave Ferrari and rejoin McLaren and being in Japan, the home of McLaren's soon-to-be engine supplier Honda, almost guarantees all eyes will be on Fernando this weekend.

Some even believe an announcement is coming on who will be in the MP4-30's next year so watch this space.

Key Constructors' battles

On the track several key battles in the Constructors' championship will continue. Williams and Ferrari are set to resume their scrap for third in the standings with the Grove team nine points clear of the Italian giants.

Much like Red Bull and Mercedes, Suzuka will offer Ferrari the chance to be more competitive against their more powerful rivals, however, the key will be for the Scuderia to have both cars involved in the fight as Kimi Raikkonen's inconsistency continues.

Also one to watch is McLaren vs. Force India for fifth in the championship. A great race followed by problems for McLaren in Singapore meant Vijay Mallya's team jumped six points clear of their Woking-based competitors and I expect very little to cover them on the track again this weekend.

Mercedes in focus

Despite all the sub-plots the focus will remain by and large on the Mercedes pair and whether Nico Rosberg can respond to Lewis Hamilton's recent form.

With confidence key around a drivers circuit like Suzuka, you may suggest that Hamilton is favourite to win as he is clearly the man with the momentum but as this great old track has proven so many times, it takes one moment for the pendulum to change again. 

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