Alonso could give Honda something to smile about
Rain may provide Japanese engine-makers with a PR opportunity
Japanese Grand Prix practice one
Sky Sports F1, 2am Thursday night
A spirited drive from Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia last week wasn't enough to stop Lewis Hamilton extending his lead in the drivers championship and the Englishman is now 34 points ahead with five races remaining.
There are reasons Vettel can be hopeful of closing the gap in this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, however.
Ferrari have continued pushing hard to develop their 2017 car while most other teams have switched focus to next year.
Although the result sheets don't reflect it, Ferrari have had the upper hand at the last two races.
They were expected to do so at twisty Singapore, but it was a shock that Mercedes struggled at Sepang with Hamilton unable to compete with Max Verstappen during the race and teammate Valtteri Bottas struggling.
It seems likely Hamilton would also have been behind the Ferraris had Vettel not started from the back and Kimi Raikkonen retired from the race before the start after qualifying second.
The Mercedes seems to struggle to get the best out of Pirelli's tyres under certain conditions - particularly on a "green" track. Thunderstorms in Malaysia didn't directly affect the racing, but they washed the track clean between sessions, creating a surface the Mercs did not enjoy.
It could be a similar scenario in Japan. Friday is expected to be wet all day with the weather gradually improving throughout the weekend.
With that forecast, don't expect a lot of running in the opening practice sessions. Nothing of use can be learned from running on a wet track when the race is going to be dry.
The leading cars might skip the session entirely if the forecast is correct, but Honda will likely want to keep their home crowd happy and there could be a chance for some positive PR in what has been another difficult year.
McLaren are dumping Honda power at the end of the season, but it would be good publicity if Fernando Alonso topped a session in Japan and that is worth a speculative punt at a big price.
Alonso set the fastest time in the first part of qualifying at Silverstone in the wet, and the Spaniard is hugely popular in Japan.
F Alonso fastest in practice one
0.5pt each-way 40-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
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