Max Verstappen says he needs a “perfect weekend” if he is to secure his second world title at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver will be crowned champion if he wins Sunday’s race and takes the point for fastest lap.
In other situations, it depends on where Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finish.
“It would be great if it happened here, but if it doesn’t, it will be even more so in the next race,” Verstappen said.
“It doesn’t change anything, you just try to maximize as much as you can.
“I need a perfect weekend here to get the title, but to be honest, I’m not thinking too much about it.”
Japan returns to the F1 calendar from 2019 after a pandemic-induced hiatus, and Verstappen said Red Bull’s relationship with engine supplier Honda made the Suzuka race “special” for the team.
The Japanese company officially pulled out of F1 at the end of last season, but has continued to build and supply engines to Red Bull under a so-called “technical support” relationship.
This weekend, the Honda logo returned to Red Bull cars and sister team Alpha Tauri for the first time since the final race of last season, in what Red Bull and Honda said was a “strengthening partnership”.
The move underscores the feeling in F1 that Honda was still involved in F1 this year, despite saying it was quitting to focus on zero-emission mobility.
Verstappen said: “Honda never went away and it’s very special to be back in the car for the home grand prix.”
To clinch the title on Sunday, with four races to go, Verstappen needs to win eight points over Leclerc and 10 over Perez, the only other two drivers still mathematically in with a chance of the title. He has a 104 point lead over Leclerc and 106 over Perez.
There are several scenarios. But for example, if Verstappen wins but doesn’t set the fastest lap, Leclerc has to finish lower than second to be sure of the title.
If Verstappen is second, Leclerc needs to be lower than fourth and Perez needs to be lower than fifth.
Leclerc led Verstappen by 46 points after the first three races of the season, but Ferrari’s season has seen it imploded after a series of operational and strategic mistakes by the team, in addition to reliability issues.
Leclerc said: “Realistically, Max will be champion. If not this weekend, it will be very soon.
“We have to focus on ourselves and try to train well on Sunday. We’ve always been strong and the performance has always been enough to fight for the win over the weekend, and there weren’t many.
“But it’s all about unification – strategy and tire management – and that’s why we’re fighting at the moment and it’s the step we’ll have to take to fight for the championship next year.”
Mercedes driver George Russell said he believed he and team-mate Lewis Hamilton could be at the front this weekend in Japan.
Russell said the team regretted last weekend’s difficult Singapore grand prix, where Hamilton was ninth and Russell thought they had a chance to beat Russell out of the points.
But Russell said he had reason to believe they could be competitive in Japan on the tight, high-speed Suzuka track.
“We have a clear trend of where the car works well and where it works,” Russell said. “It’s a shame for us as a team that we didn’t capitalize on that race weekend, we all felt that. But there are still a lot of positive signs to take away. We struggled on the street circuits earlier in the year and that was probably our fastest weekend of the race.
“Ferrari has been very quick this year in the medium and high speed corners and the Red Bulls have been very slippery through the straights.
“It won’t be easy, but we showed reasonable pace on Sunday, so there’s no reason why we can’t be in contention.”