5 talking points ahead of a potentially pivotal Japanese Grand Prix


Lewis Hamilton heads to the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka 23 points adrift of Nico Rosberg in the title race, after his latest setback in Malaysia.

Can the three-time World Champion bounce back from disappointment, or will his team mate extend his lead?

Here, we consider five talking points heading into the 17th round of the championship.

1. Engine mystery for Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton leaves the pit lane - (Joshua Paul/AP)

Mercedes are yet to discover the reason behind Hamilton's latest engine failure in Malaysia. The 31-year-old was on course to move clear of Rosberg in the championship race before he was forced to retire with only 15 laps remaining.

The broken engine arrived back in Brixworth on Tuesday - where it will undergo analysis - but Mercedes remain none the wiser as to why the Briton has been scuppered in at least three Grands Prix, while Rosberg has enjoyed a relatively trouble-free year.

"We are continuing to investigate the issue with his engine and are doing everything we can to ensure that it is first understood and then contained for the remainder of the season," Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe said on Thursday.

2. Hamilton to hit back?

Lewis Hamilton looks thoughtful - (David Davies/PA)

How Hamilton responds in Japan will be crucial to his chances of making history this year by becoming the first British driver to win four World Drivers' Championship titles. Hamilton, who touched down in Tokyo on Monday evening, has won in Japan on three occasions - here in 2014 and again last year - while also turning in a masterful display at Fuji in the wet to triumph back in 2007.

Hamilton appeared to hint at foul play on Sunday, and while the Briton has been desperately unlucky in 2016, it should not be forgotten that he also has the best reliability record of any world champion in the sport's history.

His failure to finish on Sunday was only his 11th from 183 starts (6%). Sebastian Vettel is nearer 9%, while Fernando Alonso's is beyond 10.

3. More wild celebrations for Ricciardo?

Daniel Ricciardo drinks from his boot - (Vincent Thian/AP)

Daniel Ricciardo has established himself as one of the most likeable drivers on the grid, and his victory in Malaysia provoked wild celebrations both on the podium, where he performed his now customary 'shoey', and away from the rostrum too.

While Ricciardo drank champagne from his sweaty race boot, nine Australian tourists stripped to their underwear - emblazoned with the Malaysian flag - and attempted to do the same. The authorities, however, took a dim view and they were arrested.

"I don't think they meant any harm," Ricciardo told Australia's Channel 7. "They were just enjoying the celebrations."

4. Things can only get Vettel for Sebastian

Sebastian Vettel - (Vincent Thian/AP)

While Ricciardo led Max Verstappen home in a Red Bull one-two, his former team-mate Sebastian Vettel endured yet another torrid afternoon. The four-time world champion crashed with Rosberg at the opening corner and retired from the race after breaking his suspension.

Vettel will now have to serve a three-place grid penalty in Japan. The Ferrari driver, who phoned Rosberg to apologise for the crash, was expected to take the challenge to Mercedes this season, but after winning three races last year he has failed to get off the mark this term. He has also fallen behind his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in the driver standings.

5. Palmer out to prove his worth

Jolyon Palmer during practice at Silverstone - (David Davies/PA)

Jolyon Palmer will be desperate to build on his first points finish in Formula One as he attempts to convince Renault he is worthy of another year. The British rookie crossed the line in 10th on Sunday to send a timely reminder to the Renault hierarchy, with the French team yet to announce their plans for 2017.

Regarding their line-up for next year, team boss Fred Vasseur said: "Clearly we are looking at every scenario possible, and of course this also means taking into consideration the work done by our drivers."