This weekend is the final round of the 2019 Super Formula championship and there are five drivers still with a mathematical chance of claiming the title.
Naoki Yamamoto heads to the season finale at Suzuka one point ahead of second placed Nick Cassidy. This after Cassidy looked like he would extend his points lead over Yamamoto at Okayama but a late race spin meant Cassidy finished outside the points and Yamamoto claimed two points to take the lead in the championship.
Three points behind Cassidy and four points behind Yamamoto is Alex Palou who thanks to a strong three races prior to this weekend has put himself into title contention.
Four points behind Palou and eight behind Yamamoto is Kenta Yamashita who has moved into title contention thanks to winning last time out in Okayama going along with his three other points finishes he achieved in the first three races of the season.Embed from Getty Images
The final title contender is Kamui Kobayashi who is perhaps a dark horse being ten points behind Yamamoto with fourteen available across the weekend. Kobayashi has finished on the podium twice this season at Sugo and Motegi, with his other points finish being at Fuji. He is the only title contender yet to win a race this season.
The championship battle will be the main focus of the race weekend but behind the championship fight is a group of seven drivers covered by three points, led by Austrian Lucas Auer who has finished inside the points in the two races prior to this weekend’s finale. Auer is two points ahead of Sho Tsuboi, Kazuki Nakajima and Nirei Fukuzumi. While three points behind the Austrian are Yuhi Sekiguchi, Ryo Hirakawa and Tomoki Nojiri.
Tsuboi hasn’t finished inside the points since his second place finish at Fuji three races ago, however Nakajima finished second in Okayama while Fukuzumi retired in the last race, but has finished fifth three times this season. Sekiguchi hasn’t finished inside the points since Fuji, but did win in Autopolis while Hirakawa won in Motegi. Lastly Nojiri has finished inside the points in three of the six races contested this season, two of which are fourth place finishes.Embed from Getty Images
Seven points behind Auer is Kazuya Oshima who is the beginning of another group of drivers who are separated by two points which include Hiroaki Ishiura, Tadasuke Makino, Yuji Kunimoto and Harrison Newey who claimed his first podium of the season in Okayama last time out.
Oshima did score points in Okayama, finishing eighth, his only other finish being third at Autopolis. Ishiura has finished inside the points in three of the last four races while Newey’s only points have come from his Okayama podium. Makino hasn’t finished inside the points since finishing fourth at Autopolis while Kunimoto hasn’t finished in the top eight since the third round of the season at Sugo.
A complicated title fight
Unlike in another series like Formula 1 for example, there is a very real threat that those from sixth down to seventeenth or lower in the standings could end up having a fundamental say in who is eventually the 2019 Super Formula champion.
This is when you consider that seven of the drivers from sixth to fifteenth have finished on the podium this season while three drivers from sixth to seventeenth have claimed pole position, which is worth one point in Super Formula.
Lastly, of the seven drivers from sixth to fifteenth to have finished on the podium, two of those finishes were race victories, Sekiguchi’s Autopolis win and Hirakawa’s victory at Motegi.
There was the possibility that Patricio O’Ward could have also been a factor in the title fight having finished sixth in Okayama, however having left the Red Bull driver programme his seat in the series will be taken up by Estonian Juri Vips who will make his debut in Super Formula having spent 2019 in the FIA Formula 3 Championship. Vips could yet have a say in the title if he settles quickly and can be on the pace in qualifying and the race.
All of this makes it a lot more complicated for the five drivers battling for the championship in the season finale as they effectively have to battle with everyone, not just their immediate title rivals, in order to ensure they score enough points to become champion.
There is always the possibility that there could be a massive anti-climax, for example with the race being effectively cancelled, like it was in 2017 due to weather conditions.
It is also worth noting that this will be the second time that the drivers will have raced at Suzuka this season with the circuit having also hosted the season opener back in late April.Embed from Getty Images
The season opener was won by Nick Cassidy ahead of Naoki Yamamoto and Kenta Yamashita. Alex Palou retired from the opening race of the season while Kamui Kobayashi finished outside the points in ninth.
If that result were to repeat itself, which considering this is motor racing could happen, then it would see Nick Cassidy finally claim a Super Formula title, having been racing in the series since 2017.