The 2004 titles are already in the bag, so the atmosphere in the Ferrari garages will certainly be less tense than last year. However, as Ferrari Managing Director, Jean Todt, is fond of saying: "our will to win is as strong as ever." And apart...
The 2004 titles are already in the bag, so the atmosphere in the Ferrari garages will certainly be less tense than last year. However, as Ferrari Managing Director, Jean Todt, is fond of saying: "our will to win is as strong as ever."
And apart from the fact that winning is the Scuderia's only modus operandi, there is another reason for the team to go for victory this weekend: to offer a thank you gift to two of its most important partners, who are based in Japan; Bridgestone and Olympus. The latter is a relative newcomer, enjoying only its second F1 season with the Reds.
In a short space of time, Olympus has truly become "The Eye Of Ferrari," a slogan emblazoned on the side of a Maserati road car that attends all the European rounds of the championship. As a technical partner, Olympus supplies the team with microscopes and endoscopes, for looking inside the engines, without the need to dismantle the power unit.
In addition, it provides its revolutionary E-system cameras for the use of the PR and marketing departments and every single press interview is monitored using Olympus digital voice recorders.
Bridgestone has been with Ferrari since 1999 and given the key role of tyres under the current F1 regulations, the importance of this partnership is easy to understand. The Japanese GP means that, for once, the 1400 tyres the company is sending to the grand prix, for Ferrari and its other partner teams, will not have far to travel by road from the Bridgestone factory outside Tokyo.
It also means that, for many Bridgestone employees working on the F1 project, this is their only chance to see their product in action. Around 1200 Bridgestone staff will be at Suzuka in the Paddock Club and grandstands, while Olympus will also have a higher headcount than usual.
The Suzuka circuit was originally built back in 1962 as a Honda test track and the car company still owns it as part of a large complex that includes an hotel, an amusement park and car and motorcycle racing schools. Dutchman, John Hugenholz, who was regarded as the Hermann Tilke of his day, designed the layout, which has remained pretty much unchanged to this day.
At 5.807 kilometres, it is slightly longer than most modern tracks and it is unique in doubling back on itself with a figure of eight layout which includes 18 corners. Along with Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Suzuka is generally regarded as the drivers' favourite, offering a real challenge where courage and skill can make a difference.
Technically speaking, Suzuka is a very demanding, medium downforce circuit, which is tough on tyres. The wide variety of corner types means that car set-up is always a compromise. The one downside of a track primarily built for testing it that it provides few overtaking opportunities.
The main chance to pass another car comes at the final 80 km/h chicane before the pit straight, but even here it is difficult. Preceding the chicane is the 130R, a blindingly quick left hander that was modified last year in the interests of safety.
Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello is the man on form at the moment, having won the last two grands prix and he will no doubt be hoping to make it a hat-trick in Japan. Naturally, he will face stiff opposition from team-mate Michael Schumacher, while BAR-Honda, currently second in the Constructors' classification will be chasing that elusive first victory on its engine supplier's home turf. As the only Japanese driver on the grid, BAR's Takuma Sato will be the most popular man as far as the crowd is concerned.