As Formula One heads for the final two races of the season there's still the constructors' title to be decided and two teams in contention. Fernando Alonso laid claim to the drivers' crown in Brazil but Renault and McLaren are still battling it...
As Formula One heads for the final two races of the season there's still the constructors' title to be decided and two teams in contention. Fernando Alonso laid claim to the drivers' crown in Brazil but Renault and McLaren are still battling it out to be the winning squad. The first of the concluding back-to-back events of the 2005 season is the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
Suzuka is another circuit favoured by many drivers and is quite a technical challenge. With a mixture of sweeping corners and hairpins, along with high speed straights, driver skills are as important as a well balanced car. The Esses at the start of the lap can be crucial, where a car needs to handle well for the quick changes of direction.
"It is very technical and complex, and all the drivers feel very good there -- there are lots of high speed corners, and that is a big challenge," said new world champion Alonso in regard to the track. "It is very complicated for the engineers as well, and getting the set-up right is a good challenge for them."
Suzuka is a high downforce circuit and there are not many chances for overtaking. "The only real passing opportunity can be found heading into the chicane before the end of the lap, but following a car closely through 130R is difficult, so drivers have to be totally committed to pull that off," said Toyota technical director Mike Gascoyne.
McLaren's first one-two in five years at Interlagos was not enough to stop Alonso taking the drivers' crown but it did put the Woking squad two points ahead of Renault in the constructors' -- the first time any team apart from Renault has led this year. Naturally Brazil winner Juan Pablo Montoya and teammate Kimi Raikkonen aim to keep McLaren there.
"With two races remaining, myself and Kimi need to take as many points away as possible from both Grands Prix to clinch the constructors' world championship," Montoya remarked. "The car felt really quick in Brazil and there are some modifications coming on board after the recent tests, so we need to maximise this on track."
The McLaren is the faster car but obviously Renault is not about to give its rivals an easy time of things. "It will be a big fight," stated Giancarlo Fisichella. "We are not at McLaren's level in terms of pure speed, but we are closer. I have a great feeling at this circuit, because it is one of my favourite tracks, and the fans are fantastic."
Last year Saturday track-action in Japan was cancelled due to a typhoon warning and qualifying took place on Sunday morning. Michael Schumacher won the race from pole position but the German is not expecting a repeat performance this time around. Ferrari was improved in Brazil but still not on the pace of the leaders.
"I don't want to make any predictions," Schumacher said about this coming weekend's race. "As ever, we will be giving our all. We have not given up all hope for the season. We would like to make the most of the last two races to build up as much experience as possible so that we are ready for next year."
Toyota is hoping to close in and take third place from Ferrari in the constructors' standings but didn't improve its situation in Brazil. Ralf Schumacher scored the team's single point at Interlagos and Toyota is 17 points adrift of the Scuderia. Ralf is optimistic, though, and has good memories of his previous times in Japan, Toyota's home race.
"Suzuka is a circuit I know well from my time racing in the country before I arrived in Formula One," he commented. "The evidence this year shows that we go pretty well on high speed tracks so it would be great to have another strong performance here. We will certainly be aiming to bring home some more points and who knows? Perhaps we can even make it to the podium."
BAR's Takuma Sato is the only Japanese to race in front of his home crowd this weekend but there will be another local hero on track on Friday. Sakon Yamamoto will be behind the wheel as Jordan's third driver for the free practice sessions. He competes in Formula Nippon and the Super GT series and tested for Jordan at Silverstone in September.
"I know the circuit at Suzuka very well so this will be a little advantage," said Yamamoto. "I am glad I could have an initial feeling about the car previous to my Friday drive. I will try to give a lot of useful information to the team for the race. I cannot wait to drive in front of my home crowd."
Sato, naturally, is looking forward to his home event. "The Japanese Grand Prix is a very special race for many reasons," he commented. "I love the layout of the Suzuka circuit as it follows the natural lay of the land and of course the atmosphere over the race weekend is fantastic. The corners and combinations of the track are very challenging, but a lot of fun to drive."
Along with Toyota, Yamamoto and Sato, Sepang is also the home race of Bridgestone. "It is always a great pleasure to compete at our home race in front of our Bridgestone colleagues," said motorsport director Hiroshi Yasukawa. "It does not make the challenge any less easy but I know the Bridgestone Motorsport staff are highly motivated."
There's still a lot to play for in the last two races and we may see a little more of a battle between Renault and McLaren. Now Alonso has the drivers' title he won't have to be quite so cautious and Montoya won't have to think about anything but his own race. McLaren currently looks the favourite for the constructors' crown but it's not over yet.