2010 Japanese Grand Prix preview
For round sixteen of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, Formula One has traveled to the circuit of Suzuka for the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix. Suzuka has been the center of Japanese motor sport since 1962, the first Formula One race was in 1987, and this weekend Suzuka will host the 20th Formula One Grand Prix in its history. The track was designed by Dutchman Hans Hugenholtz and it is the only figure 8-shaped circuit on the calendar. The track is one of the most demanding, but also most rewarding circuits of the season. It is highly rated by drivers, as it has a mix of almost every type of corner, the 130R corner which is taken flat-out, is together with Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps one of the most challenging corners in Grand Prix racing.
In 1989 Suzuka became the scene of one of the most controversial finishes of a Grand Prix season ever, during the race McLaren drivers Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna collided and this decided the outcome of the championship. Prost initially led the race and was chased by Senna. After 47 laps Senna caught up with his archenemy at the chicane before the start-finish straight, he decided to take his chances and tried to overtake Prost on the inside, but Prost shut the door, both cars tangled and stranded at the first turn of the chicane. Prost retired from the race, but with a little help of the marshals Senna managed to get his car going again and ultimately won the race, but he was later disqualified for cutting the chicane, and Prost won the title.
In 1990 Senna returned the favor to Prost, who was now driving for Ferrari, and ruthlessly crashed into him at high speed in the first corner after the start, both cars disappeared in a cloud of dust, ended up in the gravel and both drivers retired from the race. That year the title went to the Brazilian. Asked at the time whether these kind of actions were acceptable Senna replied, "What is acceptable in racing is what you can get away with."
The FIA has appointed four stewards who will make up the F1 Stewards Panel for the race in Japan: Mexican Jose Abed and Swiss Paul Gutjahr will represent the FIA, Kazunari Yamanashi will represent the hosting country Japan and ex-Formula One driver Alexander Wurz will for the second time represent the drivers. Wurz is the youngest steward who joined the panel this year, and was active in Formula One from 1996-2000. After a few years as test driver, he drove one race for McLaren in 2006. In 2007 he joined the Williams team and completed another full race season. He participated in 69 races, scored three podium places and 49 world championship points during his career. He also won the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1996 and 2009.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Racing seem to have lost their momentum since championship leader Mark Webber won the Hungarian Grand Prix, during the last three races they were not as dominant as they have been at the start of the season. Webber is still 11 points ahead of Fernando Alonso, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko recently suggested the team would let him drive more defensively, but the Australian thinks he still needs to win races. "It's nice that I have a little buffer, it's not very big but it's something I would rather have than not. We still have to go out and give it all we've got," he said. But he expects the competition will be tough, "You can't discount any of the top three teams in Japan this weekend. I'm optimistic that my RB6 will be competitive, but I'm expecting Ferrari and McLaren to be up there as well. Ferrari have won the last two races and it's clear that Alonso is back in the game after his victory in Singapore two weeks ago."
Sebastian Vettel won the race last year, and is also concerned about the progress Ferrari has made, "Ferrari has made a step forward in the last couple of races, so they will be strong and don't forget McLaren." He is confident Red Bull will perform well this weekend, "I think we have a very competitive car this year on all circuits, so we can be confident." But added, "Suzuka should suit our car, but we still have to go there and prove it. There are still a lot of drivers fighting for the title and they are very close to each other, it's tight and a lot of things can still happen. We need to make sure we get the best out of ourselves and then we'll see."
Ferrari still in the race thanks to a charging Alonso
Ferrari's season started well when Alonso won the first race of the season, but after a few races their performance went downhill. However, Alonso did not give up and managed to decrease the gap to the championship leader by winning three of the five last Grands Prix, and once again showed he is one of the most talented drivers in today's Formula One.
Alonso thinks Red Bull is the favorite at Suzuka, but he will go flat out this weekend. "Now it starts getting serious, we will have to experience some pain and it is time for everyone to give their all, without taking a single backward step," the two-time World Champion said. Although he certainly doesn't rule out a victory at Suzuka, he is cautious about his chances, "So many times this year we have seen that the situation can change really quickly, so anything could still happen."
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has urged Felipe Massa to help Alonso during the final four races. Montezemolo, "I have waited for Felipe with great perseverance in the last four races. I want a strong Massa who will shave points off the rivals." He thinks it was the right decision to concentrate on Alonso, "The decision to focus on Alonso has been proven to be right. He is extremely strong and very close to the team, and has been able to blend in well from day one despite the concerns of some." Montezemolo expects Massa will be a team player, "Those who race for Ferrari don't race for themselves, but for the Ferrari team colors."
Massa himself is adamant his supporting role will not be permanent. "For sure I am not Ferrari's second Barrichello. If that happens, I will stop driving. I'm not going to go racing to be eligible for second place," he said ahead of the race. Massa admitted Alonso is 'very good', but reckons his team mate is not better than any other team mate he has had. About his poor performance he said, "I have had big problems with the tyres. For my driving style, even the soft tyres are too hard. And I'm sure many other drivers have had the same problem."
Montezemolo reacted on Massa's comments and tried to end the speculations about his future role at Ferrari, "Felipe is and will always stay a number one driver for Ferrari. I expect the performances of a number one driver from him -- both in the next four races and, with different tyres, next year."
McLaren on the attack
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has promised they will raise their game and believes their recent bad luck has actually made them stronger. "Perhaps our recent misfortunes are exactly what's needed to strengthen our approach and further narrow our focus. We are on the attack: we know all about taking the fight to the end, and I know I can rely on every single individual within this organization to make sure we're hitting with absolutely everything we have until the very end of the season," a determined and confident Whitmarsh said.
Lewis Hamilton, who is currently third in the championship, 20 points behind leader Webber, crashed out of the last two Grands Prix, but he is determined to put up a fight. "Suzuka is very much unfinished business for me. I raced the best I could last year, but our car just wasn't fast enough. This year, I'm holding nothing back -- I need a strong result to get my title hopes back on track, and that will be my complete focus from the moment I first sit in the cockpit on Friday morning," he said.
His team colleague Jenson Button, who is fifth in the championship and 25 points behind the leader, is also confident ahead of the race. "I think the world championship is still completely open: obviously, there's no room for mistakes, but any of the top five drivers could easily steal the title. It might seem a disadvantage to be behind in the points standings, but, make no mistake, I know I can win this championship. I'm still as determined as ever to keep the number one on my car for 2011." For him the race at Suzuka is also unfinished business, although he had some good results in the past, he has so far never won the Japanese Grand Prix.
Pit stops and tyres
Expected pit stop schedule for Suzuka:
For 1 Stop - between laps 30-34
For 2 Stops - between laps 16-21 and 32-38
For 3 Stops - between laps 15-17, 26-30 and 38-41
Bridgestone tyre report
Bridgestone will bring the Soft and Hard tyre compounds to Suzuka, one of the most challenging circuits for the Bridgestone Potenzas. Drivers will need to get the maximum performance from their tyres, especially for the long fast sweeping corners like the 130R.
Hirohide Hamashima about Bridgestone's last home Grand Prix, "As we found last year, there is a newer track surface on the east side of the circuit and this delivers different grip levels from those found on the older surface of the west side. The nature of the track with its figure of eight configuration tests the cars all round handling characteristics and all four tyres will be subject to many stresses. A set-up which gets the best from traction and grip, whilst allowing quick changes of direction from the tyres is required at Suzuka."
The race for the best rookie team
All three newcomers have had several retirements throughout the season due to technical problems, but it must be said that the by the FIA recommended Xtrac transmission and the hydraulics that operate the system were the culprit in the majority of those retirements. Lotus was also not happy with the performance of the Cosworth engine, and that is the main reason Lotus decided to change engine and gearbox, next year they will use a Renault customer engine and the by Red Bull Technology designed gearbox and hydraulics which, at least on paper, would give them the same package as Red Bull.
At the start of the season Lotus owner Tony Fernandes and Virgin Racing owner Richard Branson made a bet about who would take tenth place in the Constructors' Championship, the one who loses has to dress up like a stewardess and serve drinks during a flight of the winners airline company. So far it seems Lotus' decision to hire experienced drivers and engineers has paid off. Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli have been able to develop the car together with their engineers, and although they still haven't scored any points, the team has certainly made more progress than their rival Virgin. Kovalainen's 13th place in Australia puts Lotus ahead of Virgin, Lotus is currently 10th in the championship.
But not just the honor of Lotus and Virgin are at stake, as the prize money is shared among the first ten teams in the championship, which would mean they would get millions of Euros extra. Both Fernandes and Branson have indicated they will stay committed to Formula One and have no financial problems as Bernie Ecclestone recently suggested when he remarked one or two teams wouldn't make it to the end of the season.
Meanwhile the cash-strapped Hispania team is juggling with drivers and sponsors to make it to the end of the season, Sakon Yamamoto and Christian Klien have replaced Karun Chandhok during a number of races. HRT team principal Colin Kolles has now indicated Senna and Yamamoto will be the regular drivers for the remaining four races.
The going gets tough
Hamilton, Vettel and Button cannot afford to make mistakes, they are respectively 20, 21 and 25 points behind the leader, a crash, a mistake or a technical failure means they will get further behind, and missing out on points will jeopardize their championship aspirations. The eight allocated engines each diver has are now at the end of their working life, and an engine failure can not be excluded. The weather can also play an important role, there is rain forecasted for this weekend, and although rain is interesting from a spectator's point of view, it can lead to unexpected conditions on track, unscheduled pit stops, wrong tyre choices, and above all: rain on a high-speed circuit will make life for all drivers very difficult.
This season can already be classified as a classic season, a season with ups and downs for the five remaining title candidates, and it is highly unlikely the hunt for the title will be decided before the last race has finished. Triple World Champion Niki Lauda tips Alonso for the title. "Because he has twice been champion, and not by chance," the Austrian said. "He is the best driver today. When you assess together a driver's speed, intelligence, ability to take risks efficiently to score maximum points always, he is simply the best." Whether he is simply the best will be known after the Japanese Grand Prix, visit Motorsport.com for the latest news.