Japanese GP: McLaren preview

The Formula One fraternity travels to the Suzuka circuit for the 2003 Formula One Drivers' Championship decider. West McLaren Mercedes driver Kimi Raikkonen needs to take victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, with his title contender Michael ...

The Formula One fraternity travels to the Suzuka circuit for the 2003 Formula One Drivers' Championship decider. West McLaren Mercedes driver Kimi Raikkonen needs to take victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, with his title contender Michael Schumacher ending the race out of the points, to finish top of the table. Kimi, who will compete in his 50th Formula One Grand Prix in Japan, currently lies in second position in the Championship on 83 points, nine behind Michael. Team-mate David Coulthard, who will become the longest serving McLaren driver in Japan with 132 races, is in seventh position with 45 points and West McLaren Mercedes is in third in the Constructors' table with a current total of 128.

Kimi Raikkonen:

"The United States Grand Prix was a weekend of mixed emotions for me and the team. We pushed as much as we could and had a good strategy but the weather spoiled our chances, but there is still a chance to win the Drivers' title. It will not be as easy as if I had taken victory at Indy, but I enjoy a challenge! Obviously I have nothing to lose, I know what I have to do and am only focused on that, not how Michael is going and I know that the team will do everything they can. Hopefully it will be quite an exciting race and we will just have to wait and see what happens."

"It is a tough and technical circuit, one of the longest we race at and it has a unique figure-of-eight layout. Suzuka has a great variety of corners including the famous 130R, the long and very fast left sweep, and the Spoon. The circuit is low grip in nature and we tend to use a medium-high downforce set-up. The best place to overtake is the final chicane, and the track is very light on brakes. Although there are 17 corners, they are mostly very fast and you tend to take them flat out, lifting slightly or dabbing the brakes rather than the dramatic stops of say Monza."

David Coulthard:

"Since the United States Grand Prix, we have been testing at Silverstone with Alex Wurz, Pedro de la Rosa and Darren Turner at the wheel. Work was focused on set-up for Suzuka and a couple of new modifications, which received positive feedback. I am now looking forward to Suzuka, it's a definite favourite amongst the drivers as it is an immense challenge and great fun to drive. It has medium and high speed corners, sweeping straights, gradient changes and awesome corners such as the 130R. However, the track has an abrasive surface, which can lead to high levels of tyre degradation."

"One of the most important sections of the track is the 'S' curves complex, you need to have a well balanced set-up to ensure you maintain your speed through the bends to put in a good lap time. With the Drivers' Championship still to be decided, it is going to be an interesting Grand Prix, and I wish Kimi the best of luck for the race. Following the Japanese Grand Prix, I will be taking a couple of weeks off, before beginning to focus once again on preparation for what will be my tenth season in Formula One in 2004."

Martin Whitmarsh, Managing Director, McLaren International:

"Despite the final result at Indianapolis, we had a positive overall performance. The MP4-17D worked well and Kimi and David both had strong and committed drives. The affect the rain had on the outcome of the Grand Prix was unfortunate but that is racing. Of course there was an element of disappointment, however we are now fully focused on Kimi securing the win he needs at Suzuka to have the possibility of taking the Drivers' crown, it's an outside chance, but a genuine one."

"The Japanese Grand Prix is famous for tense title showdowns and this year is no different as it marks the culmination of an enthralling 2003 season, and what better track than Suzuka, which always seems to encourage exciting racing. We are under no illusions with regards the challenge that faces Kimi and the team, and that although he can do his part the final result relies on where Michael finishes. It will be an interesting weekend, and if the action does not go Kimi's way, we must not under-estimate the part he had played in what has been a genuine three-way battle for the Championship in only his fourth year of single-seater racing, contesting the title against significantly more experienced competitors."

Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport:

"The Japanese Grand Prix will see the final decision of the Formula One World Championship on the challenging Suzuka circuit for the first time since 1999, and our team is still in the title chase as Kimi has the chance to win the World Championship. Although it looks to be extremely difficult to overcome the nine-points deficit to Michael Schumacher our team will work very hard to help Kimi win the race."

"The circuit with its mostly fast and medium-fast corners is a real challenge for every driver. Tyres, set-up and of course the weather will be crucial for the performance. The last race at Indianapolis showed that the MP4-17D is still a competitive package, with Kimi starting on pole position and finishing second as the best Michelin runner. We hope to continue on that performance level to finish the most thrilling Formula One season for years on a high."


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Pedro de la Rosa , Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Kimi Raikkonen , Alexander Wurz , Darren Turner , Norbert Haug , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Mercedes , McLaren