MICHELIN TARGETS SUZUKA BREAKTHROUGH Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin) might have put the Formula One crown beyond his rivals' reach with a controlled drive to third place in Brazil last month, but one fierce title battle has still to be...
MICHELIN TARGETS SUZUKA BREAKTHROUGH
Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin) might have put the Formula One crown beyond his rivals' reach with a controlled drive to third place in Brazil last month, but one fierce title battle has still to be resolved as teams prepare for the final races of the campaign in Japan and China.
Michelin partners McLaren Mercedes and RenaultF1 are separated by just two points in the world championship for constructors. Team McLaren Mercedes could wrap it up at Suzuka this weekend - but even with a one-two finish it would have to rely on RenaultF1 failing to place either of its cars in the top six.
Lying about 30 miles south-west of Nagoya - Japan's third city - Suzuka is owned by Honda and forms part of an entertainment complex that includes a large funfair. Originally opened in 1962, it is a fast, challenging track that ranks as one of the drivers' traditional favourites.
Suzuka's figure-of-eight configuration is unique within the world championship - and the Japanese GP is also unusual in F1 terms because Michelin has yet to win it. Although the race featured on the calendar in 1977, when Michelin made its F1 debut, its lone partner Renault did not take part (it was not compulsory to attend every race in those days).
The race was subsequently dropped from the schedule until 1987, by which time Michelin had taken an F1 sabbatical. Consequently, the company did not compete in Japan's annual showpiece until 2001.
Since then it has challenged for victory - notably in 2003, when Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) led comfortably prior to a hydraulic problem - but has yet to break its duck. Having absolutely dominated the season so far, however, with 16 wins from 17 races, Michelin's prospects for Sunday are encouraging.
In last season's corresponding fixture, Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) and Jenson Button (B*A*R-Honda) were Michelin's leading finishers, in second and third places.
This will be the 21st Japanese GP, the 19th at Suzuka and the nation's 23rd F1 world championship event in all. The race has taken place twice at Fuji, which is pitching for a return to the calendar in the near future, while the country also hosted the Pacific GP, at Aida, in 1994 and 1995.
Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin motorsport director:
"The season is ending with a spectacular flourish, at a series of circuits drivers really enjoy. They include Spa, Monza, Interlagos, Shanghai... and Suzuka, which demands great finesse yet is also one of the most demanding tracks on the calendar."
"It poses a real headache for aerodynamicists, who have to work out a set-up that offers the best compromise for high- and low-speed corners plus some long straights. One of Suzuka's key features is a succession of sweeping corners, where any loss of rhythm can be very costly in terms of lap time.
"From a tyre perspective, Suzuka has one unique- and significant - characteristic. It is the only circuit on the calendar with a figure-of-eight layout, which provides an equal balance of left- and right-hand corners. That creates an even load across the tread and makes the circuit less critical than you might imagine in terms of tyre wear. The important thing is to focus on transverse loads at high speeds rather that straight-line traction.
"There is one other thing to bear in mind:the track tends to evolve significantly during the course of the weekend, which helps to ease the load on tyres by Sunday afternoon. Having prepared for Suzuka and considered its high-speed nature and relatively abrasive surface, we have selected compounds from the medium-hard sector of our range."
Takuma Sato, B*A*R-Honda:
"The 2005 regulations have made it vital to get the chassis set-up right at every circuit - not just Suzuka. If the car lacks balance, it will slide around and that accelerates the rate of tyre wear. Given that we only have one set to last a full race distance, this is clearly something we have to avoid."
"Suzuka has some very fast, challenging corners- a bit like Silverstone - but during recent tests we have evaluated some Michelin tyre compounds that combined good high-speed grip with excellent durability, so I think we'll have a strong package."