Preview - can Michael fight back? 07 Oct 2004
Michael Schumacher described his troubled 2003 race at Suzuka as the toughest of my career. After the season hes had en route to his record seventh world title it seems odd to suggest it, but he needs to get his situation back on course in Japan after being beaten in the last three races.
Clearly the champion has the ability and machinery to get the job done, and as usual has to start as pre-race favourite. But Rubens Barrichello is on top form after winning the last two races, and his stunning performance in winning last seasons Japanese Grand Prix also makes him a favourite. The Ferraris will also benefit from everything Bridgestone produce for their home race.
Meanwhile, BAR will be looking for their first win, and where better than in Hondas own backyard? The motor giant owns Suzuka, and it would be most fitting for Jenson Button or Takuma Sato to break through there after the teams strong showings all season. The points fight between BAR and Renault is reaching crunch point, and once again former champion Jacques Villeneuve will be partnering Fernando Alonso. The French-Canadian says he was not too disappointed with his comeback race in China even though it only yielded 11th place, and that he fully expects to be up to speed in Japan.
The race for fourth place in the constructors championship is also finely poised, as McLaren chase after Williams. After some speculation the latter have confirmed that Ralf Schumacher will be continuing as Juan Pablo Montoyas partner for the final two races. McLaren have been pushing hard on development work on their MP4-19B, and believe that they can exploit the silver cars fine handling to the maximum at this track.
Sauber will have Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa as usual, and though all development work is now focused on next years C24 they are confident their current package, together with Bridgestones latest tyres, will suit them well.
Jaguar will have a lightweight R5B/R6 chassis for Mark Webber to use as Toyota gears up for as strong showing on home ground and chases the British marque for seventh place overall. 2005 signing Jarno Trulli will be replacing Ricardo Zonta as race driver here (and Olivier Panis in Brazil), and the team hope that the Italian can help them score much-needed extra points. At Jordan there were suggestions that Formula Nippon front-runner Richard Lyons might substitute for Timo Glock in a race seat with the Anglo-Irish team, but nothing has been confirmed.
Suzuka is the only figure of eight circuit in Formula One racing, and is one of the most challenging venues on a par with Spa-Francorchamps. All of the teams will run high downforce set-ups to cope with the wide variety of corners, but some may be tempted to compromise a little on rear wing settings to boost maximum speed on the straights. The first part of the 5.807 kilometre (3.6 mile) lap is one of the keys to a quick time, and that is the esses that follow the first corner. Here you need a car that goes where it is pointed, so balanced handling and an instant ability to change direction are crucial. The Degner and Spoon curves also demand precise handling, while 130R is one of the great corners in Formula One racing and presents a serious challenge to anyone. Traction from the final chicane is also important as it influences top speed on the pit straight.
Since Suzuka has quite a long lap and packs in a lot of corners on a quite abrasive surface, tyre were is also influential. Degradation is always high there.
The 53-lap race is the 17th and penultimate round of the championship and begins at 1430 hrs local time.