Everything still to play for as teams arrive at Suzuka
Fernando Alonso says he will be more aggressive in the final two races now that he had sewn up the drivers world championship, so the scene is set for a great confrontation in Japan this weekend as Renault try to go toe-to-toe with archrivals McLaren in the battle for the 2005 constructors title.
I expect there will be a lot of attention, a lot of questions, a lot of cameras when we get there, the Spaniard says. But when I get in the car, then I will be working like normal. We have a race to do, and another championship to win. I believe the truth is that we have been the best in this 2005 season, and I will be working at full power now, with Fisi, to win the constructors' title too. I think we can do it.
I always enjoy Japan. 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. It is very complicated for the engineers as well, and getting the set-up right is a good challenge for them. Plus we always enjoy the weekend because there are so many fans there supporting F1, which means we have a great atmosphere.
Bob Bell, Renaults technical director, admits that they team have been celebrating but that there is no sign of anyone letting up in the quest to do a title double.
There was a great function at Enstone on Sunday, with 150 people watching the race, and the feeling spilled over into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday Morale is at an all-time high. But what has been interesting is that there is no sign anybody is now thinking they can relax. We are determined to go win the constructors' title, to do whatever it takes, but also happy in the knowledge of what has already been achieved. There is a lightness to the approach, but it hasn't undermined our determination and resolve.
There is a suspension update for the R25 in Japan, and some new aero parts, but the E specification engine wont come until in China.
I think our risk management may change a little, but not much, Bell says of Renaults philosophy for the last two races now that Alonso is world champion. The reality is that the team which drops a race finish from either car in the last two races will probably lose the title. So we cannot afford to forget any of our attention to detail, or compromise our reliability in an attempt to be more aggressive on performance. But we will certainly push harder than we have in recent races.
McLaren, however, are still going full speed ahead after the constructors crown after being beaten to the drivers and development of the dominant MP4-20 continues. Renault made some progress with their updates in Brazil, but the silver arrow is still the fastest car on the circuit at present.
Fresh from the news that Honda have agreed to purchase the team outright, BAR are also pushing hard on development, and besides aero work an upgraded engine should be available on Hondas home ground. This is an important race for Toyota, too, and both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli are due to debut the latest TF105B chassis. The German in particular thinks from testing that it suits his style more than the TF105. They will also benefit from the latest specification RVX-05 engines.
Ferrari made some progress in Brazil with their ability to run Bridgestones softer tyre and are hoping from greater performance still form the Japanese manufacturer on their home ground. After all, Bridgestone did very well in the recent Moto GP Japanese race.
At Williams it has been confirmed, against expectations that newly crowned GP2 champion Nico Rosberg might make his debut, that Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia will remain in the cockpit of the FW27 as team mate to Mark Webber. The team have some technical updates which technical director Sam Michael hopes will make the car more competitive.
Red Bull and Sauber will have minor updates on their RB01 and C24 respectively, as will Jordan and Minardi on their EJ15Bs and PS05s. Jordan also have a new third driver for Friday practice in the shape of Formula Nippon star Sakon Yamamoto, who is making a one-off appearance with the team for his home race.
Like Spa, high-downforce Suzuka is massively popular with the drivers as it presents huge challenges. First of all you need a well-balanced car, especially in the Esses at the beginning of the lap where a lot of time can be lost if the car understeers or oversteers. Elsewhere there are many demanding corners of varying speed, culminating in the notorious 130R left-hander which is Suzukas Eau Rouge. The lap is also relatively long at nearly six kilometres, and because of the high number of corners tyre wear is always an important factor. Thats another reason why you need a balanced car, to maximise tyre life.
With McLaren and Renault only two points apart, and Toyota still in with a narrow chance of taking third place from Ferrari, the Japanese Grand Prix holds the promise of another great encounter in a rollercoaster season.