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The Japanese Grand Prix Preview 05 Oct 2006

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2005.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 9 October 2005 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Suzuka, Japan, 8 October 2005 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF106.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Chinese Grand Prix, Race, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, 1 October 2006 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R25 and Jenson Button (GBR) BAR Honda 007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 9 October 2005 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 9 October 2005

Following so hard on the heels of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka will see all of the teams running their cars in similar configuration, with few significant differences.

Ferrari will continue with the new rear suspension that proved so successful in China, and Michael Schumacher is very confident. “The car ran very well in Shanghai,” he says, “and of course I was very happy to win there at last.

“Fernando (Alonso) and I are now equal on points; if we look back some while ago it is a miracle that we are there, thanks to great work by everyone at Ferrari and Bridgestone we’ve managed it and go to the last two races like this. I really believe we have to wait till the last one for a decision to be reached, so it’s an interesting couple of weeks that we face, and I really look forward to that.”

The only way that the title could be decided this weekend would be if Schumacher wins and Alonso fails to score. That way, even if Alonso were to win in Brazil where Schumacher failed to score, they would be equal on points again at the end but Schumacher would have eight wins to Alonso’s seven.

Despite his appalling luck in the last few races, the champion is confident that Renault and Michelin have a very strong package again that will give him an advantage in the final races.

“The race in China turned out to be a bad day,” Alonso said, “but this is a fantastic fight for the championship, and I go to Japan feeling really confident. We had the quickest car in Shanghai, and we have two more good chances to win. I believe we can do it.”

Kimi Raikkonen was adamant that he had a winning car in Shanghai, and McLaren are determined to avoid having their first winless season since 1996. The Finn won here last year, and could be a significant threat to Schumacher and Alonso.

Suzuka is obviously a very important race for Honda, Super Aguri and Toyota, all of whom will naturally be keen for strong performances on their home ground. Look for Toyota in particular to be quick in qualifying.

This will also be the final race at Suzuka (for the foreseeable future) as it switches to Fuji for 2007. The circuit is hugely popular with the drivers, and saw some fantastic racing last year between winner Raikkonen, Alonso and Schumacher. It is widely regarded as one of the most technically challenging tracks where success lies in the balance of the car. The 8.8-kilometre (3.6-mile) lap includes an unforgiving combination of 16 turns, ranging from the slow-speed, twisty Esses and Spoon Curve at the start of the lap to the high-speed 130R and Casio Triangle towards the end. With such a variation, aerodynamic efficiency, handling balance and stability are crucial.

On the 20th anniversary of Grands Prix at Suzuka, the stage is set for another dramatic chapter in the 2006 title fight.