The Japanese Grand Prix Preview 27 Sep 2007
Formula One racing goes back into the melting pot this weekend as the championship battle moves on to the unknown territory of the Fuji International Speedway near Gotemba, in the shadow of Mount Fuji.
After 20 years at Suzuka, the races move to this updated venue - scene of the original Japanese Grands Prix in 1976 and 77 puts everyone in the same position of having precious little empirical information for setting up their cars.
McLaren and Ferrari venture to the East still locked in battle. Recent events may have cemented the world championship for constructors in the latters favour, but the drivers title is still wide open with Lewis Hamilton leading on 97 points from Fernando Alonso (95), Kimi Raikkonen (84) and Felipe Massa (77). All of them still have a chance of winning.
The Ferrari drivers are both very confident after their one-two in Belgium. Raikkonen, the victor there, said: Our car is going extremely well and we have high hopes for the final three races. As far as we are concerned, the championship battle is far from over and we will keep pushing to the very end.
With medium downforce levels similar to Spa, the reds are feeling very optimistic, but the tracks characteristics will also suit McLaren, though not necessarily with the margin seen at low-downforce venues such as Monza and Indianapolis.
I havent even seen Fuji Speedway yet, but I am sure it will be a great place to race, Hamilton said. Hopefully there will be some overtaking opportunities because of the really long start-finish straight. I was a bit disappointed that I wouldnt be getting to race at Suzuka because everyone goes on about how great it is, but this season I have really enjoyed going to new tracks and learning them.
It provides a slightly different challenge so I am looking forward to it. Everyone will be in the same boat and it should be quite exciting. Everything is so close in the championship now, so we have to go out there in Fuji and get as many points as possible. It would be great to win. Also, Japan is one of my favourite countries and the fans are very enthusiastic, so it would be even better to win in front of them!
Alonso is equally enthusiastic. In 2006 I did a couple of demonstration laps with passengers here and it seemed really good. It is going to be a challenge to find the optimum set-up for the cars. To be honest, we will have to wait until after Friday free practice to tell more, but I am looking forward to seeing what it is like.
We are not in any position to make any predictions, but I am sure the championship will continue to swing between all four drivers. Ferrari were strong at Spa, we were strong at Monza, everyone in the team is pushing hard to be strong at Fuji, Shanghai and Interlagos. We can still win races, and will be doing everything to make this happen in Japan.
The race will also be critical for the three Japanese teams: Toyota, Honda and Super Aguri, while Williams (with their Toyota engines) and Spyker (with Sakon Yamamoto) also feature local interest factors.
Toyota will have a revised TF107 with aerodynamic and suspension updates, for Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli to drive. I remember the old Fuji circuit from my time racing in Formula Nippon in Japan and I always enjoyed racing there, the former said. One of the most impressive things about Fuji Speedway is the location, with Mount Fuji in the background. The track itself is also very impressive, especially now the facilities have been improved. It is now one of the most modern in Formula One but they have kept a lot of the character of the old track, with the very long main straight.
Honda stopped off in Odaiba prior to the trip to Fuji, for the annual Tokyo Motorsports Festival where Jenson Button and James Rossiter demonstrated the thrills of Formula One machinery to thousands of fans by taking the RA107 car around the streets of the city.
The Japanese Grand Prix is always a very special weekend for the whole Honda Racing F1 Team as it is one of our two home races of the year, said Button. I have had fantastic support as a Honda driver at the Honda-owned Suzuka circuit in the past few years and the Japanese fans always create such a special atmosphere over the race weekend.
This year will be a new challenge for both myself and the team as the race returns to the Fuji International Speedway. It is an unknown quantity so I will be studying the circuit layout with our engineers in advance but we will only find out its true characteristics during our track walk on Thursday and the first few laps of practice on Friday.
Much of the original track layouts character has been retained in the revamp, which still features an epic 1.5 kilometre main straight. This is the longest in Formula One Racing and will undoubtedly encourage slipstreaming opportunities of the sort seen at Monza. Additional corners have been added to promote more exciting racing and overtaking.
The key changes have been made at the end of the lap, where some slower corners have been added to decrease entry speed for the start-finish straight. As in Indianapolis, teams will have to compromise on their set-ups to retain as much top speed as possible, while engineering in sufficient downforce for the low- to medium-speed corners round the rest of the lap.
Unpredictable weather is also another factor at Fuji; everybody remembers the heavy rain that was such a factor in the 1976 championship decider here. Thus Bridgestone will also have supplies of wet and extreme wet-weather tyres just in case, besides their prime choice of the medium compound dry tyre and the softer compound option.