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Friday analysis - do McLaren really have the edge? 28 Sep 2007

Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Friday, 28 September 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Friday, 28 September 2007 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R27 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Friday, 28 September 2007 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF107.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Friday, 28 September 2007 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda Racing F1 Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Friday, 28 September 2007

Within McLaren there is a belief on Friday evening that, at worst, things will be very close between them and Ferrari at the Fuji Speedway this weekend. And that, at best, the silver arrows will have a small but critical advantage.

Neither Lewis Hamilton nor Fernando Alonso, who set the fastest times with 1m 18.734s and 1m 18.948s respectively, experienced any problems in a smooth day which helped them with their tyre selection and aero set-ups.

Over at Ferrari, meanwhile, having dominated the morning session with times of 1m 19.119s and 1m 19.498s, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were content to go slower in the afternoon as they focused on race pace work. Both men had more off-track moments than the McLaren drivers, as they oversteered their way through the infield, but they too believe they will be competitive which bodes well for the race.

Their home race is highly important to Toyota, so fourth place for Jarno Trulli (1m 19.711s) and ninth for Ralf Schumacher (1m 19.969s) counted as a good afternoon for the track-owning team. Ralf had a couple of spins, but otherwise it was a positive day that brought no complaints from either man.

Renault had an encouraging day with Heikki Kovalainen sixth and Giancarlo Fisichella seventh, on 1m 19.789s and 1m 19.926s respectively. Fisi was happier with the balance of his R27 in the afternoon, and both felt they had achieved their aim for the day in setting up their cars and working through the usual evaluation programmes.

Things did not run so smoothly for Red Bull, but David Coulthard ended the day eighth on 1m 19.949s, and Mark Webber joint 10th on 1m 20.069s. Coulthard in particular found it hard to set his RB3 up in the morning when he was only 21st, but was much happier in the afternoon.

It’s unusual to see BMW Sauber down in 10th and 15th places (Robert Kubica on 1m 20.069s and Nick Heidfeld 1m 20.462s). But both pilots concentrated on race running, and the team are happy, after modifying their set-ups slightly, that they were only one percent out in performance terms on their simulation figures.

The mood at Williams was soured somewhat by the need to change Nico Rosberg’s engine, which automatically gives him a 10-place grid penalty as the unit that broke was his intended race engine that he had also used at Spa. The German was in strong form again in the morning when his 1m 20.058s lap left him ‘best of the rest’ behind the Ferraris and McLarens, whereas in the afternoon he was 13th on 1m 20.270s, just behind team mate Alex Wurz on 1m 20.233s.

As with Toyota, this is a very important race for Honda, but with Jenson Button only 14th on 1m 20.336s and Rubens Barrichello 17th on 1m 20.889s, it was not a great day. Besides a minor brush with Sakon Yamamoto’s Spyker, the Brazilian was troubled throughout by the rear-end stability problem that had plagued him at Spa. Button also complained of some oversteer in the morning, but was happier with his RA107’s balance in the afternoon.

Spyker are unusual in that their drivers both have experience racing here, and that helped the team to get a head start in their various programmes. Indeed, Sutil was ninth in the morning on 1m 20.516s before dropping to a still-good 16th in the afternoon on 1m 20.736s. Sakon Yamamoto was 21st, on 1m 21.305s. His morning run was truncated by an engine problem, while early in the afternoon he lost time after a brush with Rubens Barrichello whilst recovering from a spin in Turn 13. Both of his quick laps were set on the softer option tyre, and there is still work to be done to hone the car for the medium prime tyre.

Toro Rosso had little to be happy about with 18th best time for Tonio Liuzzi on 1m 20.985s and Sebastian Vettel right behind him on 1m 20.997s. Liuzzi had lapped in 1m 20.808s for 14th in the morning, however, and was generally satisfied with what was achieved, especially as traffic cost him his second run in the afternoon.

At the back, Super Aguri’s Takuma Sato lost time with a mechanical problem in the morning which compromised the rest of his day and left him 22nd on 1m 21.352s, while Anthony Davidson’s 10th best time in the morning (1m 20.601s) became a 20th fastest run in 1m 21.007s in the afternoon. He was quite happy with the car in race trim then, and with its balance all day.