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Sunday race preview - what will the weather bring? 29 Sep 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 celebrates his pole position in Parc ferme
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007  makes a pitstop
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007

McLaren won the front row after Saturday’s wet qualifying session in Japan, but Ferrari remain convinced that they will be fully competitive with the Anglo-German cars in Sunday’s race regardless of the weather conditions.

The session was difficult for everybody, after low cloud cover had precluded any serious running in the conditions in the morning as the medical helicopter could not stay aloft in the poor visibility. Engineers and drivers thus pretty much had to ‘guestimate’ their ideal chassis settings and busk their way through the three sessions.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was cock-a-hoop after pipping Fernando Alonso to the pole, his fifth of the season, with a lap of 1m 25.368s compared to the Spaniard’s 1m 25.438s. While both professed to be happy with their cars, Kimi Raikkonen (third on 1m 25.516s) complained of a faulty gearbox sensor on his Ferrari which, he said, cost him a little bit of time. Team mate Felipe Massa, fourth on 1m 25.765s, was less happy with the balance of his F2007 when it mattered, on new tyres and low fuel, and battled excessive oversteer.

€f all four drivers are right, the race will be a dramatic inter-team and inter-driver fight, as all of them battle to stay in the reckoning for the title.

Behind the two top teams, BMW Sauber annexed their customary ‘best of the rest’ position courtesy of Nick Heidfeld. The German lapped in 1m 26.505s, but admitted that initial hopes of jumping one of the red cars in the conditions soon faded. Team mate Robert Kubica will start ninth in the second F1.07, but said his tyres were graining and that he didn’t think the team optimised its running strategy in Q3. He had to be content with a lap of 1m 27.225s.

Between the two BMW pilots, at least in the final session, were Williams’ Nico Rosberg, Honda’s Jenson Button, Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel. But on the grid only the last three will be there as the unfortunate Rosberg loses 10 places after his Friday-for-Saturday engine change. That was a major shame as the young German was again very quick in the FW29, which he pushed round in 1m 26.726s for sixth fastest time overall. Team mate Alex Wurz ran foul of an F€A weight check and then hit traffic; having been fastest of the three people who recorded laps in the morning, he was thus disappointed to be left down in 18th place on 1m 27.454s.

Sixth on the grid is a major fillip to Honda, especially as this is Toyota’s backyard and also because the revised RA107 was deemed less good than the standard car. Jenson Button’s lap of 1m 26.913s was neat and smooth and served as a reminder of just how quick the Englishman is when his equipment works. This was another team in which one driver was happy, the other disgruntled, however. Rubens Barrichello, down in 17th place on 1m 27.323s, missed out on Q2 by 0.1s.

At Red Bull, Webber was happy enough with his RB3, which he took round in 1m 26.914s, but David Coulthard complained that his car behaved poorly under braking and had far too much understeer. His best lap of 1m 26.247s left him 12th on the grid.

Vettel’s fine performance in taking his Toro Rosso through to Q3 - a first for the team - saw the young German push to 1m 26.973s after sailing through Q1 and Q2. And though he will start eighth on the grid he believed that he could have gone two places better had a change of strategy not cost him his last lap. Across the garage, team mate Tonio Liuzzi, normally a wet-weather ace himself, was only 15th overall (and 14th on the grid on 1m 26.948s) after taking the gamble to run virtually dry road settings in the hope that the race will be run in better conditions.

Renault were very disappointed with 10th and 11th places on the grid. Both drivers said their R27s were well balanced, but they lacked grip and slithered through Fuji’s various turns. There was nothing to cheer for Toyota, either, on their home ground. Jarno Trulli managed only 1m 26.253s for 13th on the grid, while Ralf Schumacher’s clash with Spyker’s Sakon Yamamoto saw the German fail to make use of getting through into Q2. His car was rebuilt, but he never managed to challenge for a new time in the session.

Finally, the odds were evenly distributed at the back between Super Aguri and Spyker. Anthony Davidson in the Super Aguri headed the quartet with 1m 27.564s, chased by Spyker’s Adrian Sutil (1m 28.628s), Super Aguri’s Takuma Sato (1m 28.792s) and Yamamoto (1m 29.668s) in the second F8-V€€. Both Super Aguri drivers said that they simply lacked grip, while Sato also lost crucial time on the F€A weighbridge. At Spyker, Sutil thought Friday had been much better as his set-up was un-optimised. Yamamoto’s assault by Schumacher did not significantly affect his running.

Thus the grid was formed for the Japanese Grand Prix, and up front it is literally anyone’s race. So much will depend on Sunday’s weather conditions, and right now they are very far from settled.

David Tremayne