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Japanese Grand Prix preview - title battle to intensify at Fuji 09 Oct 2008

Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren arrive in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 24 August 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren signs an autograph.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Fuji Speedway, Japan, Thursday, 9 October 2008 Timo Glock (GER) Toyota talks with the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Fuji Speedway, Japan, Thursday, 9 October 2008 BMW and McLaren cars are pushed in the pitlane.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Fuji Speedway, Japan, Thursday, 9 October 2008 Scuderia Toro Rosso STR03 in the garage.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Fuji Speedway, Japan, Thursday, 9 October 2008

This weekend Formula One racing returns to the revamped Fuji International Speedway near Gotemba, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, for the 16th of the 18 races that will decide this year’s world championship.

And the title battle between McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa will get even hotter as the Brazilian seeks to claw back some of the seven-point advantage the Englishman opened up at the Singapore Grand Prix.

“Seven points to make up in three races?” Massa asks. “That can be a lot or it can be a little. We have the potential to do well, as we saw in Singapore and we will give it our best shot. We mustn’t give up and I’m sure we won’t.”

Ferrari will revert to a traditional lollipop system for their pit stops, after the debacle in which Massa lost the race in Singapore during his first refuelling stop.

Hamilton remains highly upbeat about his own chances of increasing his lead, and believes the MP4-23 will be very competitive on the track on which he won in such style in the rain last year when the race transferred from Suzuka.

Hamilton says he learned something while trapped behind David Coulthard’s Red Bull in Singapore. “There was less pressure to achieve a victory because of the unusual circumstances, which meant I was actually able to start thinking of the world championship. I hate driving for points, but I think we can all see the benefit of that approach at the moment.

“I love Japan. Last year might have been difficult because of the wet weather and the poor visibility, but I actually really enjoyed that weekend. The Japanese fans are some of my favourite in the world: so passionate, but really polite, charming and respectful. As for the race, one of the questions I get asked most is whether I prefer to drive in the rain: my answer is always the same, I’ll race in the wet or dry, I don’t mind.

“But it’s always easier for us drivers to race in the dry; I’d always prefer a dry race. This weekend, I’ll be hoping for dry weather for another reason - I want the fans at the track to have the best weekend possible and to enjoy the atmosphere of one of the season’s best races.”

The race will also be crucially important for Toyota and Honda.

"Singapore was a good race for me and I was pleased to score five points but we still lost ground in the constructors' championship so we want to hit back immediately and that means scoring plenty of points in the Japanese Grand Prix,” says the former’s Timo Glock who, with team mate Jarno Trulli, will be battling Singapore-winning Renault for fourth place overall. “This will be my first visit to Fuji Speedway and I am looking forward to it, especially as I am a Toyota driver and I'm sure we will get a lot of support.”

Once again, Jenson Button took part in the annual Tokyo Motorsports Festival in Odaiba last weekend to demonstrate a Honda RA108. "The Japanese Grand Prix is always a special weekend for the team as our second home race of the season,” the Englishman says. “Racing for a Japanese team, we always have fantastic support and the fans are so enthusiastic that it makes for a great atmosphere. For me, the true home of the Japanese Grand Prix is Suzuka, which is just one of the best circuits in the world, and I can't wait to return there next year. However I did enjoy driving at the Fuji Speedway last year and the circuit has a nice mix of twisty corners and the high-speed pit straight. A lot of the corners have a very late apex, which is quite unusual.”

Fuji demands similar medium downforce levels to Spa-Francorchamps, and has the longest straight in Formula One racing - 1.5 kilometres past the pits. That inevitably necessitates a compromise on set-up: the need for low downforce and minimal drag on the straight versus the need for sufficient downforce to deal with the twisty and tight sections of the track with their predominantly first and second gear corners.

Oversteer is a common sight, wet or dry, and the car that behaves predictably through the numerous direction and camber changes around the lap will be the quickest. Unpredictable weather is also another factor at Fuji, as proved to be the case last year. Bridgestone will bring plenty of standard wet and extreme wet-weather tyres, as well as their medium compound ‘prime’ dry tyre and the softer compound ‘option’. These will have special green grooves to mark Bridgestone’s support of the FIA’s Make Cars Green campaign.