Japanese Grand Prix Preview - Vettel and Barrichello target Button 01 Oct 2009
Fuji proved a much more popular venue than many expected, but everyone is looking forward to going back to a heavily revamped Suzuka and the spiritual home of the Japanese Grand Prix. Not least McLarens Lewis Hamilton and Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel, who have never raced there.
Vettel believes that Red Bull will have their best chance of adding to his victory tally here, on a track where downforce is at a premium, and both he and team mate Mark Webber will be doing all they can to close the gap to the Brawns. Now that Webbers own title hopes are over, it is likely that he will be asked to assist his team mate in whatever way he can.
Suzuka a very technical and challenging circuit, with plenty of very high-speed corners and changes of direction. Drivers say it is not unlike Spa in that respect. There are many different types of corner so the ideal car is one that is strong in all areas, especially balance, braking and horsepower. As it is a medium-high-speed track, aerodynamic performance is also crucial but with the long pit straight the perfect set-up is far from a foregone conclusion. Bridgestone have brought their hard and soft compound tyres.
Since 2006 the pit exit has been realigned to join the track after the first corner; there is asphalt in parts of the run-off area around the outside of Turns One and Two; the track has been resurfaced between Turns 17 and Seven, and barriers in some corners have been moved further back. Grandstands have also been modified, there are new pit buildings and team offices, and the paddock has been expanded.
Fresh from a great victory in Singapore, Lewis Hamilton is bubbling about the prospect of competing here. It feels like Ive been waiting my whole life to race at Suzuka, the world champion says. So, as you can imagine, Ill be really excited when practice starts on Friday morning. Ever since I was a kid, Ive raced Suzuka on computer games - and while it kind of gives you an idea of how the circuit goes, nothing can beat the real thing. It looks like a real drivers circuit - the first sector esses look very demanding and the higher speed corners towards the end of the lap will require real precision and a good car set-up.
McLaren may not be quite so strong here as they were in Singapore, their latest and final 2009 package notwithstanding, while the anticipated low ambient and track temperatures may not suit the Brawns either. Ferrari are not too optimistic as they have stopped development on the Spa-winning F60. "I don't expect the situation to be much different next week in Suzuka, Kimi Raikkonen said after Singapore. It is a very demanding track for the car, from an aerodynamic point of view, and we are lacking in this area.
Toyota, Renault and Williams all come here on highs, however, expecting to do well. Timo Glocks second place in Singapore was crucial for Toyota as they head home, and the German has hopes for a repeat. Its good to go to Japan with a podium and P2. I dont know how our car will be in Suzuka but I think the high-speed corners suit it, so Im looking forward to it and hopefully we can be on the podium again. That would be great.
Im really excited to be returning to this amazing track which is one of my favourites, Renaults Fernando Alonso says. I have some great memories from Suzuka as I won the race there in 2006, which was a very important result for the championship. Also my battle with Michael Schumacher in 2005 is something that I will always remember. Japan is certainly one of the most enjoyable races of the season because there is a special atmosphere and the fans always show their enthusiasm in a respectful way.
Talk us through the technical challenge of the circuit I think all the drivers enjoy the high-speed corners of Suzuka, but its also a technical track which gives the engineers a big challenge. In terms of set-up, you have to work hard to make sure you have a car with a good front end for the changes of direction, and a stable rear so you have the confidence to attack the high-speed corners. The Esses section is an important part of the lap as you have to cope with fifteen seconds of continuously changing direction, so its very demanding physically. You also need to keep your concentration as there is only one line through the corners and any mistakes cost you a lot of time.
If Hamilton was the man seeking redemption in Singapore, that role falls to Nico Rosberg here after his error exiting the pits cost Williams second place after the FW31 showed great pace last weekend.
Team mate Kazuki Nakajima will also be a focus of attention and is desperate to open his points score here. I kind of grew up around Suzuka, he says. I have been to the circuit many, many times and its the place where I started karting. Ive also watched countless races here, not just Formula One, but many other forms of Japanese motorsport, so going there feels like going home. Apart from a short trip last April, I havent been there for the past four years so it will be almost like a new experience. As would be scoring points
BMW Sauber are also optimistic, after their significant upgrade of the F1.09 in Singapore. It is working well, and I hope it will be even stronger on a fast track such as Suzuka, team principal Mario Theissen says.
Overall it may be another damage limitation race for the two principal championship contenders, Brawn GPs Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. The Englishman loves the place and the Brazilian has won here previously. I will be running my own race, and well see what happens, Button says. We have to wait and see about tyre temperature issues, but there is a lot of heavy braking and fast cornering, which will certainly help.
Barrichello, meanwhile, says: Suzuka is quite like Silverstone, and I always seem to go pretty well at both tracks. At the former, interestingly, his driving style was able to generate between five and 10 degrees more tyre temperature than his team mate.
Button could wrap up the title with victory here this weekend, but says: I know I can clinch the title if I finish five points ahead of Rubens here. But its just another race to me and I wont be changing the way I drive. I will keep doing what I have been doing, and hopefully that will be enough.