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Japan preview - a fifth win and a fourth title for Vettel? 10 Oct 2013

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice, Suzuka, Japan, Friday, 5 October 2012 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing in the Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Red Bull Racing fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Rob Smedley (GBR) Ferrari Race Engineer and Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E20.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 6 October 2012 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1 fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Lotus mechanics and Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 walks the track.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Sauber C32 nose and front wings.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, 7 October 2012 The car of race retiree Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, 7 October 2012

World championship leader Sebastian Vettel arrives in Japan for this weekend’s Grand Prix on a four-race winning streak that has brought him to the brink of his fourth successive drivers’ crown.

If he wins in Suzuka, as he has in three of the last four years, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finishes ninth or lower, then the Red Bull driver will wrap up another title with four races to go.

As well as winning last time out in Korea, Vettel also started from pole position, set fastest lap and led throughout, marking the fourth 'grand slam' of his career. But perhaps of even greater significance, he matched Alberto Ascari and Jim Clark as only the third man in history to record grand slams in two consecutive races. Ascari achieved the feat in 1952 in the German and Dutch Grands Prix, Clark 11 years later in the Dutch and French races.

Nevertheless, both Vettel and Red Bull are still playing down their chances.

"The likelihood of winning in Japan is extremely low," says team principal Christian Horner. "When does Fernando Alonso ever finish ninth? But so long as we do win it, I don't care where that is."

He adds: "Seb is driving supremely well at the moment. The confidence he is carrying in the car, the discipline with which he is driving, is remarkable and he is on a great run at the moment."

Down at Ferrari the mood is sombre, particularly after a disappointing display in Korea which has left Alonso’s championship hopes in an even more precarious state. The Spaniard recently put his excellent recent performances into perspective, saying: "If someone joins F1 today and you tell them that the red car with the blue helmet is fighting for the world championship and still second, they would say 'It's not true, it's a miracle.' But we did a miracle for 15 races and we try to keep this miracle alive for the remaining five."

He does not believe that another second place will be possible, such as those he scored in Belgium, Italy and Singapore, though he suggests that the difficult weekend in Korea wasn’t representative, either.

"The three consecutive second positions were over-performing," he says. “We had the car to be third, fourth or fifth. After three little miracles, we had a bad weekend in Korea and I think something in the middle should be our target for the next races, fighting for some positions on the podium."

Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen is determined to keep hold of third place in the drivers’ championship, which he took back from Lewis Hamilton in Korea, but the Briton is equally resolved to move back ahead. Despite dropping a place, he was buoyed that Mercedes moved to within a point of Ferrari, having vowed to put the Silver Arrows ahead of the red cars by the end of the season.

“Suzuka is one of the few circuits we have left in Formula One with the authenticity of a real old-school circuit,” he says. “I drove there for the first time in 2009 and it takes a while to pick up pace each year because of how fast-flowing it is. If you touch the grass at any point, it's going to spin you off into the wall, so it's a much more demanding circuit in terms of precision, positioning and turning points for each corner. It's a real race track where you have to think ahead as a driver and it just needs crazy levels of downforce from the car.

“From my point of view, the car felt fantastic to drive in Korea when everything was hooked up, so I am excited to get to Japan and see what we can do there.”

Last year Pirelli brought their hard and soft tyres to the challenging 5.807-kilometre Suzuka circuit, whereas in 2011 they had the medium and the soft. This year they will have the two hardest compounds in the range, the orange-marked hards and white-marked mediums.

Suzuka imposes massive loadings on the cars, especially in the long and fast corners such as 130R and Spoon. 130R, the fastest corner of the year, is taken at 310 km/h in seventh gear and there the tyres are subjected to three simultaneous forces: downforce, cornering, and acceleration. The lateral force alone is 3.1 g, but as 130R is quite an open corner this is not where the tyres experience the most lateral force: that comes at Turn 7, the Dunlop Curve, where lateral energy peaks at 3.4g. Tread temperatures can exceed 110 degrees Celsius, and that can lead to wear and degradation. Thus two to three pit stops are expected.

Pirelli’s motorsport director, Paul Hembery, says: “Suzuka is one of the circuits where we experience the highest rates of wear and degradation all year: because of the relatively abrasive surface and most of all because of the high-energy loadings that are going through the tyres. That’s why we’ve nominated the two hardest compounds in our range to take to Suzuka this year. It’s not all about the fast corners though as there are also some heavy braking areas and tighter corners. So it’s a high-demand circuit when it comes to lateral energy but relatively low-demand in terms of traction, because the layout is very flowing with one corner sequencing into another.

“Strategy is set to play an important role once more - this was a two-stop race last year, when we nominated the soft and the hard compounds - and Suzuka is a circuit that all the drivers enjoy because of the high speeds. Japan is all about raw speed: and the tyres we have selected for this weekend should enable the drivers to showcase that in front of the amazing Japanese fans.”

There are no significant changes to the circuit ahead of this year’s race and the track still features just one DRS zone - on the pit straight with the detection point 50 metres ahead Turn 16, the first part of the Casio Triangle chicane.

The weather for the majority of the weekend is expected to be sunny but cool, although there could be some showers on Friday morning. The race, which begins at 1500 hours local time (nine hours ahead of GMT), will be run over 53 laps or 307.471 kilometres (191.062 miles).

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