Japanese Grand Prix Preview – Suzuka

By Pat Espresso

THIS season’s cliff-hanger ending to the F1 championship moves to Japan and formidable Suzuka, one of the drivers’ all-time favourite tracks.

For the five title contenders every race between now and Abu Dhabi is a chance to make a break or drag themselves into contention. Suzuka could also see some drivers’ hopes finally die.

The Japanese track is the perfect venue for such drama – the high-speed swoop of the first turn into a rapid snake of s-bends, the tightening demands of Spoon and the high-speed challenge of 130R. It makes constant demands of the driver – the tiny run-offs are designed to punish errors – and provides huge entertainment for spectators.

The track layout is likely to suit Adrian Newey’s astonishing RB6. Its fast corners give the Red Bull ample opportunity to do what it does best. Last year Sebastian Vettel was unstoppable. Mark Webber, who crashed in practice last year, will be aiming to make a difference this year.

In a pre-race interview the Australian admitted that the championship momentum was with Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard seems to have unshakeable belief that 2010 is his year and the revitalised Ferrari is certain to be in the hunt. Coupled with the help likely to be provided by teammate Felipe Massa, Alonso is a good bet to continue his stunning run to the title.

Lewis Hamilton, the title contender under the most pressure following back-to-back DNFs, fell in love with Suzuka when he sampled it for the first time last year. He will be hoping that Japan repays that affection with a good points score. Despite the 2009 McLaren clearly disliking Suzuka, the Brit still managed to gain the podium. This year’s car is better, but is it good enough? Jenson Button’s fifth place in qualifying in his rookie season was seen as one of the finest drives of his debut year. He will be hoping to emulate that performance this weekend.

Overtaking at Suzuka isn’t easy but it is possible. No one can forget Alonso’s courage in 2005 in passing the all-conquering Michael Schumacher around the outside of the high-speed 130R – flat-out in seventh gear – in one of the most breathtaking moves ever made in motorsport.

Suzuka is also oddly prone to having rain-hit qualifying sessions followed by a dry race. It means that the smaller teams can often steal a favourable starting position after some heroics in the wet. Lotus will surely be hoping for a change in fortune this weekend if the rain starts to fall.

The fanatical but always respectful Japanese fans will be looking for a good performance from erratic countryman Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber while Nick Heidfeld will want to put on a good show to attract a drive for next year following the team’s decision to partner Kobayashi with the rookie Mexican Sergio Perez.

The Mercedes, Force Indias, Williams, Renaults and Toro Rossos will be looking to pick up points after a lacklustre season, knowing that the constructors’ championship is the important one in terms of earning potential. Their designers are already concentrating on next year’s cars.

With only four races left, the chance to pick up points for the Big Five contenders are running out. No one can afford to miss an opportunity to bank a big number in Japan. It is almost certain that some of them will fall short. Thankfully there are still many twists and turns to keep us entranced until Abu Dhabi.

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