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Japanese Grand Prix Preview

Wednesday 9th October 2013

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Seconds before Alonso's untimely exit

Seconds before Alonso's untimely exit

In Japan we go to the sublime from the ridiculous. From a circuit that is empty of spectators on a Friday afternoon, to a track that will be almost bursting on a Friday afternoon. From a paddock where the tumbleweed blows through, to a paddock where drivers cannot move without attention.

Yeongam and Suzuka are both great circuits, but Suzuka is old school great and it's hard to find a driver who says a bad word about the place...well, almost.

"For me coming to Suzuka was never that enjoyable because of the long journey," reckons Kimi Raikkonen, "but driving a Formula One car on the track has felt great every time. I had a good race at Fuji too. It was that wet race back in 2007 when I came from pretty far back to a podium finish, but Suzuka 2005 is my best memory from Japan. It's very difficult to say which is your best race - especially if you have won many - but coming from the last row of the grid to take victory at a place like this is one I remember very, very well."

After Kamui Kobayashi's storming drive to P3 last year there will be no Japanese driver on the grid, so the closest they get is maybe Jenson Button whose partner is Japanese model Jessica Michibata: "Suzuka feels a bit like a second home circuit to me. My win there back in 2011 remains one of my most emotional victories, because it was the first Japanese Grand Prix after the terrible tsunami that devastated the north of Japan. -

"It was such an important event for the whole country. The thing I really like about Suzuka is that it's such an unforgiving track. On most circuits, if you run wide or out-brake yourself, you invariably end up just running onto the tarmac run-off, so you can easily get back onto the track without any penalty. At Suzuka, if you run wide through the Esses, or go off the track at the exit of the Degners, you're going to find yourself in the gravel. And I like that.

Each year Degner 1 and Degner 2 claim their share of unwary drivers and they'll be waiting for the over-enthusiastic and least experienced. Lewis Hamilton thinks it is a place where you learn more and more over the years: "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."

Pirelli are supplying the medium and hard tyres so it's unlikely that there will be the same degree of tyre degradation that we saw in Korea. Suzuka, like Silverstone, has an unusual number of medium to high speed corners, which make the circuit exhilarating to drive but also challenging to engineer.

But as it' a circuit that is regularly used throughout the year there will be a lot of rubber down on what is a high grip surface. The weather is set fair for Saturday and Sunday with an ambient of around 25/26C.

Last year, the taxi duo of Alonso and Webber both had early flights after Fernando got touched by Raikkonen at the start and Grosjean committed a blunder that was perhaps worse than his Spa error in that he drove straight into Mark Webber like it was his first Formula Ford outing. Given that Mark seems to have attracted all the Red Bull unreliability in 2013 surely he can expect it to cross the garage at some point.

This time round the Lotus and Red Bull cars are likely to be joined by Mercedes and a Lewis Hamilton eager to get the kind of result "his calibre" of driver should be getting. Hamilton's been busy this week/tweet clarifying comments he made at the weekend about how GPs are boring and how he should be doing better - yada yada.

Mathematically, of course, this is the race that Sebastian Vettel could be crowned a four-times World Champion and all the broadcasters will have been scrambling to put together their season highlights just in case he does. Given Ferrari's remorseless reliability it's unlikely that Alonso is gong to finish eighth or below, but as we all know, stranger things have happened in F1 - last race we got a 4x4 leading the race...

FH

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