Japanese GP Preview

Date published: October 5 2011

Red Bull will definitely have booked a room for their celebrations, but will both Lewis and Felipe turn up…?

Red Bull will definitely have booked a room for their celebrations, but will both Lewis and Felipe turn up…?

With the World Championship a foregone conclusion now, what we need to stir up some interest in F1 is a major spat. And so those machiavellian maestros editing the official F1 video of Singapore did just that. In a two-and-a-half minute video they picked out only a few seconds of 2+ hours (times 12) of pit radio which is now legend.

“Hold Hamilton as much as we can. Destroy his race as much as we can. Come on, boy…” This from Felipe’s affable engineer Rob Smedley. It’s even better than the now-classic, “Fernando is faster than you! Sorry”.

Ferrari and Massa have both moved quickly to dismiss it as nothing and merely words said in the heat of the moment, but then again, they would say that wouldn’t they. Felipe himself has now said: “Apart from the fact that I don’t recall what Rob said, I don’t think there’s any value in stirring up trouble now and trying to link this with the subsequent contact with Hamilton: they are two separate moments and they have nothing to do with each other. I’m sure that Lewis and I will find a way to clear this up and put a lid on this story, as is only correct between two drivers. What happens on the track should remain on the track.” Or in other words – “Please don’t investigate this!” That’s a bit of a change of tune for someone who was keen to see the GPDA discuss Lewis’s “behaviour” on track this weekend.

What the FIA have to do now is investigate Massa’s telemetry through the corner in which Hamilton ran into the back of him. It’s true to say that Lewis has had more than his fair share of scrapes over the years in close racing. How many times has he lost his front wing since he started in 2007 – three or four? One a season? Even statisticians would be interested in the probability of Lewis losing it in Singapore, 1-in-19, or given an average lap number of 57, that’s a 1-in-1083 chance for him to lose it the lap after Massa has been given the instruction “destroy his race”… You can’t ignore it. Not after what happened with Nelson Piquet.

Certainly Massa knew full well that Hamilton would be turning in right behind him, as he was alongside him on the outside on the straight. He knew that he would have been following closely through the chicane, what he didn’t realise was that Lewis would be slightly to the side and able to puncture his rear tyre (rather than running straight into his gearbox, known as the Kobayashi Manoeuvre). Was Massa’s anger a smokescreen?

Whether McLaren have the desire to pursue this is very doubtful, there’s no Championship to be won, Lewis wasn’t going to win the race, he might not even have got a podium. It is far more likely that this was just a racing accident, but there’s no getting away from the fact – and Ferrari don’t apologise for it – that their racing strategy is simply to block other drivers they think might get in front of Fernando Alonso. That’s hardly the spirit of racing – whose GP can we mess up this time. No wonder Massa gets so angry when all he’s used for is to play high-speed dodgems. And he wasn’t even very good at that, when Lewis came to pass him for a second time, he put his Ferrari 150 into a wobble and the traction of the McLaren swept Hamilton past.

I think we can expect both Massa and Hamilton to be on their best behaviour in Japan and not wanting to spoil the party for the youngest ever double World Champion. The Red Bulls love the fast, sweeping curves of Suzuka and it will be a mighty effort or a major cock up (or rain) for them not be sitting 1-2 when the red lights go out on Sunday. Vettel hasn’t just had a good year, he’s had a towering year and it’s always good to win in style. For the rest of the field it’s a question of how close they can get to Red Bull, if only to judge how far they’ve developed their own aero packages over the course of a season. McLaren say they are confident they can challenge; Mercedes too are relishing the comparison. Ferrari did well at the start of the race in Spain, which is a similarly aero-critical circuit, but their tyres faded. The Scuderia are concentrating on 2012 now so podiums will be a bonus.

Kamui Kobayashi will make a much-awaited return to Suzuka. Takuma Sato used to get a huge boost performing in front of his home fans and Kobayashi should be stirred to great things too. Sauber need the points if they’re still going to challenge Force India. Suzuka represents one of the greatest tests an F1 driver can face and, like New York, New York, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. So it’s best to outqualify your team-mate. In the two Degna curves it has a sequence of corners that won’t produce a high-speed accident, but with so little run-off, will end your session or your race quite conclusively. Spoon is a difficult corner to get right, but 130R isn’t as fearsome as it used to be. The days of Allan McNish spreading large quantities of Toyota components around its environs are long gone.

With the Championship done and dusted Pirelli are thinking of going a bit more radical with the tyres to see what impact it has on the racing. Paul Hembery of Pirelli has already indicated an aggressive choice for Korea – to see if that will force teams to racing on the harder compound – which will actually be the ‘soft’ there. “We want to push people to running on the soft, and see what happens,” he said. “It might be a four stop, but we have said all along that we are aiming for two or three. We don’t have testing so sometimes we are going to push things, and it will make it easier if the championship is decided. We need to understand that for next season to make our choice aggressive again.”
If Vettel has been the driver of the season, then it is fair to say that Pirelli tyres have been the most exciting element of the season. DRS and KERS have helped generate excitement but it is the tyres that have entertained the most. That and the latest Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher saga. In Japan the king will be crowned but the excitement is guaranteed to keep on coming.

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