Japanese GP preview: McLaren vs Ferrari

The drivers had little chance to explore Fuji in the dry last year

The drivers had little chance to explore Fuji in the dry last year

The Fuji circuit looks like a Ferrari track. And if McLaren were banking on the race weekend being wet, they’re in for a disappointment.

Which of the title contending teams will have the upper hand at Fuji Speedway?

Rain

As heavy rain played such a huge role in last year?s race its inevitable we should look to the skies for the first sign of how the weekend might pan out.

When it does rain at Fuji, it rains extremely hard. In these heavy wet conditions we have seen McLaren ?ǣ and especially Lewis Hamilton ?ǣ perform much better than Ferrari.

But early signs are we’re in for a dry weekend at Fuji, with a chance of rain on Saturday that may affect qualifying.

Temperature

Early indications are the weekend will be cool. So far this year the general rule has been that cooler conditions suit McLaren better. But that may have changed.

Ferrari has struggled to compete with McLaren in wet weather this year. But following the Italian Grand Prix the team tested extensively in cool conditions at Mugello to get on top of the problems it had getting its tyres up to temperature.

However even a dry track will bring certain challenges. It was wet for most of the weekend last year and the teams only ran in dry conditions on the Friday. The teams may be short on data for this venue. Bridgestone is bringing the same compounds of tyres as last year: medium (prime) and soft (option).

Circuit configuration

Fuji is dominated by a huge straight, just short of 1.5km long. However much of the rest of the track is slow corners, which calls for a compromise between downforce and efficiency.

This should play to the strengths of the F2008, which has thrived on ??compromise? tracks such as Valencia this year.

Fuji Speedway track and tyre data and circuit diagram here: Fuji Speedway circuit information

Team management

With the championship in mind, both teams will surely want to use their de facto number two drivers (Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen) to support their strongest title contenders (Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton).

McLaren have the luxury of knowing Kovalainen is completely out of the championship hunt and therefore asking him to help out Hamilton is entirely reasonable.

But what about Ferrari? Raikkonen has said publicly he believes his title hopes are over. But it?s hard to forget he overcame a 17-point deficit with two races to go to win the title last year. At Singapore he was the fastest man on the track when the safety car intervened and ruined his race. If Raikkonen were to win this race with Massa not scoring, Ferrari could find themselves with a difficult decision to make.

More about team orders: F1?s unwritten rules: team orders edition

Don?t forget BMW

Both of BMW?s drivers are still in the hunt for the championship, although the odds are stacked against them.

Robert Kubica has often been able to get between the McLarens and Ferraris, which could spoil their efforts to use Raikkonen or Kovalainen to influence the race.

Which team and driver do you think will be quickest at Fuji?

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25 comments on Japanese GP preview: McLaren vs Ferrari

  1. Theorically a Ferrari 1-2, but if the weather is changeable in Qualifying that will upset Massa, and Kimi still isn’t on the ball enough to keep Hammy at bay during a race.
    This may be an eye-opener on who actually is the stronger team – and we know from previous seasons that being ‘faster’ doesn’t always mean ‘better’.

  2. Lewis and McLaren would be my call, wet or dry, as long as temps stay cool. I don’t buy into the notion that Ferrari have figured out the low temp/grip problems. Unless their cars work better on the Bridgies that are being supplied for this race, mediums and softs.

    What I truly DON’T want to see is a massive brain fade from Lewis, or another clown act from the Ferrari pit crew; Let’s decide the issue on the track.

  3. Did anybody read the spat between Ted Kravitz (ITV reporter) and David Coulthard regarding his Singapore drive.

    Ted’s column – http://www.itv-f1.com/Feature.aspx?Type=Ted_Kravitz&id=44141

    David’s response – http://www.itv-f1.com/Feature.aspx?Type=David_Coulthard&id=44174

  4. Daniel said on 7th October 2008, 20:55

    Raikkonen himself ruined his race with that late crash…

  5. F1Fan said on 7th October 2008, 21:12

    Ferrari is bringing its final updates to the F2008 in Fuji. Along w/ the track suiting the red cars, this will make it very difficult for McLaren to avoid a 1-2 … barring another (pit-stop or other) blunder by the red team. And yes, Kimi will set FL once again.

  6. Loki said on 8th October 2008, 0:39

    I’m not entirely convinced new parts are going to solve any of this seasons Ferrari’s problems. There’s nothing wrong with the pace of the car…

    They, basically, need to 1-2 every remaining race with Massa in first and Raikonnen in 2nd to get both championships…they’ve only achieved 3 1-2s all season! Yes, you can say they came from way back this time last year, but that was because Hamilton and Mclaren slipped up as well…I don’t think they’re going to make the same mistakes in the same positions.

    If Ferrari win, it’ll be a good recovery from the recent setbacks. But I hate to say it, and this is on face value and on recent momentum, I reckon Fuji will see a lot of Ferrari hearts sink – again :(

  7. Owen said on 8th October 2008, 6:55

    GeorgeK – totally agree about how it should be decided. This season has been pretty scrappy with errors from all involved. I’d really like to see the top 3 (and Kovi if he can manage it) fight it out for all the remaining podiums and the title go to the best driver, not the one who ballsed up the least.

  8. I saw an article I thought you all might be interested in regarding Massa and the F1 title –
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/7658733.stm

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