Japanese GP: thoughts on the start

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

Felipe Massa needs Kimi Raikkonen to pass Lewis Hamilton at the start
Felipe Massa needs Kimi Raikkonen to pass Lewis Hamilton at the start

For Felipe Massa, 0.053 seconds could be the difference between a winnable race and a damage limitation exercise.

Those five hundredths of a second are the difference between Massa, fifth on the grid, and Heikki Kovalainen, third. With Lewis Hamilton starting from pole position Ferrari will have to bring Kimi Raikkonen, who starts alongside the championship leader, into play.

The start

We’re yet to see how a standing start in the dry at Fuji Speedway might play out, but with dry weather expected tomorrow we should see one. There are a couple of things to keep an eye on.

Will one side of the grid offer better traction? At some circuits this year we’ve seen drivers starting on the racing line side of the track have an advantage. If that is the case at Fuji, it’s good news for Hamilton, Kovalainen, Massa and the other drivers starting from the odd-numbered grid slots.

It’s a very long run to the first corner, so the drivers that get away from the line best will surely have a good chance of passing into the first corner.

Turn one is a sharp hairpin with plenty of tarmac run-off area, so there’s a good chance we’ll see drivers trying to pass each other there.

Ferrari’s tactics

IDR’s analysis of fuel loads predicts Raikkonen is fuelled several laps shorter than Massa. Given the considerable improvement in time Raikkonen found in Q3 compared to Q2, that seems likely.

Therefore Ferrari need Raikkonen to get in front of Hamilton at the start and try to contain the McLaren driver’s pace to keep Massa in the hunt.

Massa, meanwhile, has to overcome Fernando Alonso’s Renault as well as Kovalainen. With Ferrari’s superior engine performance to the Renault Massa may well accomplish that on the way to the first corner. Think back to Massa’s excellent start at the Hungaroring and it’s not difficult to imagine him arriving at turn one in third.

That’s the most realistic scenario Ferrari can hope for: Raikkonen leading Hamilton and Massa into turn one. The nightmare scenario has Kovalainen passing Raikkonen and Massa being stuck behind Alonso until the first pit stops – or even losing a place to Robert Kubica.

McLaren’s tactics

McLaren can use Kovalainen in one of two ways. If he can get past Raikkonen at the start and act as a rear-gunner for Hamilton, they could set up a one-two that would put them within touching distance of both championships.

But they can’t run the risk of a repeat of Kovalainen and Raikkonen’s last turn one run-in, at Istanbul, where Kovalainen picked up a puncture that ruined his race.

Even if Kovalainen can’t take the fight to Raikkonen, at the very least he needs to keep Massa behind him.

For Hamilton, he must remember the lessons of this time last year and not allow his attention to be directed from fighting his chief opponent – Massa – and get drawn into a needless battle with Raikkonen.

But some people are wondering why McLaren’s new-found conservatism hasn’t led them into changing Hamilton’s engine for this race, allowing the luxury of a fresh engine in time for the final round at Interlagos. Hamilton will be using the same engine here he had at Singapore. As discussed here a few days ago reliability failure for a championship contender in one of the final races could decide the title.

How do you think the Japanese Grand Prix will play out? And have McLaren made a mistake in not changing Hamilton’s engine?

Has Lewis Hamilton taken an unnecessary risk by not changing his engine?
Has Lewis Hamilton taken an unnecessary risk by not changing his engine?

24 comments on “Japanese GP: thoughts on the start”

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  1. Ron Dennis gave a couple of interesting interviews to ITV-F1 pre and post qualifying stating that they would cautious for the first few laps of the race – where the cost of a lost front wing is so high – and then race tactically until the finish.

    Kimi has either found some aggression or is light and either way for both his own and his team’s sake he needs to get ahead of Hamilton. The long drag down from the start line to turn one would look an ideal place to do this if Hamilton is thinking of his front wing.

  2. Raikkonen has a good opportunity of torpedoing Hamilton in that first corner… :)

  3. It’s been known to happen in a Japanese Grand Prix :)

    If it does James Allen will die of shock!

  4. If it wern`t for the fact Kimi looks like He`s sucking a Lemon when talk of being Massa`s tail gunner is aired, I would be very worried if I were Lewis going into turn 1, but kimi will be going for the lead into it, come “Hell or high water”.

  5. – Massa said after qualifying that he had pushed too hard and taken too much out of the tires. I think Massa will play it safe and not rush into the first corner.
    – Alonso will be fired up and dreaming of another podium so he won’t let anyone through easily.

    So here’s what I think will happen:
    – Kimi will have a great start and get ahead. Lewis will let him through at turn 1.
    – Heikki will be cautious not to run into Hamilton and Alonso will overtake him.
    – Massa will be stuck behind Heikki who he’ll overtake in a couple of laps but Alonso will put up a huge fight. Massa will shred his tires and not be on the podium.
    – Kimi and Lewis will pull away from the rest.
    – Kimi and Alonso will likely be light and lose places after pitstops.
    – Lewis will lead after pitstops and win.

    So my prediction:
    Lewis, Massa and someone random like Trulli.

  6. The reality is that it is very difficult for someone from P2 to pass the person in P1 unless that person gets a dreadful start – I’m not sure we’ve seen it all season – we’ve seen third go past pole I’ll grant you. Starting on the clean side of the grid is a huge advantage.

    Massa should get past Alonso but unless Kovalainen has a shocker there is no chance. Heikki won’t be shy of giving Massa a nudge if he needs to. The reality is that we are all expectant at the start but usually thr guys in front get away

  7. Kova is very likely to make a cautious start. 2 reasons :

    1. He is bad at them
    2. He has Kimi immediately in front, who gave him a puncture the last time both were together; and Hamilton after that; whom he is not allowed to overtake.

    This cautious start could let Massa take P4 and P3 both from Alonso and Kova..

  8. Sumedh – completely disagree. The one job Kova has is to stay ahead of Massa – that is all. He will not be trying to make a cautious start i don’t think.

  9. We’re definitely bound to see a thrilling first two laps. Let’s not forget about Alonso’s ruthlesness and him having nothing to lose. Just like Kubica right behind him. Pity that these two, who in my opinion could spice up the first few turns, are starting in the bad side of the track.

  10. And by the way, Shashi, you were thrillingly persuasive til that very last line in which Trulli showed up!

  11. Alonso has his work cut out for him tomorrow,that is a long drag race to the first corner with the Renault engine.If he can hold them back till the first corner I think he has a chance for podium.As far as Hamilton goes,I think it was a mistake not to change his engine.If he doesn’t hold the lead from pole he will need to push hard to catch Kimi.

  12. Kovy deliberately making cautious starts? I don’t think he’s capable of good or aggressive starts.

    Just as Lewis will be cautious not to go off or break his car, (allowing a Kimi lap 1, turn 1 pass) Massa will be working under the same pressure. He won’t jeopardize his car and he’s not capable of the same aggressive passes Lewis can pull off.

    Lewis should be content to trail Kimi home in second as long as Felipe is behind him. Alonso takes third.

    But I would dearly love to see Lewis, Kimi and Felipe go hammer and tongs for first place. We fans deserve a show!

  13. A lot depends on fuel load: Raikkonen has looked like getting past Hamilton twice via the pits (Canada and Singapore) but I’d guess that this time he’s loaded even lighter than Lewis, meaning that this strategy is more or less scuppered.

    Kimi could use Massa’s Hungary ploy of streaking down the long straight to the first corner and frying his brakes to get in front of Hamilton: basically anything to get infront of Lewis and then slow him up.

    If that fails, and presuming Heikki hasn’t nabbed P2 off him by starting well off the clean side, Kimi will no doubt try to be all over Hamilton for the first laps. But really I expect Lewis to break away after a short tussle: he’s actually due for a good race (Monza was excellent but ultimately a salvage operation).

    If so, and presuming no mechanical or tyre problems for Hamilton, the real question is how Massa will minimize the point loss to 2 points, with the hope of a Ferrari 1-2 in Shanghai and São Paulo (and Lewis not getting two third places). A lot more pressure for Massa, then. And he’ll probably be worried about Kubica off the grid: if he drops further back, he’s in deep trouble (since Kova will probably finish ahead of him). That’ll add a lot more pressure. Basically crucnh time for Felipe. His performances in Hungary, Spain and Singapore have shown real strength and talent, but he needs an extra dimension in Japan.

  14. I agree with Sashi except the third place.
    Trulli sure in the points but unlikely on the podium.

    1st: Hamilton
    2nd: Massa
    3rd: Alonso

    and in case Massa doesnt work out well:

    1st: Hamilton
    2nd: Raikkonen
    3rd: Kov or Alonso

  15. Carlitos – i thought Shashi had lost it when he/she said Massa will shred his tyres b4 having him 2nd in his/her prediction at the end – but he/she probably meant Heikki who i agree wiv every1 isn’t a good starter. He’ll need to do his job for Lewis and help out the championship, he cant let Alonso get ahead of him.

    Wud be gr8 for Toyota on their home patch to score some points. Glock i feel will nab ahead of Trulli going into turn 1. Watch out for the STR’s behind. Vettel i think’ll get away fine, Bourdais might drop a place or 2. But id love to be proven wrong as id like Bourdais to get a top10 finish here to cement his place for next year.

    Would be good for Honda if they can get some air time on the race as its about time they did something this season which effectivly ended bar the odd result after Ruben’s terrific rain strategy race at Silverstone.

    Ideally id like Lewis to win this race, but id settle for him finishing 2nd ahead of Massa.

  16. regarding hamilton using the same engine, i’m not sure that using the “joker” change for this race would have been the best option.

    they can now give lewis a fresh powerplant for interlagos, rather than him having to run the same engine over the last two races.

    mclarens thinking at the start of the weekend *may* have been that even if the worst should happen and hamilton picks up a DNF, at worst massa would win but he’d still only be 3 points behind with two races to go. he’d have a new powerplant for each of those races and be confident that he’d be unlikely to pick up another mechanical DNF and he could really push the engine for both races if he needs to.

    on the otherhand, if he’d used it here and massa had still gained the lead in the championship or even just caught up considerably then he’d have to run those last two race on the same engine, potentially running a higher risk of malfunction and/or not pushing to hard all the way through shangai next weekend.

    just seems they are going for the option that gives them the smoothest run in to the end of the season.

    any idea whether massa has a new engine for this race? is there an easy way to find out, i’m always losing track!

    oh, regarding the race tomorrow i’m going to state the obvious and say that turn one on the first lap is going to be very exciting!

  17. Graham, the fact is the joker can’t be used at Interlagos because of an FIA rule, so he can’t have new engines for both China and Brazil. Hence, if he uses the joker now he’ll have fresh ones for 2 of 3 races, otherwise he’ll have only one new engine (at Shangai)!

  18. I think Raikkonen/Massa were short/long fueled
    with the intention of of putting Raikkonen
    ahead of the Mclaren’s with the intention
    of holding up the race pace enabling Massa to (easily)
    pass in the pits.

    Such cooperative strategy would have left Massa very secure for safety cars, and is an even better version of the mechanism that has recently got Piquet and Alonso anomolously high.

    Of course, it required that Raikkonen actually get the
    pole and hold up the cars that were lighter than Massa,
    and this may not have worked out.

  19. “the fact is the joker can’t be used at Interlagos because of an FIA rule, so he can’t have new engines for both China and Brazil. Hence, if he uses the joker now he’ll have fresh ones for 2 of 3 races, otherwise he’ll have only one new engine (at Shangai)!”

    This is what I was talking about in my post #11.You can’t use your joker engine in the last race.

    qazuhb brought it to attention in a post yesterday.

  20. Perhaps the Mech`s are so pleased with the engine there saying `leave it be`.

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