Red Bull have the pace, Ferrari have momentum (Japanese GP preview)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Singapore, 2010

Monza was supposed to be an ideal circuit for McLaren – but Ferrari won.

And Singapore was supposed to be an ideal circuit for Red Bull – but Ferrari won.

No team has managed to win three races in a row this year – can Ferrari change that in Japan?

Memories of his weekend here last year will be giving championship leader Mark Webber nightmares.

He crashed in final practice and had to miss qualifying. On race day his headrest worked loose and he picked up a puncture, forcing him to pit three times in the first four laps. He eventually finished two laps down while his team mate romped to victory.

Webber has lost ground to Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the last two races and the battle between those three drivers is likely to take place at the front of the pack this weekend.

The first sector at Suzuka is almost entirely spent changing direction – good news for the Red Bull drivers. The rest of the lap – particularly the long flat-out sections in the final third – offer hope to their rivals.

Even so, expect the Red Bull pair to do their business in qualifying as usual. The question, as has so often been the case this year, is whether they can translate their speed into a maximum points haul.

Vettel revelled in the circuit on his first visit to the track last year, saying he was disappointed when the last lap started as he knew he wouldn’t get to drive the track for a while longer.

Lewis Hamilton also made his first appearance at Suzuka last year, finishing third. He heads into this weekend’s race badly needing to stop the rot in his championship effort after three no-scores in four races.

Suzuka won’t decide the destiny of this year’s title but if McLaren can’t keep their rivals in sight here it could prove the beginning of the end of their championship prospects.

They said the new front wing introduced at Singapore should serve them best on faster circuits like Suzuka, and a lot is riding on that and their other upgrades planned for this weekend.

Ferrari’s potential here is a little harder to measure. The F10 has matured into a solid all-rounder and Alonso has gone well here in the past, winning in 2006 and rising from 16th to third in 2005. Don’t count them out.

Remember too how strong Renault were in Spa. Robert Kubica should be close at hand to keep the championship contenders honest and punish any slip-ups.

This is a track that has a habit of throwing up surprises. Its difficult layout and limited run-off caught out many drivers last year, particularly in qualifying.

The weather can be unpredictable and already there are reports of heavy rain in the area on Saturday. A wet qualifying session and dry race at Suzuka produced a classic race here five years ago – let’s see if history repeats itself.

Drivers to watch

Four driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.

Sebastian Vettel – He’s closed on his championship-leading team mate in the last two races and a repeat of his dominant 2009 performance would help reduce his 21-point deficit even further.

Rubens Barrichello – Spearheading Williams’s efforts to wrest sixth in the constructors’ championship from Force India in the closing stages of the season.

Jaime Alguersuari – Has shown some improvements in recent races and deserved better at Singapore, where a car failure kept him from starting where he qualified. Crashed spectacularly in last year’s race – will he fare better this time?

Jarno Trulli – Suffered a dreadful weekend in Singapore but brought his Toyota home second at Suzuka last year.

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images