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

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

  1. Rahim RG said on 7th October 2010, 7:33

    This Race is Crucial for Force India Too…Heard they are bring Major Upgrades too…
    Looking at how Calm and Collected Vettel has become in Recent races….I think Vettel will be the man to beat…..

    • dave monks said on 7th October 2010, 8:20

      Why bother? They will not catch Renault for 5th and any money spent now is a waste. They don’t need any more coverage for coming Unless they can show direct evolution of a part onto the 2011 car, I think they are mad to look for ‘Major Upgrades’.

      What are the other reasons to do this? What am I missing?

    • patrickl said on 7th October 2010, 20:00

      FI said that they don’t care about coming 6th or 7th this season. They were focussing in becoming 5th in 2011.

  2. Raymond said on 7th October 2010, 7:36

    Jumping ahead of ourselves Keith? You mean Preview, not review, no? :D

  3. wow review already :] and i was waiting for a preview :]

  4. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 7th October 2010, 8:04

    I’m tipping Suzuka to be Red Bull territory. Alonso has proven to be the proverbial red flag (literally) waved before their eyes for the past two races, so I think it’s going to be a Red Bull vs. Ferrari fight, and I strongly suspect that the Bulls will have the upper hand.

  5. Adam Smith said on 7th October 2010, 8:17

    I think the drivers to watch are Vettel and Button. This is pretty crucial for the two of them, more so for Button. If they don’t get a substantial points haul here, it is becoming increasingly hard for them to catch the leading three.

    I think qualifying is going to be crucial here, as it can often spring a load of surprises, such as last year with the yellow flags and drivers not slowing down.

    I wouldn’t rule anyone out yet though, Red Bull look like the car to beat, Ferrari have the momentum, and McLaren can always pull something out of the bag.

    Bring it on!

    • Todfod said on 7th October 2010, 18:08

      I think Vettel is going to shine in this race. If he gets it together for these last 4 races and consistently outperforms his teammate, like he did last year, I think he can take the title in Abu Dhabi.

      I honestly do not expect anything much from Button. He will probably qualify in 5th or 6th, and pick up positions in the drivers in front falter.

      Hopefully, It wil be Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton on the podium… followed by Massa, Webber and Button.

  6. czhihong said on 7th October 2010, 8:19

    “Spearheading Williams’s efforts to wrest fifth in the constructors’ championship from Force India…”

    That should be sixth?

    Won’t be able to watch this one live on tv, both qualifying and race :(

  7. This is probably the most important race for the Championship.
    If Webber runs away with it, game over. If he’s 3rd or below and Alfonso picks up another win, its all on for the remaining races!

    Surely RB will need to be looking and thinking its time to position Webber to win the Championship. As noble as it is to keep the two guys racing, the way the races are going they’re going to lose the Championship to Alonso. I’m not talking about getting Vettel to pull over to let Webber through, but they need to give Webber every advantage possible.

    • Adam Smith said on 7th October 2010, 9:05

      Ha I wish his name was Fernando Alfonso!

    • If Webber wins, he’d have at least an 18 point gap to second place Alonso. It’d still not be over as Alonso winning the last three races, on circuits that will suit the Ferrari more than Suzuka, would see him crowned champion.

      Webber winning in Japan would however, go close to relegating Vettel to No.2 status in the team for the rest of the year.

      • Mathematically possible yes, but Alfonso’s momentum will have been broken and I think Webber will hold him off.

        The last tracks may suit Ferrari, but they’ll also suit RB.

        • More than mathematically possible for Alonso and Ferrari, all to play for for them.

          McLaren, however, might as well concentrate on next years car should Webber win.

  8. If ferrari win this one who would bet against Alonso for the championship. It would certainly make RBR scratch their heads.

    I have a concern over the Mclaren up grades, since they have found more down-force they seem to be hurting their tyres more, and race pace has always been their strong point, this doesn’t seem to (as much) be the case any more. Could it be that they are going for a more aggressive set-up at the expense of type degradation.

    At the moment my money is on a RBR 1-2 but then they seem to have a knack of messing up. Some greasy conditions and Mclaren could sneak it.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 7th October 2010, 8:25

      If ferrari win this one who would bet against Alonso for the championship.

      I would. His engine situation is really bad.

      • Santi said on 7th October 2010, 9:54

        I also think that the engine situation of Alonso is key here. I kind of think that he will have troubles in at least on GP. Given that I also think that Vettel and Lewis will crash out in at least one more, and that I don’t see Button challenging Webber, my money is with Webber.

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 7th October 2010, 10:40

        And Suzuka has already been the seen of engine failures that massively affected the championship. Last time Alonso benefited, might he come-a-cropper himself this year?

  9. PS Would love to see Rubens in the top 5

  10. Ronman said on 7th October 2010, 8:34

    is it me or is this championship really exciting, i can’t get my head around the fact that there is a huge possibility that we might get to Abu Dhabi with the title still wide open and an endless number of possibilities that might or might not cause one of the guys to clinch it… seriously fun never been so excited…Go F1

  11. breza said on 7th October 2010, 8:37

    Too hard to call. Suzuka always has its own special rules, and no place for errors. The one who will make a wrong move in the wrong time (even in Q1 and Q2) will lose the championship. Webber knows that. Suzuka is his “make or brake” chance, hope he’ll stay cool. Others must catch-up, so the qualifing will be crucial, especially with wet conditions. This one will be a belter…

  12. BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th October 2010, 9:03

    As with most races this year, the race is hard to forsee.

    With qualifying it should be Vettel and Webber, but hard to say who it’ll be when rain gets mixed in. I would think that would give Webber a better chance as well as both McLaren drivers. But nothings sure this year, great season.

  13. BBQ2 said on 7th October 2010, 9:22

    Since Felipe being “A” No.1 driver, I wish he wins this one and really becomes “The” No.1 driver at Scuderia Ferrari :-( (I must not stop dreaming….. or?)

  14. graigchq said on 7th October 2010, 9:27

    best season ever. As a Briton, and a fan of our boys in silver and red, here’s hoping that Button can reduce the gap, and/or Hamilton take some glory away from Alonso.

    As was mentioned yesterday in the comments both Button and Hamilton have outdriven their cars this year, as has Alonso, whereas the Red Bull may be the fastest and best all round car, but those two boys in blue just don’t seem to be able to hold it together. Their car isn’t an overtaking machine, it seems to be a “get in front and stay there” type of car.

    My prediction, a wet qualifying with both our boys doing extremely well. One of the red bull’s not making the top six due to a technical or driver error, and alonso splitting the McLaren’s to take 2nd or 3rd.

    Team orders or not, i honestly believe that Button and Hamilton feel the same way about their team’s hopes, and whoever is in front can expect strong support from the other, without Whitmarsh having to remind them who is faster than who. Seb may get frustrated and bash someone off the road again, this time though, i hope it’s Alonso’s race he ruins, but that is purely from a McLaren fan’s perspective.

    What would be really awesome? Final race, with one of the red bulls, one of the McLarens and Alonso (and at this point, i’d say Webber and Hamilton, although it COULD be Seb and Jenson) going for top three lockout, with some awesome overtaking, and a fight right down to the last lap, with whoever wins the race taking the title.

    Too much to ask? nah.. pfft!! this is top level motorsport, its what we expect!!

    • Stefanauss said on 7th October 2010, 9:58

      Why it wouldn’t be awesome if there are all 5 of them running for championship at the final race?
      If you have to ask a lot, ask everything xD

      I really think we will see the same performance hierarchy we saw in Spa-Francorchamps, so race will be a question beetween Red Bull (mostly) and McLaren.

      • graigchq said on 7th October 2010, 10:32

        because i would love it if all the interteam politics were just mooted by the final race. Button/Hamilton will syupport each other WHEN it comes to it, Webber will grudgingly support Seb if he needs to, Seb will probably run Mark off the road if he is asked to support him, and we all know where Alonso is.

        Button fighting off Alonso for 2nd with Hamilton streaking ahead would be ideal, Webber battling with Button whilst hamilton T-bones seb to give him a taste of his own medicine, with Webber having failed because of some sort of dingo related barbeque incident…


  15. LewisC said on 7th October 2010, 9:51

    Looking forward to another Vettel pole / Webber win combination here…

    • David BR said on 7th October 2010, 14:05

      Showdown time for Vettel. This is the ideal race for him to get pole *and* the win. I can imagine him and Lewis performing well here. The question is – can they finish the race? Hamilton I’m sure will just drive the same as usual, knowing that the McLaren is less competitive and he has no real choice now but to go for broke. Vettel, though, should know he’s had the car to take the title this year – and still has if he can outperform Webber (and everyone else) over the next four races. That simple.

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