Saturday, 9 October 2010

Suzuka Preview: Opportunity Red Bull

We have to wait a little longer for qually at Suzuka. Heavy, incessant rain on Saturday, which created track conditions which rendered the cars virtually undriveable, means that the session now will take place on Sunday morning, 10am local time, finishing four hours before the race start. There was some prevarication as the scheduled time for qually came and went earlier today, and the fans waited patiently as surely only the Japanese can, before the powers that be finally gave into the inevitable.

All the indications from the running on Friday were that, if dry, the Red Bulls are untouchable. Their performance through fast, long corners has been well-established this season, and such corners are plentiful at the Suzuka track. Their grip and change of direction, in the esses section especially, is something to behold.

While this will be of some relief to Mark Webber, whose championship lead is a precarious 11 points, it'll be of less comfort to him that his team mate Sebastian Vettel again looks mighty, continuing his recent improved form and being consistently the quicker of the Bulls. Vettel won this race at a canter last year, and Webber himself has admitted that Vettel has the edge on him around this track.

The Red Bull team will be glad that qualifying was not run in yesterday's perfidious conditions - which would have represented an unwelcome wild card. The latest forecasts are that the track will have a few hours to dry out prior to qualifying tomorrow. Therefore, given a clear run, you'd have to assume that the Red Bulls will fill the front row and disappear in the race. However, as we know there has been many a slip between cup and lip for the Red Bulls this season. Last year's Suzuka qualifying session was filled with accidents, yellow and red flags, and grid penalties, and the possible still-damp conditions (particularly on kerbs, rumble strips and the like) may mean that tomorrow's qualifying session will be somewhat shark infested.

Fernando Alonso looks like he'll be best of the rest, and with his recent fantastic form and momentum he'll likely ensure that he's close enough to the Red Bulls to take advantage of any of their standard fumbles (as he did at Hungary, Singapore and elsewhere). Nevertheless, such are the Red Bulls' performance advantage that getting among them by whatever opportunity is probably the maximum that Fred realistically aspire to achieve from the weekend. I suspect he'll be happy to get out of Suzuka still within touching distance of Webber at the top of the table with three races left.

There's also been a curious side show at Ferrari, with strange noises emanating both from Felipe Massa and Luca di Montezemolo, indicating a tension between Massa and his team which has developed since 'team order gate' at Hockenheim. This is an unwelcome distraction for the Maranello concern, especially when it had been said that Ferrari had an advantage over Red Bull and McLaren by not having intra-team tensions. Fernando probably won't give a fig though.

Elsewhere, Hamilton's downward spiral continues, with his ripping a wheel off the car at Degner, which ruled him out of most of the first two practice sessions. With practice three a wash out, Lewis has only completed six timed laps this weekend. Worse, Lewis faces a five place grid drop wherever he qualifies, as his team had to change his car's gearbox. Short of more rain, it's difficult to see how he can avoid losing more ground in the table this weekend. Indeed, McLaren generally have struggled, even with an upgrade they again look a bit off the pace and the car looks difficult to drive (Jenson also had an off). Jenson will therefore be doing a rain dance as well as Lewis. Outside of the established front runners, Kubica's Renault looks strong, and may well take points off at least one McLaren.

Now, off to set my alarm...

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