2012 Japanese Grand Prix Preview – Big in Japan

October 3, 2012 6:06 pm

The awe-inspiring Suzuka circuit lies in wait this weekend as Formula One continues its far eastern odyssey with the Japanese Grand Prix.

Steeped in motor racing folklore, the Suzuka track boasts the sweeping Senna ‘S’ curves, the tricky Degner one and two corners and the frightening 130R forty degree left hand blast that has claimed many a careless driver down the years.

With the 2012 title fight hotting up, none of the top teams or drivers can afford for any of these imposing obstacles to throw them from their task of beating their rivals; Fernando Alonso leads the way with Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Jenson Button all hot on his heels.

Sebastian Vettel forces Jenson Button off the circuit at the start of the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix…

Lewis Hamilton arrives at Suzuka with the ink still drying on his new 2013 Mercedes contract but insists his focus remains on doing his utmost to wrestle the title from Alonso’s grasp in the current season.  Mclaren remain the strongest team after victories in Hungary, Belgium and Italy but their car remains fragile with mechanical failures costing both Button and Hamilton crucial points in previous races. Jenson Button has had his weekend darkened already after being handed a five-place grid penalty because of a gearbox change, making a repeat of his 2011 Japanese victory that more difficult.

Sebastian Vettel claimed back-to-back victories at Suzuka in 2009 and 2010 and took his second world title there last season after finishing the race 3rd, and the momentum his victory two weeks ago in Singapore lent him will surely propel him into the weekend on the crest of a wave and potentially ignite his final championship surge as it did two years ago to carry him to that incredible maiden title.  The man he is hunting, Fernando Alonso, needs a significant performance boost and improvement from his Ferrari team to make the F2012 car the tool that he needs to deliver the Scuderia a title. Alonso remains the sports strongest competitor and has managed to minimise the damage to his championship lead with a mixture of good luck and canny driving, but with six races remaining there is the very real chance someone could soon be making significant inroads into that deficit unless Ferrari act soon. Memories of 2010 will be all too fresh in the minds of many at the team.

…the Briton had the last laugh however when he triumphed in the race

With the impending arrival of Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, Michael Schumacher finds himself out of a job and this may well be the German veteran’s final Japanese Grand Prix. Mercedes have slipped backwards in recent Grand Prix, although an upgrade package fitted to the car at the Singapore race seems to have arrested that slide. They remain locked in battle with the Lotus Renault team for fourth place in the constructor’s championship, but Schumacher will be required to score considerably more points than he has done should that remain a possibility for the German national team.

Suzuka has been a happy hunting ground for the Red Bull team in recent years – but they were beaten here last year and with a less than dominant machine this time round it seems the clever money is going on either Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton to claim the honours this weekend. Never discount Fernando Alonso though, and Vettel will be determined to sustain the upswing in fortune he started in Singapore. Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean remain the largest outside threats, but maybe an improved Felipe Massa could take his first win since 2008 for the prancing horse?

As so often in 2012, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be the happiest man when Sunday night falls on the land of the rising sun.

Anthony French

Full TV coverage available via BBC One HD and SkyF1HD with all session live on Sky and highlights available on the BBC. BBC Radio5Live will provide full, live commentary of all Friday and Saturday practice sessions and the race on Sunday morning. Live text feed available via the BBC F1 website.

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