Friday, 10 October 2008

Japanese Grand Prix: Preview

With F1 fans still reeling from the shock of Canada being dropped from the 2009 calendar, still feeling aghast at the suggestion of standardised 'spec' engines from one of the sport's kingpins, and still being vexed by the portents of impending doom from the sport's other kingpin, it's back to business as usual for the teams as the Japanese Grand Prix weekend gets under way at Fuji Speedway.

With just 3 races to go the World Championship race is looking like a straight two-way fight between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. Raikkonen is still within sight of the front two, and he made a miraculous run to glory in the final races of last season while McLaren proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot, but few would bet on history repeating. In an identical car, Felipe Massa is simply outperforming the much higher-paid Finn, and Hamilton doesn't have the distraction of a bitter rivalry with a highly competitive team mate to concern himself with this year. The Brit's current 7 point advantage is significant, although not insurmountable, and crucially gives him the comfort of knowing that he doesn't have to win any of the final three races and still become champion.

Of course, Hamilton is a great racer and will be very much going out to win all three of the remaining races. However, I think he is starting to show signs of the maturity and restraint that was lacking a year ago, and which possibly cost him his title shot in '07. Last time out in Singapore he had the distinct chance of second place after the final safety car period, but chose not to challenge Nico Rosberg, and instead settled for a sensible and hard-fought third place. Would the Lewis Hamilton of 12 months ago done the same? I doubt it. I suspect if he finds himself in P2 during this race then we won't see him challenging too hard for the win, and settling for the 8 points. Not the best entertainment perhaps, but the sensible route to WDC glory.

Interesting things to report from the pitlane side of things are that Ferrari have decided to eat humble pie with regard to their controversial (ie farcical) pit light system. They didn't learn their lesson from having their fingers burnt in Valencia a couple of months ago, and ended up getting well and truly incinerated in Singapore, with catastrophic/hilarious results. The "don't fix if it ain't broke" lollipop comes back in the Ferrari pit. Also, all cars this week will be running with green paint in the grooves of their tyres, support F1 Going Green. I guess with only three races left before slick tyres return, they had to find some way of milking the grooves for all they're worth before they're gone forever, regardless of how silly it may look.

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