Thursday, October 6, 2011

What to watch at the Japanese Grand Prix

This weekend brings us to one of my favorite races on the calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix at the fabled Suzuka Circuit, and it is all but certain that Sebastian Vettel secures his second world title in as many years at this race. All Vettel needs is a single point and the title is his; he can roll out of bed with a hangover from the pre-party he should be having for winning the title and get that needed point. So what else is there to look at for this race? There are a couple points of interest for me. One is the scrum between Button, Alonso and Webber and the other are the performances of Sauber, Renault and Mercedes.

The battle for the best of the rest is ultra close; Button, Alonso and Webber are separated by only three points with five races remaining. What are their motivations? Button will definitely have an emotional high of having been contractually secured for the near future by McLaren, Alonso has publicly indicated several times that second place in the championship is worth fighting for, and Webber is intent on winning a grand prix after watching his teammate in similar equipment blitz the field this season. Add to that, being at a circuit that many drivers consider to be their favorite and one of the more challenging should make it doubly fun for them and viewing public. 

In terms of Sauber, Renault and Mercedes, they are at different levels of the championship table so the interest lies in several other details. Both Sauber and Renault have admitted that they have made mistakes revolving around exhausts that have entombed them for the rest of season: Sauber expected the FIA to change the rules around exhausts and blown diffusers, which ultimately did not happen and Renault in the radical design choice of forward exiting exhausts (FEE). I want to see how these teams perform knowing that there is not much they can do to develop the cars while they are still engaged in a constructors fight with each other and Force India. Also, I want to see how Kamui Kobayashi and Bruno Senna perform. Kobayashi is at his home race so I will be interested in seeing how he bounces back after stumbling the last few races. Senna has admitted he feels that he is not fully up to speed after replacing Nick Heidfeld. So, it will be interesting to see how he goes at a real tough track while Renault continue their evaluation of him.  

In regards to Mercedes, they had issues with their exhausts and cooling but I am interested in the emotional level of the team. Do they receive an emotional boost from the very recent acquisitions of Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis as the drivers profess? Moreover, given that Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug have stated Suzuka should be more suited to the Mercedes package and that they are looking for similar performance to that of Spa and Monza, I will be interested in seeing if the drivers can deliver on that. Their performance at Spa and Monza was pretty good: two 5th place finishes for Schumacher, a 6th and retirement for Rosberg. Do they steal a podium? 

So, whether you are watching the front, the midfield or tail-enders, enjoy qualy and the race.


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