Japanese GP preview: McLaren vs Ferrari

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The drivers had little chance to explore Fuji in the dry last year

The Fuji circuit looks like a Ferrari track. And if McLaren were banking on the race weekend being wet, they’re in for a disappointment.

Which of the title contending teams will have the upper hand at Fuji Speedway?


As heavy rain played such a huge role in last year’s race its inevitable we should look to the skies for the first sign of how the weekend might pan out.

When it does rain at Fuji, it rains extremely hard. In these heavy wet conditions we have seen McLaren – and especially Lewis Hamilton – perform much better than Ferrari.

But early signs are we’re in for a dry weekend at Fuji, with a chance of rain on Saturday that may affect qualifying.


Early indications are the weekend will be cool. So far this year the general rule has been that cooler conditions suit McLaren better. But that may have changed.

Ferrari has struggled to compete with McLaren in wet weather this year. But following the Italian Grand Prix the team tested extensively in cool conditions at Mugello to get on top of the problems it had getting its tyres up to temperature.

However even a dry track will bring certain challenges. It was wet for most of the weekend last year and the teams only ran in dry conditions on the Friday. The teams may be short on data for this venue. Bridgestone is bringing the same compounds of tyres as last year: medium (prime) and soft (option).

Circuit configuration

Fuji is dominated by a huge straight, just short of 1.5km long. However much of the rest of the track is slow corners, which calls for a compromise between downforce and efficiency.

This should play to the strengths of the F2008, which has thrived on ‘compromise’ tracks such as Valencia this year.

Fuji Speedway track and tyre data and circuit diagram here: Fuji Speedway circuit information

Team management

With the championship in mind, both teams will surely want to use their de facto number two drivers (Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen) to support their strongest title contenders (Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton).

McLaren have the luxury of knowing Kovalainen is completely out of the championship hunt and therefore asking him to help out Hamilton is entirely reasonable.

But what about Ferrari? Raikkonen has said publicly he believes his title hopes are over. But it’s hard to forget he overcame a 17-point deficit with two races to go to win the title last year. At Singapore he was the fastest man on the track when the safety car intervened and ruined his race. If Raikkonen were to win this race with Massa not scoring, Ferrari could find themselves with a difficult decision to make.

More about team orders: F1’s unwritten rules: team orders edition

Don’t forget BMW

Both of BMW’s drivers are still in the hunt for the championship, although the odds are stacked against them.

Robert Kubica has often been able to get between the McLarens and Ferraris, which could spoil their efforts to use Raikkonen or Kovalainen to influence the race.

Which team and driver do you think will be quickest at Fuji?

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “Japanese GP preview: McLaren vs Ferrari”

  1. Its Hammer time
    7th October 2008, 11:20

    In the dry at Fuji I can see Mclaren not being as ‘all out’ as Ferrari. A resultant Red front row lock out/ one-two finish with Lewis and Heikki coming in 3rd/5th. Ferrari will come away leading constructors, but Lewis still holding the drivers title lead…

  2. I concurr, Ferrari 1/2 seems to be the order of the weekend

  3. I think, and i hope that ferrari will dominate, should be good for ferrari fans, and good for the championship.
    imagine both championship remain open till the last race. it would be classic.

    anyway Lewis is up for a mistake, he’s been too perfect lately. dont like him much, but he’s a great driver…

  4. Not sure I buy into it being a Ferrari track. The corners aren’t *that* slow e.g., Singapore slow, and the long straight requires a low drag, high efficiency configuration – McLaren has done equally as well as Ferrari has this year under that guise …

    Betfair also has Lewis/McLaren as clear favourite …

  5. I am inclined to think; this is a Mclaren track. Lewis should win whether it rains or not.

    Massa should hope for dry; so that he may atleast finish 2nd

  6. Unfortunately, F2008 is the better car this year, so Ferrari 1/2 is very likely :-(

  7. @John Betfair odds are based on previous races and betting up to that point.

    It doesn’t take into effect the track and the conditions, or which team the track better suits.

  8. Kester – not true. Betfair is a market-based betting platform. That means people put their money based on who they think will win.

    Previous races does have an impact – that is good information. Betting up that point has less of an effect because it is a true market rather that a William Hill type shop, which is trying to make cover its betting margin – individuals can bet both ways.

    It absolutely 100% takes into account track and conditions and which team better suits the track.

    A good example is Singapore where before the race Ferrari and McLaren were thought to be evenly matched (MAS and HAM). Most commentators were calling it a McLaren track but not Betfair. Now I know it was a Ferrari circuit in the end but Betfair didn’t call it too badly. A glance at the odds for Fuji (already accounting for the fact that Ferrari was faster in Sing) suggests that Hamilton and McLaren is favourite.

  9. Brundle wrote something along the lines that Hamilton had really made the very most of a relatively poor performing McLaren at Singapore. That seems plausible. But two weeks and a very different circuit could mean they’re back on the pace. Have Ferrari really solved their tyre problems? Monza and Spa in the cold and rain showed them way, way off. I’d be quite happy to see Lewis tie this up early to be honest (after last season) but my guess is – as Keith points out – the other teams could have a real impact on the points tally, particularly if we see heavy rain again in qualifying.

  10. poor performing McLaren lol…right. Hamilton has never been able to do anything when not on pole.

    I think Kimi will win this one…Massa once again will buckle under the pressure, as well as Hamilton.

  11. schumi the greatest
    7th October 2008, 13:40

    If it rains for qualifying then id put my money on hamilton getting pole. If that is the case id guess massa would qualify around 5th. Dry race would see raikkonen win and hamilton settling for second with massa 3rd.

    if it doesnt rain in qualifying then ferrari will walk it, all hamilton has to do is collect points from here on in, i hope he has leanred from his mistakes last year because although 7 points is a handly lead to have, its not going to be hard for massa to be right on his tail if he has 1 bad day!

    Hamilton has never been able to do anything when not on pole

    i seem to remember hamilton starting 3rd in monaco and winning by a healthy margin and starting 4th in silverstone and winning by over a minute!! so your comment doesn’t really make any sense.

  12. I’m guessing Fuji is like a lot of moutains – the rain can came out of nowhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some rain during the race.

  13. Fuji is a very painful track for the engines due to the long straight and the quiet high downforce(for corners).This combination means that engines will be run in 100% for quiet a lot time.Ferrari???I don’t know if this year engine can cope with such a difficult race AND with jokers out of the game.Also the temperature is preety chill so again the odds go to McLaren
    On the other hand this track hasn’t fast corners(where McLaren is superior) AND!!! tha lollipop is back!!!

    Any word about canadian gp???I really like this circuit

  14. Nick, totally agree, Kimi to wipe them away now it’s totally irrelevant. Who couldn’t handle the pressure? And as for Hamilton ‘doing nothing’ if he’s not on pole, do you actually watch the races, or just stare dewy eyed at your Kimi poster?

  15. I don’t agree with the advantage analysis. Ferrari has shown clear performance advantage at Malaysia, Bahrain, Spain, Hungary, and Valencia. They had a marginal advantage in Singapore. Now for the broken record, what did these races have in common? Heat (and they were dry). Ferrari has never, not once, proven superior performance without blazing temperatures and has never shown they can run away and hide in any conditions.

    And even in Turkey, even with McLaren’s serious tire issues, they were still very competitive, and possibly the faster car.

    Nobody knows what they discovered in Mugello. I’m pretty sure they did not discover a new rear mass-damper technology or torque-control system. These marked performance characteristics of the car are not going to be changed with clever set-up choices.

  16. Theorically a Ferrari 1-2, but if the weather is changeable in Qualifying that will upset Massa, and Kimi still isn’t on the ball enough to keep Hammy at bay during a race.
    This may be an eye-opener on who actually is the stronger team – and we know from previous seasons that being ‘faster’ doesn’t always mean ‘better’.

  17. Lewis and McLaren would be my call, wet or dry, as long as temps stay cool. I don’t buy into the notion that Ferrari have figured out the low temp/grip problems. Unless their cars work better on the Bridgies that are being supplied for this race, mediums and softs.

    What I truly DON’T want to see is a massive brain fade from Lewis, or another clown act from the Ferrari pit crew; Let’s decide the issue on the track.

  18. Did anybody read the spat between Ted Kravitz (ITV reporter) and David Coulthard regarding his Singapore drive.

    Ted’s column – http://www.itv-f1.com/Feature.aspx?Type=Ted_Kravitz&id=44141

    David’s response – http://www.itv-f1.com/Feature.aspx?Type=David_Coulthard&id=44174

  19. Raikkonen himself ruined his race with that late crash…

  20. Ferrari is bringing its final updates to the F2008 in Fuji. Along w/ the track suiting the red cars, this will make it very difficult for McLaren to avoid a 1-2 … barring another (pit-stop or other) blunder by the red team. And yes, Kimi will set FL once again.

  21. I’m not entirely convinced new parts are going to solve any of this seasons Ferrari’s problems. There’s nothing wrong with the pace of the car…

    They, basically, need to 1-2 every remaining race with Massa in first and Raikonnen in 2nd to get both championships…they’ve only achieved 3 1-2s all season! Yes, you can say they came from way back this time last year, but that was because Hamilton and Mclaren slipped up as well…I don’t think they’re going to make the same mistakes in the same positions.

    If Ferrari win, it’ll be a good recovery from the recent setbacks. But I hate to say it, and this is on face value and on recent momentum, I reckon Fuji will see a lot of Ferrari hearts sink – again :(

  22. GeorgeK – totally agree about how it should be decided. This season has been pretty scrappy with errors from all involved. I’d really like to see the top 3 (and Kovi if he can manage it) fight it out for all the remaining podiums and the title go to the best driver, not the one who ballsed up the least.

  23. I saw an article I thought you all might be interested in regarding Massa and the F1 title –

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