Red Bull have the pace, Ferrari have momentum (Japanese GP preview)

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Monza was supposed to be an ideal circuit for McLaren – but Ferrari won.

And Singapore was supposed to be an ideal circuit for Red Bull – but Ferrari won.

No team has managed to win three races in a row this year – can Ferrari change that in Japan?

Memories of his weekend here last year will be giving championship leader Mark Webber nightmares.

He crashed in final practice and had to miss qualifying. On race day his headrest worked loose and he picked up a puncture, forcing him to pit three times in the first four laps. He eventually finished two laps down while his team mate romped to victory.

Webber has lost ground to Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the last two races and the battle between those three drivers is likely to take place at the front of the pack this weekend.

The first sector at Suzuka is almost entirely spent changing direction – good news for the Red Bull drivers. The rest of the lap – particularly the long flat-out sections in the final third – offer hope to their rivals.

Even so, expect the Red Bull pair to do their business in qualifying as usual. The question, as has so often been the case this year, is whether they can translate their speed into a maximum points haul.

Vettel revelled in the circuit on his first visit to the track last year, saying he was disappointed when the last lap started as he knew he wouldn’t get to drive the track for a while longer.

Lewis Hamilton also made his first appearance at Suzuka last year, finishing third. He heads into this weekend’s race badly needing to stop the rot in his championship effort after three no-scores in four races.

Suzuka won’t decide the destiny of this year’s title but if McLaren can’t keep their rivals in sight here it could prove the beginning of the end of their championship prospects.

They said the new front wing introduced at Singapore should serve them best on faster circuits like Suzuka, and a lot is riding on that and their other upgrades planned for this weekend.

Ferrari’s potential here is a little harder to measure. The F10 has matured into a solid all-rounder and Alonso has gone well here in the past, winning in 2006 and rising from 16th to third in 2005. Don’t count them out.

Remember too how strong Renault were in Spa. Robert Kubica should be close at hand to keep the championship contenders honest and punish any slip-ups.

This is a track that has a habit of throwing up surprises. Its difficult layout and limited run-off caught out many drivers last year, particularly in qualifying.

The weather can be unpredictable and already there are reports of heavy rain in the area on Saturday. A wet qualifying session and dry race at Suzuka produced a classic race here five years ago – let’s see if history repeats itself.

Drivers to watch

Four driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.

Sebastian Vettel – He’s closed on his championship-leading team mate in the last two races and a repeat of his dominant 2009 performance would help reduce his 21-point deficit even further.

Rubens Barrichello – Spearheading Williams’s efforts to wrest sixth in the constructors’ championship from Force India in the closing stages of the season.

Jaime Alguersuari – Has shown some improvements in recent races and deserved better at Singapore, where a car failure kept him from starting where he qualified. Crashed spectacularly in last year’s race – will he fare better this time?

Jarno Trulli – Suffered a dreadful weekend in Singapore but brought his Toyota home second at Suzuka last year.

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    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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    50 comments on “Red Bull have the pace, Ferrari have momentum (Japanese GP preview)”

    1. This Race is Crucial for Force India Too…Heard they are bring Major Upgrades too…
      Looking at how Calm and Collected Vettel has become in Recent races….I think Vettel will be the man to beat…..

      1. Why bother? They will not catch Renault for 5th and any money spent now is a waste. They don’t need any more coverage for coming Unless they can show direct evolution of a part onto the 2011 car, I think they are mad to look for ‘Major Upgrades’.

        What are the other reasons to do this? What am I missing?

        1. But Williams is on their (FI) heels for 6th in the WCC.

      2. FI said that they don’t care about coming 6th or 7th this season. They were focussing in becoming 5th in 2011.

    2. Jumping ahead of ourselves Keith? You mean Preview, not review, no? :D

      1. Oops – one character causing so much trouble…

        Fixed it, thanks.

        1. I suppose Williams will be working to take 6th in the WCC from FI, 5th is with Renault or Mercedes.

    3. wow review already :] and i was waiting for a preview :]

    4. I’m tipping Suzuka to be Red Bull territory. Alonso has proven to be the proverbial red flag (literally) waved before their eyes for the past two races, so I think it’s going to be a Red Bull vs. Ferrari fight, and I strongly suspect that the Bulls will have the upper hand.

    5. I think the drivers to watch are Vettel and Button. This is pretty crucial for the two of them, more so for Button. If they don’t get a substantial points haul here, it is becoming increasingly hard for them to catch the leading three.

      I think qualifying is going to be crucial here, as it can often spring a load of surprises, such as last year with the yellow flags and drivers not slowing down.

      I wouldn’t rule anyone out yet though, Red Bull look like the car to beat, Ferrari have the momentum, and McLaren can always pull something out of the bag.

      Bring it on!

      1. I think Vettel is going to shine in this race. If he gets it together for these last 4 races and consistently outperforms his teammate, like he did last year, I think he can take the title in Abu Dhabi.

        I honestly do not expect anything much from Button. He will probably qualify in 5th or 6th, and pick up positions in the drivers in front falter.

        Hopefully, It wil be Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton on the podium… followed by Massa, Webber and Button.

    6. “Spearheading Williams’s efforts to wrest fifth in the constructors’ championship from Force India…”

      That should be sixth?

      Won’t be able to watch this one live on tv, both qualifying and race :(

      1. Yep, fixed.

    7. This is probably the most important race for the Championship.
      If Webber runs away with it, game over. If he’s 3rd or below and Alfonso picks up another win, its all on for the remaining races!

      Surely RB will need to be looking and thinking its time to position Webber to win the Championship. As noble as it is to keep the two guys racing, the way the races are going they’re going to lose the Championship to Alonso. I’m not talking about getting Vettel to pull over to let Webber through, but they need to give Webber every advantage possible.

      1. Ha I wish his name was Fernando Alfonso!

        1. Its Fred Alfonso Esq.

      2. If Webber wins, he’d have at least an 18 point gap to second place Alonso. It’d still not be over as Alonso winning the last three races, on circuits that will suit the Ferrari more than Suzuka, would see him crowned champion.

        Webber winning in Japan would however, go close to relegating Vettel to No.2 status in the team for the rest of the year.

        1. Mathematically possible yes, but Alfonso’s momentum will have been broken and I think Webber will hold him off.

          The last tracks may suit Ferrari, but they’ll also suit RB.

          1. More than mathematically possible for Alonso and Ferrari, all to play for for them.

            McLaren, however, might as well concentrate on next years car should Webber win.

    8. If ferrari win this one who would bet against Alonso for the championship. It would certainly make RBR scratch their heads.

      I have a concern over the Mclaren up grades, since they have found more down-force they seem to be hurting their tyres more, and race pace has always been their strong point, this doesn’t seem to (as much) be the case any more. Could it be that they are going for a more aggressive set-up at the expense of type degradation.

      At the moment my money is on a RBR 1-2 but then they seem to have a knack of messing up. Some greasy conditions and Mclaren could sneak it.

      1. If ferrari win this one who would bet against Alonso for the championship.

        I would. His engine situation is really bad.

        1. I also think that the engine situation of Alonso is key here. I kind of think that he will have troubles in at least on GP. Given that I also think that Vettel and Lewis will crash out in at least one more, and that I don’t see Button challenging Webber, my money is with Webber.

        2. And Suzuka has already been the seen of engine failures that massively affected the championship. Last time Alonso benefited, might he come-a-cropper himself this year?

    9. PS Would love to see Rubens in the top 5

    10. is it me or is this championship really exciting, i can’t get my head around the fact that there is a huge possibility that we might get to Abu Dhabi with the title still wide open and an endless number of possibilities that might or might not cause one of the guys to clinch it… seriously fun never been so excited…Go F1

      1. I enjoy your enthusiasm!

    11. Too hard to call. Suzuka always has its own special rules, and no place for errors. The one who will make a wrong move in the wrong time (even in Q1 and Q2) will lose the championship. Webber knows that. Suzuka is his “make or brake” chance, hope he’ll stay cool. Others must catch-up, so the qualifing will be crucial, especially with wet conditions. This one will be a belter…

    12. As with most races this year, the race is hard to forsee.

      With qualifying it should be Vettel and Webber, but hard to say who it’ll be when rain gets mixed in. I would think that would give Webber a better chance as well as both McLaren drivers. But nothings sure this year, great season.

    13. Since Felipe being “A” No.1 driver, I wish he wins this one and really becomes “The” No.1 driver at Scuderia Ferrari :-( (I must not stop dreaming….. or?)

      1. yeah, maybe next year :)

    14. best season ever. As a Briton, and a fan of our boys in silver and red, here’s hoping that Button can reduce the gap, and/or Hamilton take some glory away from Alonso.

      As was mentioned yesterday in the comments both Button and Hamilton have outdriven their cars this year, as has Alonso, whereas the Red Bull may be the fastest and best all round car, but those two boys in blue just don’t seem to be able to hold it together. Their car isn’t an overtaking machine, it seems to be a “get in front and stay there” type of car.

      My prediction, a wet qualifying with both our boys doing extremely well. One of the red bull’s not making the top six due to a technical or driver error, and alonso splitting the McLaren’s to take 2nd or 3rd.

      Team orders or not, i honestly believe that Button and Hamilton feel the same way about their team’s hopes, and whoever is in front can expect strong support from the other, without Whitmarsh having to remind them who is faster than who. Seb may get frustrated and bash someone off the road again, this time though, i hope it’s Alonso’s race he ruins, but that is purely from a McLaren fan’s perspective.

      What would be really awesome? Final race, with one of the red bulls, one of the McLarens and Alonso (and at this point, i’d say Webber and Hamilton, although it COULD be Seb and Jenson) going for top three lockout, with some awesome overtaking, and a fight right down to the last lap, with whoever wins the race taking the title.

      Too much to ask? nah.. pfft!! this is top level motorsport, its what we expect!!

      1. Why it wouldn’t be awesome if there are all 5 of them running for championship at the final race?
        If you have to ask a lot, ask everything xD

        I really think we will see the same performance hierarchy we saw in Spa-Francorchamps, so race will be a question beetween Red Bull (mostly) and McLaren.

        1. because i would love it if all the interteam politics were just mooted by the final race. Button/Hamilton will syupport each other WHEN it comes to it, Webber will grudgingly support Seb if he needs to, Seb will probably run Mark off the road if he is asked to support him, and we all know where Alonso is.

          Button fighting off Alonso for 2nd with Hamilton streaking ahead would be ideal, Webber battling with Button whilst hamilton T-bones seb to give him a taste of his own medicine, with Webber having failed because of some sort of dingo related barbeque incident…


    15. Looking forward to another Vettel pole / Webber win combination here…

      1. Showdown time for Vettel. This is the ideal race for him to get pole *and* the win. I can imagine him and Lewis performing well here. The question is – can they finish the race? Hamilton I’m sure will just drive the same as usual, knowing that the McLaren is less competitive and he has no real choice now but to go for broke. Vettel, though, should know he’s had the car to take the title this year – and still has if he can outperform Webber (and everyone else) over the next four races. That simple.

    16. The thing i love about this year is that Jenson Button is only 8 points behind Mark under the old points standings, and Kimi Raikkonen came back from 17 poitns back in two races in ’07, so really, any one of 5 men could win the championship, whilst at this point last year, Button was almost certainly champion.

      1. But Kimi didn’t have four other competitors for the title at that point did he? Someone that far back couldn’t win in two races this year, without retirements from all four of the others… Still, I know what you mean, it’s anybody’s title at this point. I hope all five stay in the mix until Abu Dhabi!

    17. Looking forward to see Webber have a better race here this weekend. Button with a podium finish would be nice too. And maybe a race without a tantrum from Alonso or Vettel or am I talking crazy talk! ;)

      1. Tantrum from Alonso…. he doesnt throw tantrums. He just talks straight to everyone

    18. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. How many times have we expected a Red Bull 1-2 and it’s not happened?

      We still don’t really know the full impact of the flexi-wing load tests; at Suzuka, there’ll be no hiding. Don’t be surprised if the gap to Red Bull vanishes and Horner says something about the other teams catching up rather than his cars being the most compromised. If it wasn’t for the flexi-wings McLaren wouldn’t have been nearly as far behind in Germany and Hungary and those races wouldn’t be used in conjunction with Singapore as “proof” the McLarens are out of it. Not only is it ignoring Spa and Monza, but that’s the point: it’s a lot down to circuits, and though Suzuka should suit Red Bull it should suit McLaren too.

      Red Bull will probably get pole and maybe the front row too, but if their advantage is less than 3 tenths they’re in danger in the race. Their one saving grace is the run to Turn 1 isn’t that long and Turn 1 itself not particularly memorable for passing at the start. But if either get a bad start, they’re doomed.

      And then there’s Ferrari. This circuit won’t play to their strengths. They’re not top in a straight line, nor in the corners, and there are desperately few corners that rely on good traction (only two by my count). The Ferrari might be too good of an all-rounder for victory. They might have momentum, but it counts for nothing if the track doesn’t suit them – especially when the last two have. Alonso produced a great drive in Singapore but if Vettel hadn’t scuffed up his Q3 lap he wouldn’t have won that race. If the Red Bulls and Hamilton are on song, Alonso will have a much tougher time of it here.

      We’ll see how qualifying goes and then we can make a few more concrete assumptions. Red Bull haven’t won this by any stretch yet.

      1. Let’s not forget the rain. The McLaren car is a mudder.

        McLaren is a total wild card, rain or not. Their singapore upgrade they didn’t run for “reliability” reasons must be a floor-component or an overrun engine program. If they can come to terms with RBR in the S1 esses and Spoon, which those changes would aid, they can make Horner’s foot tap quite a bit more than usual. The minimal traction events should keep RBR in check them from roasting their options too early.

        Is Ferrari too good at everything to be good for this track? This is an everything track, no? I have a feeling that this will be very tight again, and Alonso may split RBR in qualifying again if Webber has another Saturday swoon.

        Let’s not forget Massa. He is not a hack and he is in a good car. He likes these fast tracks and he could be up there causing RBR, and Luca, some trouble

        1. “Too good at everything” is putting it the wrong way. If that were true Ferrari would have undoubtedly the best car and the championship would be foregone. What Ferrari are is too good at covering everything – Red Bull have downforce to make up for their rubbish straight-line speed and McLaren have that speed to make up for their poor traction (their downforce deficit being not that great now the flexi-wings have been neutered). Put it this way:

          Red Bull – downforce best, traction good, speed poor
          Ferrari – downforce good, traction best, speed good
          McLaren – downforce good, traction poor, speed best

          Ferrari may have the best all-rounder, but its strongest area is nowhere near as important at Suzuka as in the previous two races. They will get beaten by Red Bull in the sweeping bits and by McLaren in the flat-out bits. One hairpin and a piddly chicane isn’t enough to claw that back.

    19. Two of the best qualifiers in the fastest car over a single lap should mean another front row lockout for RBR, rigid wings or not. Here’s hoping Webber firmly stakes his claim with a win, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vettel put in another blistering pole lap, Webber falter slightly and Alonso stick that F10 between the two yet again.
      Can’t see much hope for the McLaren boys, if they come here with a stable setup then there won’t be much to split the two, but if there’s a bit of instability that seems to have been there for most of the season Lewis will destroy Jenson.
      Would have loved the Merc to be competitive enough for Nico to mix it with the frontrunners – but I expect him and Kubica and Barrichello to entertain with their best of the rest battle.

    20. ” Its difficult layout and limited run-off caught out many drivers last year, particularly in qualifying.” That’s what many of the new race tracks are missing the challenge of pushing the driver to the limit but also creating the fear in their mind that what may happen if they go over the limit.

    21. “Red Bull have the pace, Ferrari have momentum” and, I would like to add, the duo Don Fernando and his faithfull squire Felipe “Manza”. Funny enough, in the original novel, Don Quixote´s name is Alonso Quixano and his horse is called “rocinante”.

    22. It should be a classic 3-way battle here, if at least some of the updates work for McLaren. But I think that while all the hype is on the RBR speed and the McLaren updates, Ferrari has come here quietly, not saying much, casting RBR as the favorites. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alonso makes it 3 in a row, but in the end this is Vettel’s race to lose, rain, wind or snow.

    23. Looking forward to this one, been invited by the Grand Prix Corporation to watch it at a special private viewing at the Crown Casino cinema. It will be awesome to see it on the big screen ! The cocktail party afterwards which could turn out to be quite a shindig if Webber does well. And if not, I can drown my sorrows at the AGP’s expense :)

      I really think this race is too close to call, any of the top 5 could win it. And if it rains, that could open it up even further.

    24. Alonso – to win 3 x WDC.

    25. I’m wondering how much the new load tests on the front wing will affect the RB’s performance. Most of what I have read in the press heavily favors the RB’s.

      Chances are that with heavy rain predicted we will never have the opportunity to know how much their performance will be affected.

      I say ouch! when I think of all the money spent on upgrades by the teams and they have to run around on full wets for a race.

      On the other hand… it makes for great TV viewing and maybe some very surprising race finish results.

    26. Webber was really quick last year and looked faster than Vettel until he set his ride height too low and bottomed causing the off. Button might be quick here too relative to Hamilton, he and Barrichello sure know the place well

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