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Monday, October 10, 2005

Japanese Grand Prix Thriller

What a race! Perhaps the best in recent memory and dare I say it, one of the best I've ever seen. If you were a Kimi or Fernando Alonso fan, the weekend couldn't have started any worse. Kimi saddled with yet another penalty courtesy of sub standard Mercedes engines. But as Fernando said, he's lucky most of them happen during practise. Still, you really wonder what is with Norbert Haug's boys. In qualifying the rain heavily penalized Fernando and especially the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya.

Fernando was simply flying off into the distance at the start of the race. Juan Pablo also making a good getaway ahead of his teammate. But as ever this season Juan seems to have problems keeping away from the slower traffic. This time, it was in the shape of former world champion Jacques Villeneuve. Having made a hash of the last chicane, Jacques was slow getting away. Montoya seizing the opportunity tried to around the outside of the hapless Villeneuve. I suppose he was blind sided or his awareness perhaps just isn't what it used to be, he simply drove into Juan Pablo's path forcing him into the grass and into the barrier.

The safety car deployed, it didn't look very good for McLaren at this point. It looked great from Renault's standpoint. Fisico lying in second from the lightly fueled Toyota of Ralf Schumacher. Alonso was eighth and looking incredibly quick today. Kimi was further behind stuck behind Villeneuve and didn't look at that stage too quick.

Fernando now behind the increasingly impressive Christian Klein went side by side with the Austrian into the final chicane, leaving his braking too late with no room to turn in, straightlined the (in)famous right left into the grass. With the presence of mind befitting a world champion he let Klein through but immediately was on the gas and slipstreamed the Austrian going into the start finish straight.

He took Klein then immediately setting off for Michael Schumacher's Ferrari which he caught in a flash. Apparently Michael being in a high downforce wet setup simply didn't have straight line speed. Good reason and also a good excuse I think. For it is no bad thing being in high downforce trim at the constantly turning Suzuka.

Then the FIA struck with their ineptness. Charlie Whiting wasn't satisfied that Alonso had let Klein through in the previous incident ordered that the Spaniard slow down and let the Austrian through once again. By then he was seven seconds up the road right on Michael's tail. Being the professional, this he did and duly overtook Klein with ease again. But by this time he was joined by Kimi. The both of them then simply driving up behind Michael.

Superb stuff at this point. Up front Fisichella was pulling away from Button and Webber but the battle royale was between these three. Two world champions and one mighty fast Finn. What came next must go down as one of the classiest overtaking moves ever. Despite having a good drive out of Spoon curve thanks to his greater downforce Michael could see that Fernando was catching him on the straight. So he decided to defend going into 130R. Fernando was by now side by side. Anyone who plays Suzuka on the Playstation knows 130R is damned tricky especially if, like Fernando you're trying it on the outside. At that point, there's only room for one. Lo and behold it was Michael who blinked. Brilliant! Now that's why Flavio chose Fernando to replace Button at Renault.

Having cleared the Ferrari, Fernando now went off into the distance but soon after was in the pits for his first stop. Kimi was now stuck behind Michael but it was clear that the German was slowing him down. Any thoughts of Kimi running longer was dashed when he they both dived into the pits together. When both of them emerged, Fernando was behind them again. The extra laps in low fuel benefitting both Michael and Kimi.

The three best drivers in Formula 1 running together is a sight to behold. Alas, I never got to see how Kimi went past Michael but this he did going into the inside of turn 2. Any chance of the great Ferrari fightback was completely gone in the race having promised so much in the practise session. Now Fernando was back behind Michael and once again, he found a way past. Michael this time, leaving his braking too late going into the chicane. This put him off line for the right which led him into a tight turn to the left in the chicane. This meant a slow getaway and a tighter line in the final sweep. All Fernando had to do was slipstream the German. Both these pros don't brake for turn 1 and by that time Fernando was ahead and all he had to do was simply chop in front of Michael before braking for turn 2. Classic.

Soon enough Kimi was behind Webber who in turn was right behind Button. Between Kimi and Fernando, I thought Kimi was a little less decisive with his overtaking. His problem was a top gear that was too short, so he kept banging on the rev limiter on the straights. This meant that Webber and Button were both slowing him down. Fernando managed to catch up to the trio once he dispatched Michael. At which point, he dived into the pits again.

Soon, the Williams and the BAR made their second and final stops leaving Kimi to build up a cushion with his additional fuel. In the pits, the Williams pit crew were just slightly quicker with their stop and this allowed Webber to nip ahead of Jenson. They were literally side by side in the pits but Webber gained the upper hand and that was all she wrote. The Grove squad must have been immensely pleased by that. I knew I was. I mean all this fuss about Jenson when the man hasn't even won a single bloody race? I'm glad Frank decided to let him go.

Kimi had an additional 5 laps of fuel in his McLaren. Fisichella though had been some 20 seconds up the road before his stop. At that point, you would've guessed that Fisico would be scoring another victory. But no one told Kimi this. When the Finn emerged from his pitstop he was only 5 seconds behind with 8 laps remaining. No doubt he could catch the Italian but surely passing him would be impossible.

Behind them, Fernando was a little frustrated with his fuel strategy. His early stop meant that he'd have to hunt down Button and Webber. This he did. Button was clearly no match and was dismissed with ease. Webber was a little more feisty. However, Fernando seems to have that final chicane down pat. Webber slow getting out of the chicane has Fernando tailing him going into the start finish line. Webber defends and makes it hard for him but Fernando displaying fearlessness and commitment has his right wheels on the grass going into turn 1. That Mr Button is how you do that.

Up front, Kimi is still driving the wheels off his McLaren and taking enormous chunks out of the Italian's lead. Three laps from the end they both catch a Minardi and at 130R, the Minardi suddenly takes the inside line which I thought must have surprised Giancarlo and slowed him down some. This is playing right into Kimi hands. Going into the chicane, Giancarlo is a little to apprehensive and in the words of Martin Brundle, "defends airspace." Kimi was nowhere near at the point but he still went to the right hoping to dissuade the Finn was wasn't there at the time. This slowed him tremendously and Kimi was soon on his tail.

Clearly Kimi was quick but the Renault does have some good straight line speed and with some expert defending Giancarlo had a reasonable chance of keeping him behind. At the end of the penultimate lap, Giancarlo again for some strange reason keeps to the right hand side going into the chicane. Having to take a tighter line into the chicane, he didn't have good drive into the straight. Kimi slipstreamed him and by then end of the straight was just ahead of him. He chopped right across the Italian going into turn 1 without braking. They almost touched. But it was enough. Kimi was into the lead on that most important lap, the final one.

It was a superb race by any standard. Though I felt that Fernando had a chance of winning as well had he not been delayed by those FIA morons. He clearly had the car underneath him. His fastest lap of 1m 31.599 was just 0.059s slower than Kimi's lap record (1m 31.540s). Thats an outright lap record by the way. So much for slowing the cars down huh Max? Idiot.

The surprising thing about Suzuka is that it was possible for cars to follow one another through the endless twists and turns of the figure of eight circuit. Not only was it possible for Kimi and Alonso to follow cars around, they found a way to overtake as well. Somehow the aero turbulences affect the cars less over here. I have a feeling those constantly fast curves and sweeps had something to do with it.

The losers of this race? Giancarlo Fisichella is definitely one that comes to mind. He had the race in his hands. Kimi did great but it was also a case of Giancarlo losing it. Not impressive at all. Flavio was absolutely livid and stormed off from the pitwall straight after the chequered flag. Understandably. By contrast Ron Dennis could hardly contain himself and I'm sure insisted he was going to be on the podium to collect the constructor's cup. He was almost dancing up there. Careful Ron, you'll spoil that glossy corporate image of yours with such displays.

And what about that Takuma Sato? Now everyone thinks he's a menace. Certainly Jarno Trulli thinks so. I simply think the best therapy for him is a visit to one of the many Zen buddhist temples in Japan. He has a terribly hard time controlling himself. The occassion simply overwhelms him and he loses all awareness. It was plain to see at Suzuka where I'm sure he was out to impress his home crowd and Honda. He's got speed and talent but he just gets too excited. Oi mate. World War 2's been over for ages. The emperor is not asking you to fly kamikaze missions anymore. Relax. Alas, it just might be too late for him now. Quite deservedly, he got disqualified from the race.

His teammate at least completed the race but many I think loved seeing him get beaten by Webber who came in fourth. A good result at last for the embattled and bitter Grove/Munchen squad. David Coulthard I thought drove a good solid race to finish ahead of Michael Schumacher. Klein might outqualify him quite often but at the end of a race, its usually David up front and bringing the points home.

And Michael? Still the great man but for his car. And make no mistkae, it isn't just the tyres, that car is below par. The sight of these whipper snappers going past him must be demoralising to someone used to winning world championships. I mean, he did blink at 130R. That's the key point.

Don't you just love it when the gloves are off and everyone is just battling. Yesterday's race showed quite clearly, that the future of Formula 1 is already here. Spare a thought for Juan Pablo though. I thought he had a great chance of winning this race but for that has-been, I-have-a-BMW-contract (but no one believes him) ex world champion. What a battle it would have been had Juan Pablo been running with Kimi, Fernando and Michael.

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