The F1 circus is stationed at Suzuka this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix, although the approaching tropical storm Ma-on is expected to pass within kilometres of the track. Saturday's scheduled qualifying session has been cancelled for safety reasons.
The F1 circus is stationed at Suzuka this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix, although the approaching tropical storm Ma-on is expected to pass within kilometres of the track.
Suzuka will provide the stage for the penultimate race this season, and a tropical storm could make the race that much more interesting.
Weather reports indicate that Japan lies in Ma-on’s path and the eye of the storm is expected to pass within 80 km of the circuit. Some rain and mainly strong winds have been forecast for Sunday’s race day.
On Friday, organisers made the decision to abandon the Saturday's activities, but not do away with qualifying. This has been rescheduled to run on Sunday morning (local time) with the regular two single lap sessions.
However, Sunday's qualifying session will run without the breaks between the sixth, eleventh and sixteenth cars, while normal conditions will apply.
Friday's practice session was run in torrential rain and though Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher managed to put up the quickest times in both sessions, he admitted that the conditions were near impossible.
Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella had the second quickest times in both sessions. Rubens Barichello was third fastest in the morning session while Kimi Raikkonen finished the second session in third position.
BAR's Jenson Button, was appalled by the wet conditions earlier and had suggested that qualifying be shifted to Sunday morning.
Button’s team-mate, Takuma Sato, said: “From a performance point of view, the heavy wet conditions meant that we had some issues with aquaplaning and the car was tricky to control. When you were following another car, you really couldn't see anything in front of you, which can be very dangerous."
Rated as one of the best grand prix venues, Suzuka is set for some scorching action on Sunday. Both Toyota and Honda have the added support of the local crowd cheering them on, while Takuma Sato is set to score BAR’s first F1 victory. Last year, the Japanese driver returned to F1 racing at the circuit and managed to finish within the points.
Rubens Barrichello was triumphant in last year’s race, and with the Brazilian in the running for a hat trick this weekend, his chances of repeating that performance seem good. Especially since he has admitted that the Japanese circuit is one of his favourites.
Michael Schumacher last year secured his sixth title at Suzuka in the season’s final race after a season-long battle with McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen.
This season has been a radically different affair and with two races remaining, the top three drivers’ standings and the constructor’s title have already been decided. The only thing really left to fight about is who gets to finish second in the constructors’ battle. Will it be BAR, or Renault, which trails by nine points after both BAR drivers finished in the points at Shanghai.
Renault finds itself in an unstable position with Fernando Alonso providing most of the action following Jarno Trulli’s abrupt departure. Jacques Villeneuve is certainly no stranger to F1, though he was surprisingly absent from last week’s testing at Jerez.
Button and Sato are both very capable of scoring the points and BAR seems the favourite to take the runner-up position. However, Suzuka is a very technical circuit that is demanding on all teams and drivers.
Williams’ Juan Pablo Montoya, who has previously been competitive at Suzuka, said: "The track should suit our package, which makes me fairly confident of a good result. It was good to collect some points in China and I am aiming to score some more in Japan, as we really need to strengthen our position in the Constructors'
Meanwhile, Trulli also returns to racing this weekend with Toyota, after he was confirmed with the team for 2005 after he was dropped from the Renault squad.
"It will be a big challenge for me to join Panasonic Toyota Racing for the final two races of this season in Japan and Brazil, but I am more motivated than ever before," said Trulli. "I have had four days' testing over the last three weeks, working mainly on making myself comfortable in the car and settling into my new team."
Suzuka will be the setting for a new beginning for Trulli but a final farewell for Olivier Panis. It will be the Frenchman's last Formula One race before he retires. Ricardo Zonta will compete in his home race at Brazil while Panis will remain at Toyota as a test driver.
"I always enjoy racing in front of the Japanese Toyota fans, but this year's event will also be quite emotional for me because it will be my final Formula One race," he commented.