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Suzuka Swan Song

It is now certain that Sunday’s Grand Prix will be the last at Suzuka for a while, at least. Everyone seems sad to see it go – it is a driver’s circuit and presents some of the most challenging corners in F1. With the championship poised on a knife edge, it looks as if it will host a classic as its last GP.

Suzuka

Suzuka start – with prophetic advertising

Rain washed out most of today’s practice sessions but the main protagonists, Ferrari and Renault, headed the times at the end. As usual, nothing much can be read into this and we will see the real performance of the cars tomorrow in qualifying. The weathermen say it will be drier than today so things could be pretty close between the front runners.

Suzuka is the sole F1 venue that has a figure-8 shape and there are many other unique aspects to it. There are more difficult corners but, for me, the one that says “Suzuka” most emphatically is the Spoon. That long, sweeping bend, more than 180 degrees, is seen nowhere else.

Suzuka 2

The Spoon

Times change, however, and there is little we can do but accept it philosophically. Next year we will be at Fuji, Toyota’s circuit in one of the most dramatic settings of all – as can be seen from this photograph, with Mount Fuji in the background and snow covering the hills.

Fuji

Fuji

The circuit can be seen at the bottom of the picture. It has a much simpler layout than Suzuka but has seen its share of dramatic races in the past too. Coming at the end of the season as it does, the Japanese Grand Prix is often the venue for the last acts in a titanic battle between two or more contenders for the championship. Let us hope that Fuji is able to provide suitable challenges for such struggles.

There is some hope that, in the future, Suzuka might return as an alternating venue with Fuji in similar fashion to the Hockenheim/Nurburgring possibility. That would be ideal, I think, and would keep everone happy.

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Alonso Explains

In the Thursday Press Conference at Suzuka, Fernando Alonso has been expanding on his reported criticism of the Renault team. It seems that the initial newspaper article was correct (at least, Alonso did not deny it) but there is much less in the story than appeared at first sight.

Alonso

Essentially, Alonso is disappointed with Fisichella’s attempts to keep Schumacher back while the Spaniard broke in his new tires.

Alonso: “What I felt there is that maybe I had a problem with the car that was a specific problem for ten laps, nine, eight or whatever, and probably I felt alone, for sure. I was first and my team-mate was second and they came to me, they overtook me and they were gone. And after, when I recovered the pace, they were too far (ahead), and for sure it is like you are in the Tour de France in the mountains, climbing, you have a puncture or whatever and your team and your rival has gone uphill with no stops. That was a little bit difficult to understand…

“…I fight with Fisichella in the last corner, Turn 14, once and he overtook me and I overtook him again because he went a little bit longer and these things, these risky moments… Three races to win the championship… your team-mate is a little bit… (It’s) not good enough, I think.”

Asked what more the team could have done to help, Alonso replied that he didn’t know. But he went on to patch up the relationship with the team:

Alonso: “All the team, all the people, are really focussed for the championship and anyway we have been leading both championships all season nearly and now the last two races all the people is motivated and the atmosphere inside the team is just super and it’s the last two races of me in the team as well and every single person in the team is just focussed on the championship.”

So it appears that his outburst was the result of frustration and disappointment. That is something he will have to learn to control in future if he wants to win more championships; no team likes to be blamed for circumstances beyond their control. But, for the moment, we can accept that he is still young and feeling the pressure more than he admits to.

Whether this will affect the race on Sunday is a different matter. Schumacher looks as cool as ever in his interviews and it is tempting to assume that Fernando has exposed a weakness in himself that may lose him the championship. But it comes down to what happens on the track and that is where the German often responds to pressure with some dubious manouver or another. In contrast, Alonso looks cool and focused when in the car. We shall see.

There was one moment in the press conference that made me smile. After watching Alonso being battered by questions from the press on his indiscretion, Jenson Button was finally moved to intervene:

Q; (Ed Gorman – The Times) “If Michael wins here, and you don’t finish, it’s all over. Is that going to affect the way you approach this race?”
JB: “You’re really helping the guy’s confidence here. He is fighting for the world championship…”

It seems the British sense of fair play is not entirely dead.

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