Tom Clarkson's 2008 Japanese Grand Prix preview

Published: 10 October 2008

A fascinating sport this Formula 1. Or so the Japanese would have you believe because every evening at Fuji Speedway thousands of fans sit opposite the pits watching the teams at work. For as long as the garage doors are open, the fans are there: 10, 11, 12 o’clock.

They could be making a statement, saying that F1 cars are more interesting off-track at Fuji Speedway than on it. But this is Japan; people are too polite and they’d be wrong to underestimate the challenge of Fuji. It isn’t a high speed rollercoaster like Suzuka, but it’s anything but easy.

The longest straight in F1

Car set-up is a delicate balance between straightline speed and slow-corner grip. Ideally, the one-mile pit straight – the longest in F1 – requires Monza levels of downforce, whereas the twisty remainder of the lap is better suited to Monaco wing levels. The compromise is a sub-optimal wing level that forces the drivers to be very smooth through the slow sections. Delicate applications of the throttle are a must. 'You need to treat the car like a woman,' says Honda test driver Alex Wurz. 'You have to be very gentle in everything you do, otherwise it’ll turn around and bite you.'


One thing that will be anything but delicate is the battle at the front between championship protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. Lewis’s seven-point lead in the points’ table means Felipe needs to beat his rival on Sunday, or risk his title chances being reduced to a mathematical possibility. The fiery Brazilian could do something spectacular as a result, all the while Lewis will settle for a decent haul of points, as he did in Singapore.

Friday practice: Hamilton vs Massa

In Friday’s two practice sessions the title heavyweights were separated by just 0.1s, so it’s clearly going to be a close fight. Ferrari still has the upper hand over McLaren in the dry – just – but you’d be brave to bet against Lewis in the wet – and you can never discount the possibility of rain at Fuji, even though Sunday’s forecast is for dry weather.


Renault hope to end the season with the third-best car and there is evidence here to back up that claim. The R27 is sporting new aerodynamic parts this weekend and Fernando Alonso’s second and fifth fastest times in today’s two practice sessions would suggest that the bits have made a successful transition from the windtunnel to the racetrack.

BMW have done nothing so far this weekend to suggest that they’re going to set the world alight, but you can never discount the tenacity of Kubica. He’s a good overtaker and might even give the Japanese fans something to shout about.


1 Lewis Hamilton 84pts
2 Felipe Massa 77pts
3 Robert Kubica 64pts
4 Kimi Raikkonen 57pts
5 Nick Heidfeld 56pts
6 Heikki Kovalainen 51pts

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By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller