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Can Coulthard scrape through?  
12 October 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 32  

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Suzuka is another of the faster tracks where power plays a big role in determining set up. Of the 9 corners that I count as significant (I regard slow sections like the esses as one compound corner) five are fast (above 120 mph, 195 Km/H) of which two are very fast (around 180mph, 290 Km/H). A relatively high level of downforce (larger wings) will be needed to navigate these corners fast.

Straights are not very long so that (for the powerful cars) the drag from bigger wings should not be too much trouble with the exception of the section between the Spoon Curve and the Casio triangle where cars will get up to maximum speed. This loss of speed will be traded off against higher grip on the fast corners and I anticipate that the optimum set up will be moderate wings.

Cars that are down on power will be forced to reduce wing size (and therefore drag), which will make them slower through the corners but still competitive on the straights. If this happens they will be hard to overtake.

I always look for straights after very slow corners as ideal overtaking spots. My reasoning is that at speeds below 50mph (80 Km/H) cars are virtually relying on mechanical grip only as their wings will be too small to generate much downforce from the airflow. That means that it is possible to tuck up behind the gearbox of the car in front and use the effect of the slipstream to accelerate past in the following straight.

Although there are two corners below 50mph (80 Km/H), Hairpin and Casio Triangle, it is only the Hairpin that leads onto a straight section where overtaking will be possible. Casio Triangle leads into a relatively fast corner before the pit straight is reached so all the ground that may be gained by being close in Casio will be bled off before the straight is reached and the overtaking driver will be starting his run too late.

For the faster cars it may also be possible to sneak past on the approach to Hairpin but again they will be starting their run out of Degner, which is quite fast.

Powerful cars set up to maximise top speed should be able to get past on the section after Spoon Curve.

I expect that the battle this weekend will be between Ferrari and Williams.

Ferrari will have the advantage of reliability and have enough power to come up with a set up that will be hard to beat at Suzuka.

Williams will have a tyre advantage, but only if it is hot and dry, and certainly have more than enough power to play with. Their only problem will be reliability, which has plagued them for the season so far and is unlikely to go away.

McLaren did very well at Indianapolis and there is a remote chance that they could be competitive. However, I suspect that their success in the USA was due to a number of factors; some not under their control.

I think that Mclaren were the only team out of the top three teams that managed to fully optimise their set up at Indianapolis. Both Ferrari and Williams were struggling with parts of the circuit while Mika was driving as if he was on rails. It was not that McLaren found extra speed, it was Ferrari and Williams that could not get the right set up to fully exploit their advantage.

If I am right (and I hope that I am not - it would be great to see a six car fight on the last race of the season) David Coulthard may not be able to maintain his second place in the championship.

To take it away from him Barrichello has to win with Coulthard scoring less than 2 points.

If McLaren are back to the pedestrian pace that we saw before the US Grand Prix it is not unlikely that Coulthard could struggle to finish in the points. With the competition from Williams it is less likely that Barrichello will win if both Williams cars make it to the end and, if they retire, the likelihood of Coulthard finishing with more than two points increases dramatically.

If Ferrari are fastest, expect Michael Schumacher to let Barrichello win.

In the next group I think that we will see strong performances from Sauber and Benetton, another slight improvement by Jaguar and a struggling performance from Jordan and BAR (Honda seem to have written this season off).

Prost and Arrows are likely to finish just ahead of Minardi - although we may again see Frentzen get a lot out of his Prost (even though it has so little to offer).

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