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the season is over, will we see a real race?
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Or should I have titled this: �How do you lead a race in a commanding fashion by not making one mistake and then lose by one hundredth of a second�.
I take my hat off to them for winning everything with one race to spare but I do find it just a little arrogant to play these silly games. Had it finished in a dead heat the only thing you could have said about it is that it was well orchestrated. Maybe, long into the future, we will all forget that it was arranged and be amazed that two cars can be that close after a 91-minute race, but at the time I just wondered what Michael Schumacher was doing.
The rest of the race was rather pedestrian. Coulthard finished just under 8 seconds behind them in third place, which is a great improvement on their performance in the early part of the season, but with all the game playing by Ferrari in the lead one must wonder if Barrichello and Schumacher were ever pushing.
Ralf Schumacher and Montoya�s attempt to occupy the same bit of real estate at the same time may not have cramped Juan Pablo�s style but it certainly put Ralf out of the race, finishing last. I know that the prime purpose of a driver is to always do better than the other driver in the team but these two are forgetting that another requirement is to never take your teammate out of the race.
The rest of the pack performed roughly to expectations except for Jaguar who seem to have lost the turn of speed that they found in Monza.
Suzuka is quite hard on tyres but easy on brakes. It is very similar to the US circuit in that it is a compromise between the downforce required for the slower twisty sections and the lowest possible drag for the faster sections.
The first corner is a fast right hairpin 150 km/H (93 mph), which for some reason is broken up as turn 1 and 2. It is a reasonable distance from the start so hopefully the mayhem of the first seconds will be sorted out by the time they get there but like always there will be at least one or two cars off the circuit. Ralf and Juan Pablo might again insist on being in the same place at the same time and one or both could retire.
Turns 3 to 10 are all relatively fast (well over 130 km/H or 80 mph) but the hairpin (turn 11) is super slow, 65 km/H (40 mph). To get through turns 1 to 10 fast demands that the car has substantial downforce.
After 11 we get to the faster part of the circuit. 12 is a long right handed sweep where some of the cars will touch 300 km/H (184 mph) before braking to just under 200 km/H (125mph) for turn 13 (also called The Spoon). From here it is virtually flat out all the way to Casio (which is a cross between an S-bend and a chicane) where they will be under 100 km/H (62 mph) before accelerating into the straight round a very fast right curve.
Because of the curve leading onto the straight, which will be exited at 250 km/H (165 mph) or better I do not think that we will see much overtaking on the straight. The leading car will have better downforce and the straight is too short to catch up and overtake.
The approach to the Hairpin and the long fast run to Casio are more likely overtaking places.
With modern aerodynamics there is virtually no substitute for horsepower on almost all current circuits. Suzuka is no exception. By the time you have enough downforce to get through the twisty bits fast you need an awful number of horses to overcome the drag to be fast on the second half of the circuit.
Unless something dramatic happens to them Ferrari will be dominant on the last race of the season. Michael Schumacher is very fast on this circuit but Barrichello has never seemed to find the rhythm of Suzuka. He will not be as fast as Schumacher but should still be fast enough to stay ahead of the rest of the field.
As their first and second places in the driver�s championship is decided, Michael may play games again.. He could let Barrichello win again or could try for a photo finish again. On the other hand they may even race each other up to the last pit stop. It is unlikely that they will be allowed to race to the end.
I think that McLaren are likely to be faster than Williams on Sunday. They have improved steadily over the season and will want to finish the year strongly. Raikkonen could be faster but his lack of experience and youthful impatience could easily spoil his chances. Overdriving at Suzuka is likely to slow him down.
Coulthard has the maturity and patience that is needed to do well. I predict that he will finish third.
Williams seem to be in trouble. Their progress over the season has not been inspiring and at present they do not seem to get the pace or grip needed to compete with McLaren let alone challenge Ferrari.
The fact that the dislike between Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya has developed into open hatred and intolerance does not help either. Montoya seems to have lost the flair he had earlier in the season and Ralf is only motivated to stay ahead of his team-mate, not to win the race.
Renault may well be the fastest of the rest on Sunday. Button, who will not be with the team in 2003, will want to go out on a high note, and Trulli who will be staying with the team will want to prove that it was wise to keep him on. Both are capable of doing well.
Sauber are unlikely to finish in the points. This is a fast track that demands horsepower and the lack of engine development will show.
Jaguar could do better again and if they do I will be wondering what went wrong in Indianapolis. If the cars are good enough I only expect Irvine to be able to get into the points. De la Rosa has been off the boil all season � there is no reason to think that this will change on the last race of the year.
BAR now seem to be the better of the Honda powered cars. Olivier Panis is good but not in the same class as Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve is more likely to finish in the points if his car lasts.
Jordan are not far behind but seems to have lost the urge to compete. Financial difficulties appear to be just over the horizon and their performance reflects the demotivation that goes with that.
Giancarlo Fisichella is a very good and experienced driver but to do well he needs performance from his car and the help of the team. He is not getting either.
Sato does not impress me. He may get better with more experience but I will not be holding my breath.
Toyota have a long way to go before they have the car and team to win races. They are running in front of their home crowds for the first time but I doubt that it will make much of a difference.
Seeing that Arrows are out of it that leaves Minardi who will do well if the finish ahead of one or both Toyotas.
Suzuka has always produced exciting racing. I have no doubt that Ferrari will be fastest by a large margin but there are several potential surprises in the rest of the field. Will McLaren get even better? Can Williams bounce back? Will Jaguar surprise us all by being fast again?
We�ll know by Sunday. Enjoy the race.
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