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9 October 2003 Volume 5 - Issue 17   

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It is ironic that Michael Schumacher�s win (which puts him in a pretty dominating position for the drivers� championship) was due to the Bridgestone intermediate tyres. All season he has been struggling because of the Bridgestones and now they are overwhelmingly the reason why the season is almost in the bag for him.

Had it not rained I do not think that Michael had a chance to finish better than third or fourth and, as Montoya threw his race away by trying to barge past Barrichello it is very possible that Raikkonen, who finished in second place, would have won the race, which would have made Suzuka the final showdown.

Now, unless Raikkonen wins and Michael does not earn any points at all, Michael has won the championship again.

The superiority of the Bridgestone intermediate tyres over Michelin was obvious the moment tyres were changed. Sauber, also on Bridgestone, managed to finish both cars in the points, Frentzen in third place on the podium, which they could never have achieved if the race remained dry. For the last half of the season it was obvious that the Saubers are not fast enough to compete with the leading cars.

I think that Kimi Raikkonen drove a brilliant race to finish in second place. Had Montoya not taken Barrichello out, I suspect that he would easily have gained second place and Kimi would have finished third. Had this happened, of course, Montoya would have been in the hunt and Kimi out of contention.

Williams, who must have felt that they had a great chance to win this race, had to be satisfied with Montoya finishing in sixth place (due mostly to his penalty for taking Barrichello out). Ralf Schumacher spun out in the rain on lap 22.

Knowing that Michael only need to finish 8th or better to clinch the championship does put a bit of a dampener on the upcoming Japanese Grand Prix but the constructors� championship is still very much alive.

Suzuka (track layout) is a medium to fast circuit. Speed on the pit straight should get up to around 280km/H (174mph) before braking for turn one and two, a combined double right turn at 140km/H (87mph). This almost hairpin leads into a fast left, right, left right again leading up to the Dunlop curve. As the turns open up the cars gradually accelerate to over 200km/H (124mph) before kinking right through turn 8, immediately braking down to 120km/H (74mph) for turn 9. 10 is hardly a turn but 11 is a tight hairpin that will slow the cars to almost walking pace.

Thereafter the track opens up a bit and speeds start climbing. Before turn 13 (Spoon Curve) cars get close to 300km/H (186mph) before slowing to around 150km/H (93mph) before accelerating away up to 315km/H (195mph), or possibly even more, just dabbing the brakes for a left hand sweep and braking hard for Casio Triangle, a tight 90km/H (56mph) chicane. From there it is flat out down the pit straight again.

Overtaking at Suzuka, is a little tricky unless you are in a very superior car. The lead on to the pit straight is again very fast which implies that a following car will not get the downforce to stay in touch, making it very hard to overtake on the relatively short straight. That is the only straight bit on the circuit which means that, if the defending car holds the racing line, the overtaking car will be forced to drive on the dirty part of the circuit, which again makes overtaking difficult.

I do not think that Ferrari will do well because of their tyres unless it rains. I again predict that, because of the similarity with the US circuit (both fast and slow sections) Williams are most likely to win. If they did it may secure the constructors� championship for them, which is the best that they can hope for. Neither Montoya nor Ralf can win the drivers� championship.

McLaren, who have done so well with last year�s car, could easily match the Ferraris but Raikkonen, who is currently second in the drivers� championship, is unlikely to beat the Williams cars and that will definitely mean that Michael Schumacher will win the drivers� championship.

None of the other teams stand a chance. Renault will be fast enough to stay in touch but I do not think that they will have the top speed to stay with Williams and none of the other teams have the pace to stay in touch with the leaders.

As it is the last race of the season we may see strange qualifying results. Most of the non contending teams will see this as their last chance to show their sponsors why they should re-invest next year and even leading the race for a handful of laps will help in this endeavour. A strange grid may make the race more exciting, but at the end of the day, Michael leads the championship by 9 points and will win even if he ties with Raikkonen.

Suzuka is always interesting. Japanese teams and engine manufacturers try harder which, as the other teams see this as a last race not worthy of investing in this year�s car any more, tends to scramble the expected race order. Watch BAR and Toyota, they are likely to be a little faster.

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