Japanese Grand Prix: Can Alonso be reeled in at Suzuka? 3 October, 2012 Suzuka venue of the Japanese Grand Prix Oct.3 (GP247) Formula One descends on one of the sport’s favourite destinations, setting up camp for the Japanese Grand Prix at the awe inspiring Suzuka International Racing Course or Suzuka Circuit for short, with the world championship finely poised. Fernando Alonso arrives at the Mie Prefecture heading the title standings by 29 points from reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel. Alonso has been the model of consistency, racking up big points against the odds and more often than not with a car that is not up there with the pace setters. Nevertheless three wins and eight podium finishes give him a handy head start as the championship enters the final half dozen rounds. After a lack-lustre start to his season Vettel has started to turn things around in recent races, so much so that he is Alonso’s biggest challenger as the pair tussle it out to see who will notch up a third world title. Vettel is coming to terms with the finicky RB8, which is a far cry from the all conquering RB7 of last year, the recent victory in Singapore arguably the turning point of his challenge. Neither driver can afford a slip up, particularly Vettel who needs high scores at all the remaining rounds to snatch the title, which he did in similar fashion to his 2010 triumph over the same rival driver and team. The Maranello boys will have learned their lesson after their costly fumble in Abu Dhabi two years ago. They will be going all out to avoid a similar catastrophe which saw them throw away a title that was all but in the bag. Motorsport is a strange old beast, the cliché that ‘anything can happen’ is always very apt and at this stage of proceedings still very pertinent. As it stands it may appear that things have settled into a two horse race, this is not necessarily the case as the season has been packed with unexpected drama and unpredictable results along the way. Thus writing off the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber would be foolish – although all three would readily admit that their hopes are of the long shot variety. Raikkonen will know what it feels like to come from behind and snatch a title, as he did in 2007, ditto Hamilton who did very much the same thing in 2008, while Webber will know what it feels like to throw away a title chance. Raikkonen’s comeback season has been impressive to say the least, and third in the title chase at this stage has been a revelation to all including him. Now he needs to win some races to put the fairy in his comeback tale. Should Lotus deliver a hot car for him in the final races he will be a contender until the very end. Alas the Lotus E20 – which was the pick of the bunch in the early part of the season – has not shown pace setting strength at recent races. No matter who says what, Hamilton’s final races with McLaren will be awkward. Does the team want him to take the number one plate to Mercedes next year? Are they really intent on giving him a fighting chance under the circumstances? How much information are they going to share? Will they continue to give him unlimited access to their inner sanctum? After all he did Tweet sensitive information when he was a still bonafide team member…and what about now? Where do his loyalties lie? Can he be trusted? Being a fly on the wall in the McLaren pit garage would make for an interesting weekend at Suzuka and all remaining rounds for that matter. The reality is that McLaren appear to have had the best package of anyone since Spa, and are likely to be the team to beat on any given Sunday, until the end of the season. At Red Bull, will Mark Webber be given free rein to challenge for the title in the light of Vettel’s resurgence? Interesting decisions lie ahead for Christian Horner, which he might avoid if Webber does not raise his game substantially as his form of late has wilted alarmingly. Since his win at the British Grand Prix, in July, the Aussie has only scored 16 points in five outings. Vettel scored 65 points in the same period… In the constructors championship Red Bull still lead, but they have been reeled in by McLaren who have benefitted by having the form car but at the same time DNFs have cost them big points. Ferrari in turn was a one man show until Felipe Massa started getting some decent results. This one is by no means done and dusted. For the support cast we can expect Williams and Sauber to be up there and challenging the hierarchy as they have done for most of the season. The classic Suzuka track characteristics – in the same vein as Monza and Spa – should give Sauber the opportunity to turn around their Singapore disappointment, while Maldonado’s quick pace should be a factor provided he keeps his demons well and truly harnessed. Lotus should be contenders, but since Hungary they have not had that edge which had made them a threat at every race. They were well below par in Singapore and it will be interesting to see if that was a temporary glitch. If the E20 packs the required punch expect both Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean to feature at the sharp end of proceedings. Mercedes have stolen the headlines in the lead up to Suzuka, and now it’s back to business and the stark reality that their W03 is way down the pecking order. Unless they have made a huge development breakthrough in the past two weeks, it looks to be another weekend of big toil and little reward in store for Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. Others to watch will be the Force India pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta, theirs is also a battle about being at the front of the queue when another big team starts shopping around for a new driver. Oh yes, not to forget the ever present threat of rain… Subbed by AJN. 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