| 6 October 2004
Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello is the man on form at the moment, having won the last two grands prix and he will no doubt be hoping to make it a hat-trick in Japan. Naturally, he will face stiff opposition from team-mate Michael Schumacher, while BAR-Honda, currently second in the Constructors’ classification will be chasing that elusive first victory on its engine supplier’s home turf.
As the only Japanese driver on the grid, BAR’s Takuma Sato will be the most popular man as far as the crowd is concerned.
Although this is the penultimate round of the season, it is the final grand prix for Olivier Panis. Toyota is dropping Ricardo Zonta and partnering the retiring Frenchman with next year’s signing, Jarno Trulli. Panis will not drive in Brazil, to allow Zonta a run in his home race.
The Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro paddock area is practically ready, all prepared for the arrival of the drivers. For Bridgestone and Olympus, the Scuderia’s two Japanese partners, Japan is particularly important. The ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ is also a fundamental market for the other Prancing Horse sponsors, Vodafone and Shell.
Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello started the day off when they participated in the first event, one set up by Shell at Roppongi Hills, the area of Tokyo where the major television and radio stations are situated. The event included some pit stop simulations and saw the drivers laugh and joke on the stage with Japanese entertainment stars.
From there, Schumacher and Barrichello moved on to the elegant Shibuya quarter where they paid a visit to the Vodafone Store. There the two were able to familiarize themselves with the latest Vodafone mobile telephone technology. Then, Michael and Rubens together with Brawn and Todt, gathered at the Westin Hotel for a press conference arranged by Bridgestone. The strengths of the collaboration between Ferrari and the Japanese manufacturer will be the key to dealing with future challenges, in particular those regarding the regulations.
At the end of the Bridgestone conference, Todt, Schumacher and Barrichello inaugurated a photographic exhibition organized by Olympus and dedicated to the Scuderia. The day ended at the Ministry of Territory, Infrastructure and Transport where the Minister Kazuo Kitagawa, welcomed Todt, Schumacher and Barrichello.
Michael Schumacher reflected on the Suzuka circuit- “Suzuka is one of those circuits that I look forward to with pleasure because, as everyone knows, it is tricky to drive. It remains challenging for us drivers even after the modifications, something that I really appreciate. I can’t wait to see how it drives this year. Last year, for example, we slowed down at curve 130R. This made it irregular and, consequently, more difficult than expected. The chicane is now faster with a drastically reduced braking area meaning that the chances of overtaking are slimmer than we thought they might be”.
The Suzuka circuit was originally built back in 1962 as a Honda test track and the car company still owns it as part of a large complex that includes a hotel, an amusement park and car and motorcycle racing schools. Dutchman, John Hugenholz, who was regarded as the Hermann Tilke of his day, designed the layout, which has remained pretty much unchanged to this day.
At 5.807 kilometers, it is slightly longer than most modern tracks and it is unique in doubling back on itself with a figure of eight layout which includes 18 corners. Along with Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Suzuka is generally regarded as the drivers’ favorite, offering a real challenge where courage and skill can make a difference.
Technically speaking, Suzuka is a very demanding, medium down force circuit, which is tough on tires. The wide variety of corner types means that car set-up is always a compromise. The one downside of a track primarily built for testing it that it provides few overtaking opportunities. The main chance to pass another car comes at the final 80 km/h chicane before the pit straight, but even here it is difficult. Preceding the chicane is the 130R, a blindingly quick left hander that was modified last year in the interests of safety.