20120412022133866 7 October 2004

Along with Spa, the Japanese circuit is one of the toughest of the year. The drivers cannot afford the slightest mistake… but can make a real difference.

Drivers rarely agree on anything, but there is one subject upon which they never fail to voice the same opinion: Suzuka is a circuit that allows them to really show their talent.

They all mention the wide variety of corners, the precision required in certain sectors, the rhythm you need to find and the tricky set-up challenges. All 20 drivers arrived in the paddock this morning with a smile, and they know that they will be able to impress at the wheel of their machines this weekend. Suzuka requires bravery, precision and consistency. For them, coming back to Suzuka is like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen for a year.

Of course, the car is a critical factor in squeezing out the last tenths of lap-time. Good mechanical grip and excellent aerodynamic efficiency are key performance factors, while engine power will, as always, be critical. Once again, Ferrari will begin the race as favourites, but it’s worth noting that the men from Maranello froze development of the F2004 several weeks ago in order to concentrate on the 2005 car.

The other teams, though, are pushing forward with their programmes. BAR and Renault have both pushed to the limit in their battle for second place in the championship. There is plenty at stake: Renault will be looking to regain ground and take the battle down to the wire in Brazil, while BAR will want to win the position for good this weekend. Every lap of the track, from Friday morning to Sunday evening, will be crucial.

Williams and McLaren are also in the thick of things. With the two teams battling for fourth place in the constructors’ championship, the return to form of the Silver Arrows could prove decisive.

Looking at the driver market, Suzuka will mark Olivier Panis’ final race: the Frenchman arrived in F1 in 1994 with Ligier, and will not race in Brazil. He will team up with Jarno Trulli for the first time since 1999 (where they were team-mates at Prost). The two men are also friends and will want to deliver a successful performance. Panis will then vacate his seat in favour of Ricardo Zonta, who will drive alongside Trulli in his home race at Sao Paulo.