F1 Power Rankings: Japanese Grand Prix

Last week was a hell of a lot more interesting that the Singapore Grand Prix that preceded it. The music has suddenly stopped and the seats in F1’s annual game of musical chairs are quickly filling up now that Lewis Hamilton signed with Mercedes and Sergio Perez moved to McLaren. Will the switch mean McLaren won’t back Lewis title chase? I examine that and more in this week’s Power Rankings.

#1 Fernando Alonso (Last Race #1)
Alonso’s lead in the World Drivers’ Championship is slowly dwindling as a result of having what is maybe the third fastest car on the grid. If it wasn’t for their lack of single-lap pace, the Lotus might be considered faster than Ferrari. Besides driver skill, the biggest thing Alonso has going for him is that he has the most reliable car on the grid. With Vettel’s Renault alternator prone to suffering failure during hot races and Hamilton hampered at McLaren by that new Mercedes contract, Alonso’s best chance comes if he makes it to the finish line for the next six races.

#2 Sebastian Vettel (LR #4)
The twice-defending World Drivers’ Champion talks about he wasn’t satisfied with how he clinched the title at Suzuka tomorrow. Good to see he isn’t happy with just points racing: “In 2011 the country experienced unbelievable difficulties, so it was extremely important to try and give them some enjoyment and to show our support for their suffering. I wish I had won in 2011, it was my third Formula One race on my favourite track and it still bothers me a bit that I took my world title with a third place.”

#3 Lewis Hamilton (LR #2)
I don’t know when Old Louise Hamilton’s pre-race quotes were prepared but if I were him, I wouldn’t count on the team going all out to help him win the title. After all, if he wins the title, he takes that #1 down the pit lane to the Mercedes garage. It would be childish for McLaren to cut off their nose to spite their face, so to say, but I wouldn’t fault them for feeling bitter of Lewis’ departure: “In terms of the championship, there’s nothing to really be gained by analysing the points tables, from now on, it’s simply gloves-off. As in Singapore, I’ll come out fighting, I’ll just be hoping for a better result next weekend.”

#4 Jenson Button (LR #6)
Vettel got to talk about how special Japan is to him. Now Button gets his chance: “All of my grand prix wins have felt special, but winning at Suzuka in 2011, at the first grand prix held in Japan since the terrible tsunami last March, was an achievement that still makes me feel incredibly proud and emotional. As everybody knows, Japan means a lot to me. It’s a place I love, I’ve been here so many times – for business and pleasure – and I still feel that wide-eyed awe and deep emotion for a country that exists so comfortably on so many different levels.”

#5 Kimi Raikkonen (LR #3)
The Iceman talks about the challenge of racing at Suzuka: “It is one of the more difficult tracks and part of racing at Suzuka is that there are usually quite a few accidents. When you are on the limit, a driver will always have some big moments during the weekend at a fast circuit and Suzuka really punishes the driver due to the speed of the track and the small run-off areas. It’s a great circuit; very quick and challenging for both car and driver.”

#6 Mark Webber (LR #6)
@AussieGrit has recently focused on his qualifying woes: “I’m looking forward to the Japanese Grand Prix as it’s an opportunity to get a top result again on a track I enjoy driving on. Qualifying has not been as strong for us recently and we know this has to be improved. We are focusing on that and, once that’s better, we can make a strong push towards being better positioned at the end of Grands Prix.” 

#7 Felipe Massa (LR #7)
Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery thinks that we’re due for an exciting race this weekend: “Despite the increased demands that this places on the compound and structure, they are still more than capable of withstanding the immense forces to which they are subjected lap after lap. With a full step between the compounds as well, we hope this will bring extra performance and excitement to what is already a classic race. This should also open up the opportunity for lots of different strategies, which as we have seen already this year can form the foundation of a memorable victory, or boost drivers to a top result even if they have started from lower down on the grid. ”

#8 Romain Grosjean (LR #9)
Grosjean can’t pick a favourite part of the track: “It’s difficult to pick one part of the circuit as your favourite. The first sector is brilliant, with turn one, turn three, four and five – it’s crazy! Then you go right under the bridge, then a small hairpin, and next up is the ‘Spoon corner’ which is a nightmare for the drivers. Then you’re flat out, DRS wide open, before the last chicane. A brilliant circuit.”

#9 Michael Schumacher (LR #8)
Old Seven-Time says he’s not having problems getting motivated for this weekend’s race despite being out of a ride: “My motivation is completely intact after the news last week especially because Suzuka is one of the season’s highlights for me…  Logically, it would also be nice to achieve a sporting highlight this weekend, although my chances are of course very limited because of my grid penalty. But I’ve always approached these things as a challenge.”

#10 Nico Rosberg (LR #10)
Keke’s kid might win this week’s award for the most generic pre-race quote of the week: “I’m looking forward to getting to Japan this week and getting on with the work to get the most out of our new aerodynamic package and upgrades. Suzuka is a very exciting track which is popular with every driver for the interesting corner combinations and unique layout. I also look forward to meeting the Japanese fans again who have such a great passion for the sport and their support is always so enthusiastic.”

#11 Paul di Resta (LR #12)
Dario’s cousin thinks this track is more about the aero than the driver: “It’s a track that’s all about aero so it’s a real test of your car. I also found it very technical with corners like the ‘S’ curves where you need a good change of direction. Finding the sweet spot isn’t easy because half the track is made up of straights so you need efficiency as well as downforce for the high-speed corners.”

#12 Sergio Perez (LR #11)
Sadly, Sergio doesn’t talk about his move to McLaren in his pre-race quotage. What’s the point then? “After underperforming in Singapore, in Japan I am expecting our car to again to be as good as it used to be and we should be strong in the high-speed corners… Thanks to the Japanese fans the atmosphere there is really great and our team gets a lot of support because it is Kamui’s home race. I am very much looking forward to it.”

#13 Kamui Kobayashi (LR #15)
Kobayashi Maru talks about racing in his home grand prix: “I’m very much looking forward to my home Grand Prix in Suzuka…The Japanese fans are great and the mood and atmosphere they create is an enormous support. And it is not only me who they cheer for! They are true Formula One fans and that is why I’m really proud of them. Nowhere else will you find the fans being at the circuit so early in the morning and staying for so long at night, no matter what the weather is like.”

#14 Daniel Ricciardo (LR #16)

#15 Nico Hulkenberg (LR #14)
Since everyone talks about the track, I think we’ll just let Nico take us down memory lane… More or less: “My race in 2010 with Williams was not especially memorable because I was taken out before the first corner. That was a real shame because it’s a track I really enjoy and with corners like the ‘S’ curves it’s a great experience in a Formula One car.”

#16 Bruno Senna (LR #13)
Bruno has been hot and cold all year but is hoping things pick up at Suzuka: “It’s one of my favourite tracks of the season andit’s very fast and flowing but quite narrow compared to some of the other circuits we visit. It feels amazingly quick and is one of the biggest challenges as a driver. It is similar to Spa-Francorchamps so it’s a real drivers’ track. You can get variable weather in Japan ranging from warm and sunny to rain that stops qualifying.”

#17 Jean-Eric Vergne (LR #17)

#18 Pastor Maldonado (LR #18)
Pastor still hasn’t scored a point since Spain in May. Didn’t everyone say that he’s not just a pay driver back in May: “I’m really looking forward to getting to Japan this week. I think everyone in the paddock looks forward to this race, as the fans in Japan are some of the best in the world and give us all such a warm welcome. I also enjoy the track as it’s one of the historic circuits in Formula One.”

#19 Heikki Kovalainen (LR #19)
Heikki talks us through the first sector of Suzuka: “For me the best bit of the track is in sector one, from T1 to T7. You go into T1 and T2 at high speed and if you’re not fully committed you can lose a lot of time right at the start of the lap. Out of T2 the track is positively cambered and you can really lean on the car as you go into T3. From there, right through to T7 if the car is well balanced the whole section seems to flow. It’s a great feeling when you get it right, but get it wrong and you lose a lot of time.”

#20 Vitaly Petrov (LR #20)
Petrov says that the famous 130R corner is really just a snoozer: “A lot of people talk about that being a major corner, and it looks pretty good on TV when you see the cars flat out through there, but in the cockpit it’s really not that much of a challenge. Despite that you need to be flat through there as the chicane afterwards is one of the few overtaking spots, so if you lose time through 130R you’re going to come under pressure from cars behind right at the end of the lap.”

#21 Timo Glock (LR #22)
Three cheers for Tim O’Glock who got Marussia up to 10th in the Constructors’ Championship: “Suzuka is quite a different circuit to the last race in Singapore and with a lot of high-speed corners. Now we just need to wait and see how the car performs there. For this race we again have a couple of new developments on the car suited to this track, and I am hoping we will see another step forward and an even better chance of fighting with our immediate competitors and further closing the gap to the front of the field.”

#22 Charles Pic (LR #21)
Chuckie talks about the importance of helping the team hold on to 10th place in the WCC without actually saying “prize money”: “These are important times for the team and we need to work together to ensure that now we have 10th place back we hold on to it. I realise that is the key objective for us in these races and I will be playing my part in that – hopefully with some strong performances along the way to underline everything I have learned this year.”

#23 Pedro de la Rosa (LR #23)
It’s good that Pedro loves going fast. Though it makes me wonder why he’s in an HRT: “Suzuka is a beautiful and spectacular circuit; I would say it’s my favourite track. It’s very quick, you hardly touch the brake… It has inclinations, quick, flowing corners and it’s a very long lap. It’s a circuit for aerodynamics and horsepower where the best cars stand out.”

#24 Narain Karthikeyan (LR #24)
Karthikeyan thinks his car is fast but I’m pretty sure it’s all relative because he’s still back of the back: “I think we’ll take a step forward with the car with regards to Singapore and we’ll be able to better evaluate how the new floor works. We’ve been pretty fast in the last few races but we’ve been missing a bit of luck. But we have to continue working to maintain this positive momentum through to the end of the season.”

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