Despite the WDC being sewn up in Singapore last week, there was plenty to play for this week as the WCC and the WDC minor placings are still up for grabs. Mercedes have been resurgent since Oz's signing after the German Grand Prix with an impressive 7 out of 8 potential podium finishes. With a maximum of 312 WCC points available only the Silver Arrows, Lotus, Sauber and Williams remained mathematically capable of denying McLaren a double championship ahead of Suzuka. Anything less than victory would see Sir Frank's outfit and the Swiss team out of the title race.
In the WDC, Lotus' Ploddy is pushing to hold off the fast charging NightFire for P2 honours, while an interesting little 4 way battle for P4 is developing between Williams' rogue eclipse, Lotus' EffSea, Sauber's PessimistPrime and Mercedes' Oz. RBR's Nobody, McLaren's Toggsie and Sauber's Sora are all evenly poised in their championship battle as we begin the home stretch of the season.
Since the FIA took action on the Italian teams' truancy, we have seen former GP2 runner up millen return to his old team at STR, and another rumoured change is the return of former GP1 driver St8tsman to the grid. Details remain sketchy at this stage, there was some talk he would get a deal done in time to race in Suzuka but Korea looks a more realistic proposition.
RBR's Fredzfrog was the only omission from the currently registered entry list, giving the Japanese fans a solid grid. Who would reign supreme as Shogun at Suzuka?
|7||11||nobody813||Red Bull||+1 lap||26||01:39.458||12||6|
|8||7||Effing Sea||Lotus||+1 lap||26||01:39.366||9||4|
Dry conditions greeted the field for qualifying this week and the race was also forecast to be clear. Early practice had shown the field to be very close and the next 15 minutes would show just how competitive this competition is. The other big question would be strategy, as opinions were divided on whether a one or two stop strategy would be the best option.
The McLaren Missile fired an early shot with a 1:34.165, over 2 seconds faster than the Williams of rogue eclipse and NightFire's Mercedes. NightFire would cut a second off his early time but still found himself adrift of the GP2 champion. His team mate Oz countered the McLaren with a blistering 1:33.778 midway through the session and it was a time that would not be beaten, though SOJ would go close - just 3 hundredths of a second shy. The Mercedes driver believed he could have gone even quicker - "Lucky to qualify on pole, made a couple of errors in the lap but it was enough".
NightFire would take P3 just 8 hundredths of a second ahead of rogue eclipse, who was clearly pleased at his return to qualifying form - "That was a personal best for the weekend, happy with the time". Just over a second covered Sauber's PessimistPrime in P5, STR's millen, Lotus's Ploddy and Sauber's Sora in P8.
Oz got away cleanly at the start but the McLaren Missile misfired and lost out at turn 1 to a fast starting rogue eclipse. This would prove crucial to the outcome as the Williams held up the field allowing the Mercedes to create an early gap. NightFire also snuck through on the McLaren but ran wide on the exit of Dunlop. Ploddy also ran into trouble on the first lap after contact with PessimistPrime out of Degner 2 on the run to the hairpin caused the Lotus to run straight on. SOJ would not be denied a chance at Oz and managed to pass rogue by the end of the first lap.
The Missile tried to catch up to Oz, but errors cost him dearly - "I was managing to hold about a 4 second gap to him until I went off the track and made a mistake at the hairpin. At that point I had to switch from a one stop to a two stop strategy and Oz was long gone". Down the field some interesting battles were developing between rogue eclipse and PessimistPrime, EffSea and Nobody, and Toggsie and Ploddy. Early errors from Sora and zdievo cost both drivers time to a close field - fastest lap times at the end of the race would show 8 out of the 12 to be within about a second and a half of each other. This made recovering from mistakes a difficult task. A number of drivers who had planned on a one stopper found it tough going as the tyre degradation was worse than expected and the scrapping for position took its toll.
millen's one stop strategy worked a treat however, and the STR driver showed more of the strong form he debuted with in Singapore. A brief battle with NightFire (on worn tyres) towards the end of the race was the only real challenge on his way to his first podium on returning to GP2. "My strategy worked really well. Went to lap 18 on primes, one stopped for options and made it to the end pretty comfortably. Managed to hold on to third spot, couldn't be happier. Woot!"
The battle for P5 started around the mid way point of the race and saw rogue and Prime racing within a second or two of each other lap after lap. They changed positions a few times as pressure caused an error from the car ahead; both nearly came to grief at turn 2 on lap 24 as Prime tried to sneak around the inside and slid into the Williams. The most exciting moments of the race was the side by side run down the back straight toward 130R on the final lap, the Sauber only just unable to complete the pass. The Williams would finish ahead by just 4 tenths of a second.
It was good come back race for RBR's Nobody following Singapore as he held off a determined EffSea for P7 . The Lotus driver ruing errors and a miscommunication on fuel management - "Fun race but a couple of errors cost me big time. Really tense when I was in behind Nobody - nice racing". Current Championship runner up Ploddy salvaged a couple of precious points following his lap 1 mishap, those points are now all that separates him from a determined challenge by NightFire. McLaren's Toggsie also took home an important point, both in the context of his championship battle with Nobody and Sora, and perhaps more importantly, McLaren's WCC fight with Mercedes and Lotus - "P10 - 1 point and I'm frikkin' happy".
Sora and zdievo rounded out the field, the Sauber driver livid with his performance after the race - "My luck has been going from shit to fucking suck. All that practice and 11th for my troubles. The team has expectations on me to bring home the points and I didn't deliver. Hopefully the next race will be kinder". The Williams rookie was more circumspect - "A good race for me, was consistent with my times and not too many schoolboy errors. I'd like to renew my thanks to the team and Sir Frank for trusting me with the seat. I'm not here to just make up the numbers and I hope to start repaying that trust soon".
The story of the day though was the maiden victory for Mercedes' Oz with a flawless display. "Finally some consistency and a win, loving Japan!" said the race winner. Team principal Ross Brawn was clearly happy for his new signing - "We've had a lot of personnel upheaval this season, but I think with Oz and NightFire we've settled and shown our pace. We think we have the talent to take the championship fight right to McLaren". Reigning WDC Champion SOJ was clearly aware of the challenge coming from the Silver Arrows - "Disappointing drive from myself tonight. That's not to say we had the pace to win, that's just saying we could have pushed the Mercedes if I hadn't made so many errors. Big congrats to Oz and millen".
As we begin the final stretch of season 2, Williams and Sauber drop from the WCC race, leaving McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus to duke it out for glory. In the WDC the minor placing will be hotly contested, with Ploddy, NightFire and rogue eclipse separated by just 13 pts, whilst PessimistPrime, EffSea and Oz are just 3 pts apart. Sora, Toggsie and Nobody have their own battle for bragging rights.
How will it all play out? Keep tuning in to find out. Next week sees the second running of the Grand Prix of Korea. Sayonara from Suzuka!