The first thing you need to know about this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix is that it is one of those easy-brekkie weekends. There will be no time to try out Nigella’s Tuscan Pancetta with pan-fried egg on stone-oven-fresh peasant bread; make it simple, qualifying is at six in the morning tomorrow, the race at seven on Sunday if you’re in the UK and you have Sky. If you don’t just be up by lunchtime, because the BBC will screen qualifying highlights at one and the race at two in the afternoon.
The first two practice sessions have already happened today. McLaren and Red Bull dominated, Schumacher crashed and Ferrari are starting to sound like they’re wobbling, although we’ll come to that.
We all know the story now. Over the next six races Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel have to win races to close down Fernando Alonso’s 29 point lead over the nearest of them, Vettel. There’s 25 points for a win, so it is more than possible (although Lewis, 52 points adrift has the tallest mountain to climb). What will make it tricky is of course the fact that Alonso is always there at the end, in third (15 points) or fourth (12 points), neutralising to some extent the value of a win.
Team-work then is important. Mark Webber and Jenson Button are still in with a shout, on paper at least, so won’t be handing points over. That might favour Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean is not going to be the 2012 World Champion, but Lotus have yet to win a race and it seems inconceivable, if not impossible, that Raikkonen could win the title without troubling the top step in 20 races.
Then of course there are the team dynamics themselves. Jenson Button had apparently indicated to Wing Commander Whitmarsh that he would do the decent thing. But that was before Lewis announced he was changing sides. Was the offer a hollow one?
Meanwhile we all know over at Red Bull there’s not much love lost between Webber and Vettel and the Aussie looked on fire this morning setting the fastest time in the second session after Button topped the first. Either a Red Bull or a McLaren will be on pole.
Fernando Alonso’s best time of the day put him fifth in session two, but six-tenths behind Webber. And the team is already letting it be known it has rediscovered its old calibration problem with its stylish, but wonky wind tunnel. Concerned looks all round in the red corner. But is this more disinformation? Remember the team’s willingness to admit this year’s car was a total donkey right back at the start of the season, two races before its first win. Hmmm. We wonder. Sunday should be a cracking race, but the title is still Alonso’s to lose.