Sebastian Vettel has rubbished notions that the Red Bull Racing RB6 will struggle to maintain its early Suzuka dominance should the weather turn nasty as has been predicted over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend – reasoning that there has yet to be a race in F1 2010 characterised by 'consistently wet conditions'.
Vettel and team-mate – and current world championship leader – Mark Webber comfortably led the way in both FP1 and FP2 around the demanding, fast-and-flowing 5.8km-circuit, with the closest non-Red Bull of Robert Kubica almost four tenths adrift of the Australian, and nearly twice that margin shy of the German.
Conventional wisdom goes that the RBR pairing should therefore be in for a two-horse race come Sunday, but there may yet be a spanner in the works – rain. Whilst the two practice sessions so far have been dry, the heavens opened with a vengeance afterwards and further downpours are forecast for Saturday – meaning qualifying could well be a lottery.
The Adrian Newey-penned RB6 has generally not been such a force in the wet this year as in the dry – witness the races in Shanghai and at Spa-Francorchamps as examples – but Vettel is adamant that the energy drinks-backed outfit has no fear should the elements do their worst tomorrow.
“This year we've never really had a race with consistent wet conditions, so it's hard to know what everyone's pace will be,” the 23-year-old reasoned. “If you take the last wet experience we had – the race at Spa – it wasn't really wet or dry. It was ready for intermediates, but I think the whole field was struggling a lot for two or three laps. I was on extreme [wet tyres] myself so I cannot really judge, but everyone was just sliding around after a couple of laps, partly because this year's intermediate tyre is quite tricky to handle in these conditions.
“I think it's not fair to say we've struggled this year [in the rain] – some things are different from last year for everybody. The forecast suggests rain, but there's no reason why we shouldn't be competitive in the wet and I don't see why we shouldn't be able to perform as we do in the dry.
“We had a trouble-free Friday, which is the most important thing, especially on a track like this where you need to get into a rhythm with all the quick corners following each other. The car was reliable and I had a good feeling, and the pace looks okay too. We should be in a very good position – the track suits our car quite well and last year we were very quick here. Our car likes medium-speed and fast corners and we have some of those here. That's why naturally people see us as a favourite, but we still need to go out and prove it. It will be a tough weekend, for sure.”
Indeed, it was Vettel who ascended the top step of the podium this time twelve months ago at Suzuka following a peerless drive, and if that race was held in the dry, then the Heppenheim native and his team earned themselves something of a reputation last season for being wet weather maestros – a scenario not replicated thus far in F1 2010. Webber, for his part, disagrees with his team-mate in contending that the RB6 is not as potent a force as have been its predecessors in adverse conditions.
“The weather looks a bit strange on Saturday and that might not be that beneficial to us,” reflected the straight-talking New South Wales native, “but [there's] nothing we can do about that. I think some subtle things changed which made the performance of the car a bit less competitive in those conditions. The tyres have changed; the aerodynamics have changed a lot.
“Clearly, there was something on both RB4 and RB5 – even RB4 was fast in the rain, both Seb and I were quick at Fuji in the wet a few years ago and we dominated a lot of wet sessions and races last year. This year is not as clear for us, but I'd prefer to have a car that's quick in the dry than just working in the rain.”