Hi everybody...

F1 arrives in Japan this weekend for the final round of the season. This year seems to have flown along, doesn't it? I think it has gone so quickly because we have had nothing but excitement all year long - and it's still not decided, although it is leant definitely one way.

Suzuka is a great venue. The Japanese fans show incredible loyalty and are hugely enthusiastic. They all seem to get up at some ridiculous time of the morning to gain a spot and, as the sun comes up, and as you are out there at the circuit, you see hundreds of thousands of faces looking at you from the grandstands.

The track itself is probably one of the best in the world, definitely one of the most technically challenging. It has some very tough corners, both in terms of technical lines and just how strenuous they can be. It's a little bumpy in some areas, but without a doubt a great circuit.

Ferrari and Michael Schumacher practically sewed up the drivers' title at Indy, and I don't think Kimi Raikkonen has much hope of stopping him this weekend. In my opinion, Michael is going to pull off another strong result - he doesn't have that much pressure, as he only has to finish in a point-scoring position.

Granted, Kimi has nothing to lose either but, at the same point, he has to go out there and get the job done - and then hope Michael has some issues. So, in reality, we have pretty much got the champion sorted, although you should never say never.

If Michael does take a record sixth crown, it will be phenomenal. It's going to be an incredible feat for someone to do that. The scary thing is that, if you actually look back at what has gone on over the last few years, he could probably have been up to eight or nine championships at this stage. But six is fantastic and he's still going to be around for a few years yet, so there might be another one (or two!) in the bag there somewhere as well.

As for the constructors' championship, well that is down to just Ferrari and Williams now, and my gut instinct says the Scuderia are more likely to pull it off.

Yeah, it's tough, as it will depend on whose two cars pull together to get the best average of points for the race, but, in my mind, Ferrari are the favourites, simply because their reliability has been bullet-proof over the season.

That doesn't mean I'm writing Williams off in anyway - they are going to be strong too - so we will have to wait and see.

Renault finished fourth in the US with Jarno Trulli, and I reckon they will have another pretty good time this weekend. The circuit will suit the car, as the R23 has good downforce and is well balanced. Yes, they are a little bit down power-wise, but that didn't seem to have as big an effect as we expected for Indianapolis, and I think they will be in the hunt again.

The battle for fifth place in the constructors' is also an interesting plus for the weekend, and Sauber are now right in the thick of it following their third and fifth place finishes two weeks ago.

It's odd really, as the Swiss team have been languishing around the bottom three teams all season long and now, all of a sudden, have come to fore. One strong race with two cars scoring like that has really elevated them into contention for that fifth spot. And if it rains at Suzuka - and we have seen it rain there before there - as a Bridgestone runner, they might pull off another strong result and cement the fifth place in the championship. It's all to play for...

BAR-Honda is still looking reasonable as well. It was a great shame for Jenson Button that he didn't pull off his first podium finish at Indy, as it was on the cards for sure. He will probably feel quite let down, but hopefully they can make up for it at Honda's home race.

Honda usually pulls out something special for this one, so here's hoping. I'm sure the team will be popular with the locals as well, especially following the news that Takuma Sato will drive for the outfit at this race and in 2004.

It is also Toyota's home race and so they will want to make sure they deliver too. They are probably going to be a bit more pushed to make things stick for fifth but, as Sauber showed at Indy, you never know.

Jaguar deserves a mention too, as fifth is definitely still a possibility for them. It was a great shame that Mark Webber didn't score points at the Brickyard, but it was good to see Justin Wilson get his first ever F1 score. I'm sure it will give him a boost going to Japan and, hopefully, give him that bit more confidence to go out there and do the same this weekend. If he can do that, I think he stands a good chance of staying there in 2004.

However, it is a tough call. Economically, things are very weak out there at the moment, and, even though Justin turned up with some pennies behind him, I don't think that is going to be enough. It depends whether there is confidence and whether there is enough finance around to let him have a position there for next year. We will have to see.

Jordan, meanwhile, also remains in the hunt for fifth, but they are the least likely to achieve it. EJ's outfit is having a terrible time, and things just seem to be going from bad to worse, especially from the halfway point of the season onwards. They need to do a lot of thinking, and get back to basics again to see if they can start building a platform and then get back into that top five or six points scoring positions.

Minardi haven't done anything over the course of the season, simply because they don't have the resources. You've got to be glad they turn up every other weekend, but until there is a big, big, big boost of finance there, and they can grab some people with some credentials, I can't see them going anywhere fast.

Could they grab a lucky point? You never know, stranger things have happened - we saw it happen in Australia last year - so I guess it is possible.

My final predictions...

I reckon Kimi will be on it and will take the pole and the win this weekend, with Juan Pablo Montoya second, and Michael third, clinching his sixth title. Then Ralf will come in fourth, with David Coulthard fifth, Rubens Barrichello sixth and Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button completing the top eight.

Here's to a great end to a top year.

MB.

 

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