Toyota - Ralf Schumacher (#11), Jarno Trulli (#12):

Panasonic Toyota Racing is really heading for 'home ground' this weekend as the Japanese Grand Prix returns to the site of its first world championship race back in 1976.

The Fuji circuit has undergone a complete revamp in recent years, and is now one of the most advanced in the world, having been bought and subsidised by Toyota, and Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli will both have an updated TF107 - with aerodynamic and suspension upgrades - for this weekend's return. With plenty of enthusiastic Toyota fans expected among another capacity crowd, the whole team is highly motivated to better the sixth place its drivers have achieved this season.

"This is Toyota's home race, so our target clearly has to be to score points," claims senior general manager Pascal Vasselon, "We will have our last major upgrade of the season for the Japanese Grand Prix, with quite a lot of new aerodynamic parts, and I am confident we can achieve this."

Both Schumacher and Trulli have previous experience of Fuji in various guises, with the Italian among the few to have tried the revamped version.

"I drove on the circuit in 2005, just after it was completed, but I only did a few laps as a demonstration and the track was very dusty," he recalls, "It is an interesting circuit to drive and the facilities have been completely rebuilt, so they are great. It's hard to say too much about the track because it is new for all the teams but looking at the first corner, it is at the end of the long straight and quite wide so that should be a good overtaking opportunity. I am expecting a really special atmosphere for our home race and I hope we can deliver a good result."

Schumacher's memories go back a little further, and the German is looking forward to returning - despite the pressure to perform.

"I remember the old Fuji circuit from my time racing in Formula Nippon and I always enjoyed racing there," he reflects, "One of the most impressive things about Fuji Speedway is the location, with Mount Fuji in the background. The track itself is also very impressive, especially now the facilities have been improved. It is now one of the most modern in F1, but they have kept a lot of the character of the old track, with the very long main straight. Personally, it is great to be going to a different circuit, even if I loved racing at Suzuka, and I am looking forward to the challenge."

Red Bull Racing - David Coulthard (#14), Mark Webber (#15):

Buoyed by a successful final test of 2007 at Jerez, Red Bull Racing heads to Fuji hoping to add to the points secured by Mark Webber in Belgium as it continues to battle for position in the crowded midfield of the constructors' championship.

Although it may benefit slightly from its partnership with Renault after the regie ran briefly at the revamped Japanese circuit in 2006, engine guru Fabrice Lom insists that the weekend is still going to be something of a step into the unknown.

"It is always interesting to learn new circuits and tackle new challenges," the Frenchman claims, "Suzuka may be a legendary circuit, but I must confess that, on a personal level, I never particularly enjoyed the surrounding area. So, for me at least, it will fun to see what Fuji is like.

"The rules of [the] partnership [between RBR and Renault] are very clear - it is only an engine partnership. The only information from Renault F1 Team that is shared with Red Bull Racing concerns the engine itself. Of course, we can provide advice and our opinions from what we saw during last year's Roadshow at Fuji, but we cannot give any kind of information about parameters such as downforce levels for example... And we respect that agreement absolutely."

Despite the secrecy about potential set-ups, however, Lom is confident that the RS27 will not be a weak link when competition resumes in Japan.

"We know how [the engine] should behave and, especially coming after Monza and Spa, we are not concerned that Fuji will be hard on the engines," he continues, "There is a very long straight of around 1.5km, but it is preceded by a slow corner and the longest period spent at full throttle is under 20 seconds - compared to 25 seconds in Spa. The predicted percentage of the lap at full throttle is around 50 per cent, which is also below the annual average.

"That means we have no particular worries about engine reliability, particularly because the track lies around 500m above sea level, which makes life easier for the V8. The engine develops less power, the loads on the pistons are reduced, but that doesn't mean we won't be paying our usual attention to reliability."

Which just leaves the transmission and hydraulics for RBR to worry about.....

Williams - Nico Rosberg (#16), Alex Wurz (#17):

Promoted to fourth in the constructors' championship with just three races remaining, following McLaren's controversial exclusion, Williams will be looking to extend its lead over those behind and close the gap to Renault in search of a top three finish as it races in front of its engine partner's home crowd this weekend.

Ironically, the Grove-based team is the better bet for a good result for Toyota, with Nico Rosberg enjoying a decent run of form that has taken him above team-mate Alex Wurz in the top ten of the drivers' championship. The German is looking forward to continuing that trend on a circuit that, on Friday at least, will be largely unfamiliar to everyone.

"I am looking forward to racing at Fuji Speedway," Rosberg admits, "It's an unknown track, but I am confident we can do well and continue our form of the last few races.

"Not having been there before, I have done some practice in a simulator, but the real learning happens when you are out on the track. For me, less than a dozen laps will be enough to start feeling comfortable. At Fuji Speedway, we'll be on Toyota's home ground, so it would be great if we could do well there in front of the Japanese audience."

Team-mate Wurz, for all his experience, is also unfamiliar with Fuji, but the Austrian's mind will not be entirely focused on learning the circuit this weekend.

"I very much like going to oversees races, and particularly to Japan, because I love the culture there, but this time it will be a bit of an unknown trip for me - not because we're going to a new track, but because my wife Julia is expecting our third son," Wurz revealed, "He's scheduled to arrive in the days between Japan and China so, naturally, I'm leaving home with a bit of an uncomfortable feeling...."

Suzuka was notorious for its fickle weather conditions, which range from blazing sunshine to torrential rain - and have even included a close shave with a typhoon - and Williams technical director Sam Michael is prepared for more of the same at Fuji which, if anyhting, is reckoned to be wetter than its predecessor.

"Weather forecasts predict rain for most of the weekend," Michael confirms, "This can obviously always change, but we will expect it regardless."
Scuderia Toro Rosso - Vitantonio Liuzzi (#18), Sebastian Vettel (#19):

Spa proved to be a mixed race for the Toro Rosso crew as Vitantonio Liuzzi drove a solid race to finish twelfth in Belgium - the weekend going 'better than expected' for the Italian as he finished ahead of Honda's Rubens Barrichello on the return to Spa. Team-mate Sebastien Vettel however failed to finish after a steering issue forced him to park up in the early stages.

That twelfth place was Liuzzi's best result of the campaign, and while it meant that Toro Rosso remain pointless, the team has been buoyed by an improvement in pace that it aims to carry into the weekend.

With a solid performance during the three-day test at Jerez, where Liuzzi posted the second quickest time on the opening day, the team will now hope to make the most of the lack of experience of the field at Fuji to secure a first points finish of the season.
Spyker F1 - Sakon Yamamoto (#20), Adrian Sutil (#21):

As the world championship moves into its closing stages, the Spyker team is hoping that the combination of its 'new' B-spec chassis and an unfamiliar venue might allow it to transcend the run enjoyed by Adrian Sutil in Belgium and take the team close to its first points.

Unusually, the Silverstone-based team - which is expected to change hands in the wake of the Japanese race - holds one major advantage over its rivals, as both Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto have extensive experience of racing at the revamped Fuji circuit from their time in Japanese F3 and Formula Nippon.

"I think it's very good that F1 is going there," Sutil claims, "I had many F3 races and many tests there, so it's like my second home track! The experience will help as I know which parts are important and how you set up the car there, what the benefits are and so on. I think it's very good to know about driving this circuit because it's not easy, and there are some special corners where you really have to be very smooth and not push, because otherwise you will be slow. I hope it will be an advantage.

"The area surrounding the circuit is very nice, and the circuit is also a special track. It's like in Monza, I would say. Normally Fuji is a low downforce track but, for sure, we'll see some cars running higher levels just trying to gain some time in the middle and last sectors. In general, though, it'll be a low downforce set-up similar to Spa."

"Fuji is a very interesting circuit, because one side is a very quick straight, and the other is very technical, especially sector three," echoed Yamamoto, "For a driver, it's interesting but, for engineers, it's a real compromise. The last part is probably best for drivers. It's a bit slow, but it's fun to drive - and this is the part where the driver can make a difference, good or bad."

The Japanese driver's memories are not all good, however.

"The first time I raced there, on the old circuit, was in F3 in 2001 - it was good until I crashed!" he smiles, "My first race on the new circuit was 2005, in Japanese GTs. On the old track, you could really use a big tow and you could pass more easily, but I think it was more tricky and more dangerous. The new one is safer, but it still has the long straight."

Against expectation, Spa was 'a storming race' for the Spyker team, with Sutil fighting hard to get to twelfth position in his first stint, before eventually finishing 14th. With the advantage of 'local' knowledge and a new aero upgrade scheduled for Fuji, chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne is hoping for the same, or better, this weekend.

"The whole team was certainly buoyed by the progress in Spa," he notes, "In qualifying, we were stronger and, without a small error on his quickest lap, Adrian could have finished even higher up the order. We then converted that on race day into a good performance. Adrian, in particular, had a fantastic race, with the only disappointment not being able to get past Coulthard on his one-stop strategy, which cost us a couple of places.

"Obviously, we don't have historical data to refer to [for Fuji], but we are able to perform a lot of simulation work back in the factory. The most difficult aspect is knowing which kerbs you can run and not run over, so it is difficult to be totally prepared. This undoubtedly means more work on the Friday and you will see people doing more laps than they usually do. Fuji is a very long circuit with a long straight, but the rest of the lap requires more downforce, so set-up will always be a compromise. However, we know that the B-spec has significantly less drag than the old car and we know that this will help us at Fuji, plus China and Brazil.

"At Spa, we had good straightline speed and were one of the fastest cars, which enabled us to take so many people on the opening lap, so if we get the set-up right, we could be in the same position.

"We have new aero parts coming through for Japan. As we stated at the launch of the new B-spec car, the debut was only the start of the process. We have new rear wings, amendments on the front wing and now there will be new parts from at every race until the end of the season. I think we need to be racing the group with the updates we have got. We want to be competitively racing and, if the circumstances come about when we can steal a point, that would be a fitting end to the season and a reward for everyone's hard work."
Super Aguri F1 - Takuma Sato (#22), Anthony Davidson (#23):

Despite the revolving door reserved for Japanese drivers in Formula One, one individual appears to have weathered the storm and, as a result, has become something of a legend among his countrymen.

Takuma Sato made a habit of scoring points at Suzuka and, having opened Super Aguri's account this season, is naturally keen to add to the tradition as his home race moves to Fuji.

"I am excited to be going back to Japan," he says, "I have never raced at Fuji, except when I was cycling, but this is a very famous circuit and its long straight, with heavy braking at the end, could provide some great overtaking opportunities. Fuji has always provided exciting racing in other categories, so I am sure that we shall have a great grand prix."

Unsurprisingly, overtaking and scoring points feature highly among Sato's memories of 2007.

"It is difficult to pick just one as there have been so many special moments, but I suppose that Barcelona and Montreal would be the two I'd choose," he says, "Not only because we scored our first championship points there, but also because of the racing and the great overtaking moments I had. It was a great team effort at both races.

"I could not have expected this 'gift' result. It is the hard work by our team and great racing from the other F1 teams that has made this happen. We have gone beyond our expectations, but we were always aiming high following our tenth position result in Brazil last year. We came into this season with high motivation, and I am so pleased that we have achieved our target."

Team-mate Anthony Davidson arrives at Fuji equally unfamiliar with the circuit but determined to open his account for Super Aguri, even though the team is running on the home circuit of Honda rival Toyota. The Briton struggled after having to pit at the end of the formation lap in Belgium, and is hoping for a more competitive showing in Aguri's homeland.

The team is expected to debut a new livery at Fuji, having severed ties with sponsor SS United.

TYRES:

Bridgestone has selected its medium and soft compounds for the return to Fuji, a decision designed to cater for the 1.5km straight - one of the longest in motorsport - where a low downforce set-up will be essential, and the mechanical grip required from the tyres for the remaining tight and twisty aspects.

"The major feature of Fuji is naturally its very long straight, which is followed by the first of the slow corners," director of motorsport tyre development Hirohide Hamashima explains, "This configuration should present some interesting overtaking opportunities for the drivers, so I'm looking forward to seeing the racing next weekend. There are only two high speed corners: the 100R and 300R and, consequently, I expect that car set-ups will be in a low downforce configuration. From a compound point of view, we do not expect problems with wear as the surface is relatively smooth. We could, however, see some graining on the front left tyres, especially from the 100R corner, but we don't believe it will be severe."

Bridgestone tyres were used in both of the previous grands prix at this track. In 1976, Japanese driver Kazuyoshi Hoshino, driving a privately-entered Tyrrell-Ford on Bridgestone tyres, ran as high as third during the race. It was the first time that Bridgestone tyres had been used in a grand prix and Hoshino was only denied a strong finish in the race as a result of not having sufficient wheels fitted with tyres in the variable weather race.

"We have learnt a lot from racing at Fuji over the years and, by combining this knowledge with simulation data, we have been able to predict the need for the medium and soft tyres from our 2007 range," Hamashima continues, "We are confident that these tyres will work well and should produce some good racing."
THE TRACK:
Race Distance: 67 laps - Circuit Length 2.852 miles (4.563km)

After 20 years of racing at Suzuka, Formula One returns to Fuji this weekend, 31 years after the picturesque circuit hosted the first ever Japanese Grand Prix in
1976. Despite providing a suitably dramatic conclusion to that year's world title battle, the circuit's time on the calendar was short-lived and the race was dropped a year later because of safety concerns.

Brought by Toyota in 2000 and given a major facelift by Formula One's resident architect, Hermann Tilke, the revamped Fuji International Speedway stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its modern rivals, both with a challenging new track layout and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Located just 60 miles outside the hustle of Tokyo and with the stunning Mount Fuji as its backdrop, the nature of the original track has remained, with an epic straight - the longest in F1 at approximately 1.5km - connected by a relatively simple loop. However additional corners have been added to encourage more exciting racing and overtaking.

Key changes have focused on the end of the track, where some slower corners have been added to decrease entry speed for the start-finish straight. The main straight creates slipstreaming opportunities as the cars power down toward the right hander of turn one, and this section of the track will dominate the set-up, with a compromise in the low to medium range to ensure performance on the straight is maximised.

"We calculated the top speed at [the] end [of the straight] will be about 315km/h, by which time the cars will have raced at full throttle for some 20 seconds, which is one of the longest full throttle sections on the calendar," Mercedes' Norbert Haug reveals, "Whilst top speed is important on this straight, however, the set-up has to be suitable also for the following six left-hand and ten right-hand corners, which are all tackled at comparatively low speeds. It will be a great challenge for drivers and engineers to find the correct set-up, particularly because no team ever tested on this track before."

Unpredictable weather is another 'Fuji factor', with heavy rain often falling over the track as it did on the track's world championship debut. That race saw the climax to an enthralling battle for the drivers' title between McLaren's James Hunt and Ferrari's Niki Lauda, who was still in the hunt despite his horrific Nurburgring accident.. The weather produced a chaotic race, and prompted Lauda to pull out early on. Hunt then appeared destined for the title until a puncture forced him to make a late pit-stop. Fighting back in the closing stages, the Briton remained uncertain as to whether he had won until he returned to pit-lane.

Hunt again played a key part in the action in 1977, taking the chequered flag by more than a minute before leaving the track immediately to avoid the notorious traffic, missing the podium celebrations. Part of the development of the circuit has included the improvement of transport links, meaning this shouldn't be such an issue in 2007!
THE WINNER?

Although a level playing field, such as that provided by an all-new venue like Fuji, offers a theoretical chance of success for everyone, it is unlikely that the Japanese Grand Prix will be won by anyone but McLaren or Ferrari.

Both teams head to Fuji optimistic that their cars will 'work' there, but opinion remains divided as to which team will have the upper hand. Ferrari, however, heads east with the momentum of victory at Spa, a circuit several teams have said is comparable set-up-wise to the Japanese venue. McLaren, however, will hope that the revamped venue is more akin to Monza, where Fernando Alonso headed Lewis Hamilton in a silver 1-2.

What is more predictable is that there will probably not be much for the home crowd to cheer - save for another strong showing for Takuma Sato and Super Aguri - with both Toyota and arch-rivals Honda struggling for performance and consistency.
LAST SEASON:

Although there was no race at Fuji in 2006, the Japanese Grand Prix has been a staple of the world championship for nigh on 20 years, and it is Fernando Alonso who returns to the island nation as reigning race champion, having taken advantage of a rare Ferrari mechanical problem to snatch victory.

Title rival Michael Schumacher retired from the lead of the race, coincidentally all but handing the world crown to Alonso ahead of the season-ending Brazilian GP. Ferrari salvaged second place via Massa, with Alonso's Renault team-mate Fisichella completing the podium. Button, Raikkonen, both Toyotas and Heidfeld all claimed points.

1. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault 53 laps 01:23:53.413
2. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +16.1
3. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Renault-Renault +23.9
4. Jenson Button Britain Honda-Honda +34.1
5. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +43.5
6. Jarno Trulli Italy Toyota-Toyota +46.7
7. Ralf Schumacher Germany Toyota-Toyota +48.8
8. Nick Heidfeld Germany BMW Sauber +76.0

 

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