September 27, 2007

F1 Practice: FUJI!

First off, let's just get this out of the way right now:

Fuji ain't no Suzuka.

That being said, our first look at this new track (yes, yes, it's been around for ages, I know, but it's been 30 years, okay?) shows promise. There's some very clever bits to the course, like turns 10 & 11 (they aren't a chicane... they're two alternating turns very close to each other, but they aren't a chicane), which might be one of the trickier combinations in the sport. And while 100R, the big 180-degree righthander, isn't a patch on Suzuka's lamented 130R, it's still pretty keen. And that mile-long front straight is something special, particularly with turn 1, a tight right-hander that's similar to Shanghai's turn 1 (in that it just dives downhill when you get into it) tacked on at the end.

Team McLaren threw down the gauntlet in P2, then kicked anybody who dared to try and pick it up in the head, with Lewis Hamilton leading the way over his teammate, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, by a good .200 of a second. There was almost a half-second gap back to #3. The Ferraris seemed to be having a hard time of it, particularly Phil Massa, who seemed (to use some baseball terminology) to be a bit wild outside. Massa seemed to have some serious understeer going on, as at least twice (possibly more; I'm working from memory here) he found himself going cross-country at what I think was 100R (I could be wrong; I'm just as new to this track as everybody else).

Renault was surprisingly quick, at one point giving the Big Two a run for their money, though fading a bit when Ferrari & McLaren got serious. Still, they outpaced BMW, who is definitely the third-best team on the grid (interesting news from the LAT... since they're locked into 2nd in the Constructor's Championship, BMW has stopped developing their 2007 chassis altogether, and are now concentrating solely on next year's car).

There were a lot of four-wheel skids going on today as well... almost drifting-level slides. Just another example of how close the car-driver combination in F1 is to complete and catastrophic failure at all times. Or it just could be that the track is completely green.

I had high hopes for Fuji going into today (one could say 'mountainous' hopes), and while those epic heights weren't scaled, the track is certainly more than a molehill. Even before the race, I'm prepared to say it's a better track than France, Spain, Hungary and Brazil (of course, the Duckford Speedway and it's 1/5th-mile dirt oval is better than Interlagos). Afterwards, we'll see where it rates for sure.

There's some potential here, that's for sure.

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