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Race Preview: Japanese GP

Michael Schumacher takes the Mercedes GP car out for Friday Practice at Suzuka (©

// Japan

It's the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, but before we dive into the race preview, let's spare a minute to talk about the latest shakeup in driver movements. As an F1 fan, you may know by now that Hamilton has made the final decision to depart McLaren and join the arms (or is it arrows?) of Mercedes for a three-year contract beginning in 2013. Hamilton has been groomed by McLaren for the last 13 years, one imagines that a decision like this is made with mixed emotions. In the case of Schumacher, to be essentially kicked out of Mercedes, just seems unfortunate for a 7-time WDC.

While McLaren uses Mercedes engines, McLaren has a noticeably faster car than Mercedes and has won more races this season than the factory team. Is this a wise decision from Hamilton and his management team? Can Hamilton shine at Mercedes? More importantly for this weekend's race, will the dynamic of the team change and therefore the performance of Hamilton suffer as a result in Suzuka?

The Championship title is still an open race at the moment, even with Alonso consistently leading with championship points, the 2nd and 3rd drivers on the leaderboard continue to shift between the top drivers. In terms of the track, it so happens that this year is the 50th anniversary of the famous Suzuka circuit. This classic figure-8 format has a great history of races, most notably the controversial drama between Ayrton Senna and Alan Prost in 1989 and 1990, which lead to Prost taking championship title in 1989 and Senna taking championship title in 1990.

With an abundance of low, medium and high speed turns, the track is quite demanding on the tyres for the duration of the this 53-lap race. Pirelli will be supplying this weekend's rubber with Hard and Soft tyres to help the cars conquer the terrains of this circuit. If the teams manage their tyres well, it may even be possible to do get away with one stop!

Even though Schumacher has won six times at this track and will retire and the end of the season, he hasn't really be able to break through this year except for one podium appearance. The fight may well be between Alonso and Vettel, who both have won twice at the track already. Button, Hamilton, Raikkonen all have won previously here as well, and will be brining the fight to Vettel and Alsonso to do their part to change up the championship scoreboard.

Have you made your predictions for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix? Will you be enjoying the race with sushi and sake?

As we await qualifying to begin later tonight, enjoy this Japanese GP Race Guide video, featuring Jenson Button of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, presented by Hilton HHonors.

Every Little Boy's Scalextric: Japanese Grand Prix

Suzuka Circuit, 2011 (image courtesy of Mercedes GP)

Tradition has it that Japan was always the last country visited on the annual Formula One calendar and it was invariably a Championship ‘decider’…that was until a raft of new circuits and new markets for the premier racing series opened up. Of course, in motor racing terms, Japan is still fairly ‘youthful’, having held its first GP as recently as 1976. Fuji Speedway (owned by Toyota) was the initial venue but Suzuka Circuit (owned by Honda) has superseded it, a factor that would have pleased the late, great Soichiro Honda no end.

Formula 1 Helps Japan

On March 11th this year, a devastating earthquake shook Japan, displacing thousands and leaving a permanent mark on Japan.  The recovery process has been long underway, but much work remains and many residents have still yet to return to their homes and start rebuilding.

With the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, the Formula 1 community is stepping up their efforts to aid Japan.  HRT driver Viantonio Liuzzi will be racing tomorrow in a special edition helmet to be auctioned off, and McLaren Drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will be donating similar custom designed racewear worn during the race.

left: Jenson Button's girlfriend Jessica Michibata with a Bernie doll right: Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber Team CEO and a Kamui Kobayashi doll (Images from Twitter)