McLaren drivers hoping for dry weather at Japan The snow-capped cone of the mighty Mount Fuji volcano forms the impressive backdrop to the upcoming Japanese Grand Prix, the 16th race of the 18-round 2008 FIA Formula 1 World Championship. The 3,776m peak towers over the state-of-the-art Fuji International Speedway, which returned to the Formula 1 calendar in 2007 after last hosting the Japanese race in 1977.
The revamped venue, which updates the track's configuration while still retaining much of its original character, hosts the event for a second successive year. Next year, the race returns to Suzuka, in Mie Prefecture, beginning an annual alternating program between the two circuits. This year's event will be the 24th Japanese Grand Prix.
The Fuji track has been kind to the McLaren team: in 1976, rebellious racer James Hunt dramatically clinched the world title after finishing third at the wheel of an M23; a year later, he won the event in an M26. Last year, Lewis Hamilton memorably emerged victorious from a torrential downpour that saw the race run behind the Safety Car for the first 20 laps.
Lewis Hamilton: Was it difficult to hold back in Singapore, or have you started driving with one eye on the world championship? "Actually, I think I learned something when I was behind David Coulthard in Singapore: previously, you'd tell yourself to be consistent and avoid any unnecessary mistakes - but it's one thing saying it and another to do it. And once you get in the car, it can be hard to stop the instincts you've been developing since you were eight years old. But I actually think Singapore was a good learning experience: there was less pressure to achieve a victory because of the unusual circumstances, which meant I was actually able to start thinking of the world championship. I hate driving for points, but I think we can all see the benefit of that approach at the moment."
Fuji was the venue of possibly your most memorable victory of 2007, what are your feelings as you head back to Japan? "I love Japan. Last year might have been difficult because of the wet weather and the poor visibility, but I actually really enjoyed that weekend. The Japanese fans are some of my favorite in the world: so passionate, but really polite, charming and respectful. As for the race, one of the questions I get asked most is whether I prefer to drive in the rain: my answer is always the same, I'll race in the wet or dry, I don't mind. But it's always easier for us drivers to race in the dry; I'd always prefer a dry race. This weekend, I'll be hoping for dry weather for another reason - I want the fans at the track to have the best weekend possible and to enjoy the atmosphere of one of the season's best races."
Heikki Kovalainen: Last year's Japanese Grand Prix was the scene of one of your most impressive drives, are you looking forward to going back? "Absolutely. Last year was one of those races where everything went right for me, one of those races where you can perform to a higher level than the car. I didn't qualify too well but kept my head, drove sensibly, didn't make any mistakes and battled with Kimi to finish second - my first Formula 1 podium. It was the highlight of my season. Of course, I love Japan, I'm looking forward to visiting Tokyo and also getting back to a circuit where I've got plenty of good memories."
What sort of set-up do you need for a lap of Fuji? "There is no single corner at Fuji that particularly contributes to your lap time. It's relatively easy to understand the corners, and it's not a particularly tricky circuit. So it's a place where you can't afford to make any mistakes, you have to be absolutely precise and extract the maximum from your car to be fast. And that's not easy: you've still got to understand the car and find a good set-up: finding the ideal compromise is the tricky bit."
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