Teams take a gamble on weather at fickle Fuji

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FUJI, Japan, Sep 29 (Reuters) Fuji's fickle weather forced Formula One teams to gamble in qualifying for tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix, with some betting on rain and others putting their money on shine.

Some, such as Toro Rosso, hedged their bets and sent one driver out on wet settings and the other on dry for today's rain soaked and foggy qualifying.

The choice of wet or dry settings is crucial, with teams not allowed to change their cars' set-up between qualifying and the race.

''We're checking the Web sites,'' said McLaren's double world champion Fernando Alonso after qualifying on the front row of the grid for a race that could have a big impact on his championship hopes.

''It will rain during the day but we don't know if it will hit the two o'clock time for the race,'' said Alonso, who has team mate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton on pole position with both the Ferraris right behind them.

''Maybe it's before, maybe after, maybe during the race.'' Renault gambled on dry conditions, a choice highlighted by Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen being quickest through the speed trap but qualifying only 10th and 11th.

''Both cars were very competitive in terms of straight-line speed, which suggests that our set-up was perhaps not perfectly suited to the conditions today,'' said engine chief Denis Chevrier.

''But this may well prove an advantage in different circumstances tomorrow.'' Honda's Jenson Button, a winner in the wet in Hungary last year, was hoping for plenty of rain after qualifying a surprising sixth in a car that has been uncompetitive all season.

''I love these wet conditions,'' he said.

Toro Rosso sent Sebastian Vettel out on wet settings and Vitantonio Liuzzi out on dry, with the German qualifying eighth and the Italian 14th.

''We took a gamble in terms of set-up strategy and I set off with quite low wing as if for dry conditions,'' said Liuzzi.

''We knew it would be difficult in the wet but we are hoping for a dry race tomorrow for which we now have the right settings.'' BMW Sauber boss Mario Theissen expected rain, even if his Polish driver Robert Kubica wanted the opposite.

''I think we are somewhere in between,'' said Theissen.

''I expect a wet race tomorrow. It's supposed to stop raining in the morning but what we saw today was that, with even a full hour of qualifying, the track didn't dry out.'' REUTERS SSC KN1635

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