No rest for the drivers as we get to the final sprint of the season. The championship is on fire after a great race in Singapore and what better place to continue than the beautiful and special Suzuka. This year the venue will be a little bit sad, for sure, with many bad memories of Jules Bianchi’s accident, so we can expect a very emotional weekend and a tribute to the French driver.
History and 2015 season
Built in 1962 as a Honda test track and used as a F1 track from 25 years later, Suzuka is one of the few remaining old circuits in the current calendar. It has been part of the F1 calendar since 1987 and with an exception during years 2007 and 2008, when the Japanese GP was held in Fuji. The track presents an “8” shape layout, in which a section of the track passes over the other by a raised section. It is one of the favorite tracks of many drivers, Sebastian Vettel for example, since it is a demanding and challenging circuit, with some of the most famous fast corners of the world (the “S” curves, the Spoon, the 130R ...) and long straights.
The standings are more open than ever. The two Mercedes are still on the lead but they feel Vettel’s breathe as he is just 8 points behind Nico Rosberg. The silver arrows cannot allow themselves another weekend like last one in Marina Bay because they are in real threat. Toto Wolff is a little bit concerned but also calm and moving forward: “The performance in Singapore was far below expectations and left us with plenty to think about moving forwards. But move forward is what we will do. We remain calm, learn our lessons and use the pain of those disappointments as motivation to get back on top. One bad weekend does not negate what has been an incredible season so far and we know our car is competitive. But we also recognise the constant threat from our rivals. Whether Singapore was a blip or not, we cannot take our position at the front for granted and expect not to get caught out. Suzuka is a track which should suit us better, so this will be a good indicator. Of course, as we return to Japan, we will be thinking of Jules, his family and our friends at Manor Marussia on what will be an emotional weekend for us all”.
The circuit layout has been modified three times:
In 1983, the last corner was a right hander instead of a chicane. It was changed to slow the cars into the pit straight. Degner curve was made into two corners instead of one long curve.
In 2002, the chicane was slightly modified. The 130R, curve number 15, was also modified and some of the “S” curves were made a bit straighter and faster.
In 2003, the chicane was made slightly faster and closer to the 130R.
The track is 5.807 km long. It has 18 corners, 10 to the right, 8 to the left. After the start straight, where the drivers will get to 300km/h, it comes an almost flat out corner to the right linked to a more tight one to the right again, making the drivers brake until 160km/h. Cars will arrive to 240km/h in the short straight that precedes the famous “S” curves, a sequence of fast corners to the left and to the right, without rest from corner number 3 to number 7, the Dunlop curve. This section of the track it’s raced between 210 and 240km/h. Cars need to be very balanced and the set up must minimize understeer because of the continuous change of direction. Sector two starts with a corner divided in two, the Degner curve; a fast right hander in which speed is up to 260 km/h and a 90 degrees corner to the right again, passed through at 120km/h. It leads to a straight and a soft curve to the right before getting to the hairpin. This is the hardest braking, having to reduce speed until 70km/h. After this, full throttle to go through another straight and a fast corner to the right, getting to the corner number 13, a left hander, at 295km/h. Drivers slow down to 210km/h at the exit of this corner, and they brake again before corner number 14, the Spoon, getting to 145km/h. A good exit is key since they take a long straight which gives end to sector number 2 and where the highest speed is reached: 305km/h. The straight ends in the 130R curve, right after the crossover. It was a 130 metres radius turn but, in 2002, for safety reasons, it was redesigned as a double-apex section, one with an 85 metres radius, and another with 340 metres radius. It is passed through flat out and we have seen many great overtaking moves there. Drivers take the last straight which ends in the “Casio Triangle” chicane. The only DRS detection point is situated right before the chicane. There is first a corner to the right, the best overtaking point of the track, and then to the left, the number 17. Speed is reduced until 95km/h, before getting to the last corner of the circuit, number 18 to the right. The DRS activation point is there, just before the start straight.
Drivers will race through the circuit during 53 laps which means 307.471km.
Tires and technical requirements
Suzuka is a very technical track where the cars need a medium-high downforce. The tire usage is high and Pirelli is bringing the hardest compounds of its range, because the surface is quite abrasive. Brake wear is low since most of the corners are fast and there are just a few heavy braking points.
As Paul Hembery said "Suzuka is one of the most aggressive circuits we face on the Formula One calendar from a tyre perspective: it’s right up there with Silverstone and Spa. There’s been some resurfacing in recent years that has taken away a bit of the asphalt roughness that it used to have, but this does not diminish the overall challenge of Suzuka in any shape or form. It’s not unusual to face extremes of weather in Japan: either very wet, or dramatically hot. We’ve seen both over the years - and quite a few conditions in between - so it’s a very tough circuit all round. The drivers absolutely love the experience of driving here, and over the course of the weekend we are always privileged to meet some of the most passionate and dedicated fans we see anywhere all year. They are a vital part of what makes coming to Suzuka so special. Of course, like everybody else, Jules Bianchi will be in our thoughts more than ever over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.”
The lap record of the circuit is held by Kimi Räikkönen who made a lap in 1:31.540 in 2005. He drove a fantastic race from 17th to 1st, and it was considered the best GP of the season. The Finn overtook Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap in a great move, which gave the last victory for McLaren until Malaysia in 2007, almost 2 years later.
The most successful driver in Suzuka is Michael Schumacher, who has 6 wins here. Sebastian Vettel has 4. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have won twice in Suzuka. Should we expect another Ferrari win? Will the Mercedes come back as the strongest team?
Race local times
FP1 Friday 25 11.00h
FP2 Friday 25 14.00h
FP3 Saturday 26 11.00h
Qualifying Saturday 26 14.00h
Race Sunday 27 15.00h
by Cristina DeLarge