The end of the 2014 season is close and now it’s time for one of the most special tracks on the calendar, Suzuka. Built in 1962 as a test facility by Honda and used as an F1 track from 25 years later, Suzuka is one of the few remaining classic circuits in the calendar. The Japanese circuit presents an “8” shape layout, in which a section of the track passes over the other by a raised section, something that can be seen in very few road courses worldwide.
A bit of history
It is one of the favorite tracks of many drivers, along with Spa Francorchamps, 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 ). Furthermore, Suzuka has a long history of exciting F1 races; many drivers and constructors titles were decided at this very venue, including those mentioned below
In 1988, Ayrton Senna started the race from pole position but he dropped back to 11th place on the first lap. He fought back brilliantly and passed his team-mate Alain Prost to take his first world crown.
The following year(1989), Prost and Senna collided at the chicane. Senna rejoined the race and won but he was later disqualified for cutting the chicane. Prost won the title. Senna later insisted that the Frenchman and his strong links with F1's governing body, the FIA had robbed him the title.
In 1990, the arch rivals collided again. Senna crashed in the back of Prost on the very first lap. sending both of them out of the race. The Brazilian went on to win the title but later admitted that his move was deliberate.
In 2011, Sebastian Vettel started the race from pole position. He was passed by Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso in the pit stops. But the German hanged on to take a safe third place and secure the second of his four titles to date.
Suzuka is a very technical track where the cars need medium-high downforce. We'll see how they respond to changes to the cars this season as the downforce has been greatly reduced and probably drivers cannot take the corners at speeds as high as before.
The circuit layout has been modified three times:
In 1983, there wasn’t a chicane but a normal curve at the end of the circuit. It was changed to slow the cars onto the pit straight. The Degner curve was split into two corners instead of one long curve. There were also some safety modifications as the addition of more crash barriers, more run-off areas and so on.
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.
Suzuka was dropped from the Formula One calendar for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Japanese Grand Prix was held in the Toyota-owned Fuji circuit instead. In the meanwhile, Suzuka underwent a transformation and redesign by Hermann Tilke. Suzuka and Fuji alternated hosting the Japanese Grand Prix from 2009. However, after Fuji announced on July 2009 that it would no longer be part of the F1 calendar, Suzuka signed a deal to host the Japanese Grand Prix in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
The track is 5.807 km long. It has 18 corners, 10 to the right, remaining 8 to the left. After the start straight, where the drivers will get to 300km/h, there comes a slight corner to the right, and a more tight one to the right again, which will make 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 is raced at 210km/h. They get to a very slight and fast corner to the right in which drivers go through at 260km/h, the Degner curve, and a 90 degrees corner to the right again, corner number 9. Sector two starts with a break for the drivers; a straight and a soft curve to the right before getting to the hairpin. This is the hardest braking point with drivers having to reduce the speed until 70km/h. After this, drivers exert full pressure to the accelerator pedal to go through another straight and a fast corner to the right, getting to the corner number 13 at 295km/h. Drivers slow down until 230km/h at the exit of this corner, and they break again before corner number 14, the Spoon, getting to 185km/h at the exit. Here, they take the long straight which brings an end to sector number 2 and where the highest speed is reached: 305km/h.
The straight ends in the 130R curve, one of Suzuka’s most famous corners. It was a 130 metres radius turn starting past the crossover which has been compared to Spa's Blanchimont. 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.
Last straight here, that ends in the “Casio Triangle” chicane. The only DRS detection point on this track is situated right before the chicane. There is first a corner to the right, number 16, and then to the left, 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 in total.
Pirelli has selected for the Suzuka Grand Prix the hardest of the compounds as it is one of the most demanding tracks of the year for the tyres. Suzuka is the fifth occasion after Italy, UK, Spain and Malaysia in which Pirelli provides the two hardest compounds from its range(the white striped medium tyre and the orange coloured hard tyre). The track surface is relatively abrasive, which means that the wear and degradation will be high. There will be high lateral forces to the tyres as there are many fast corners, with '130R' as a paradigm of them, having the drivers to go through it at full acceleration of up to 300km/h. The left front tire will suffer the most at the Japanese track.
As Paul Hembery said "Japan is one of the star circuits of the year, not just for us but for all Formula 1. Fans are absolutely great, with great enthusiasm and knowledge of the sport, which is almost unrivaled anywhere in the world. Suzuka is a real drivers' circuit and, therefore, is a considerable challenge for the tires, with some of the higher energy side forces of the year. As a result, it would be realistic to perform a race with two to three pit stops, turning tire management in a key race", predicts Pirelli Motorsport responsible. "Obviously, we'll know more after free practice. It's a track where there are often several forces acting on the tire at a time and the increased torque, added to the decrease of the downforce of the cars this year, only means an increase in demand of mechanical grip. If a tire works well in Suzuka, it can do well in almost everywhere."
Jean Alesi, Pirelli’s ambassador, commented on the Suzuka GP: “Suzuka is a phenomenal circuit for a driver. It is challenging, and extremely technical, with sections which are completely different from one another. Curve 130R is one of the most challenging sections in the entire World Championship: to take it at full-throttle a driver needs a car with the perfect set-up and real skill on the pedals. The repeating 'S' curves just before the finish line are incredibly difficult: if you make an error on the entry, you will never correct it and get back into the rhythm, and you will lose a lot of time. These are very challenging features, which change through the weekend, especially in the case of bad weather. We have raced many times in the rain at Suzuka: with a lot of water on the track and low visibility, driving can become pretty extreme. Even in the dry, this is a track which evolves greatly from Friday to the actual race: it starts with a surface which is very abrasive, then everything gradually alters and the driver must be extremely careful in judging the performance of the tyres in these changing conditions.”
The lap record of the circuit is held by Kimi Räikkönen who lapped the venue in 1:31.540 in 2005. He drove a fantastic race from 17th on grid, and it was considered as the best GP of the season. The Finn put on a fabulous move over Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap to win the race for McLaren. The Woking based squad din't win another race for almost two years.
The most successful driver in Suzuka is Michael Schumacher, who has 6 wins here. Sebastian Vettel has 4. Other drivers on the current grid who have one win in Suzuka to their name include Kimi Räikkönen, Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso.
None of the Mercedes AMG Petronas drivers have won here before. As Hamilton said, “Suzuka is one of the races on the calendar that drivers love the most – and arguably one of the greatest tracks in the world. There’s so much history and there have been so many defining moments there – like those unforgettable battles between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. I’ve never won at this circuit and have only made the podium once, on my first visit way back in 2009. I’ve had a couple of chances and last season was probably the best of those. This year, though, we have an exceptional car and I’m really hoping I’ll finally have my shot at the top step. All the greats of Formula One have won at Suzuka since the sport first came there in the 1980s and I’m determined to add my name to that list this weekend.”
We have to wait just 4 more days to know if he or Nico Rosberg adds their name to the above list
Race local times
FP1 Friday 3 11.00h
FP2 Friday 3 14.00h
FP3 Saturday 4 11.00h
Qualifying Saturday 4 14.00h
Race Sunday 5 15.00h