Straight off the back of the Korean Grand Prix, the F1 paddock has jumped on a plane to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix. A fan and driver favorite, the Honda-owned circuit has a rich history in Formula 1 and has produced many iconic races in the past; from Senna and Prost’s battles in 1989 and 1990 to Raikkonen’s storming 2005 drive.
As reported at Formula1blog.com
The 2012 Japanese Grand Prix was certainly a dramatic one. It had a huge impact on the championship with challenger Fernando Alonso crashing out at turn one after contact with Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel went on to win the his second consecutive race, dominating to finish 20 seconds clear of podium returnee Felipe Massa.
Home hero Kamui Kobayashi crossed the line to take an emotional debut podium after a storming drive to finish third. Jenson Button, who won the race 12 months earlier, finished in fourth and Lewis Hamilton completed the top five. Button regards his 2011 victory as one of the greatest races of the season after passing pole-sitter Vettel in the pit stop sequence.
The track has hosted 24 of the past 28 Japanese Formula 1 rounds, the other four being held at the Fuji circuit situated four hours west of Suzuka. From Damon Hill to Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet to Mika Hakkinen; some of F1’s most successful drivers have graced its tarmac.
A lap of the epic Suzuka circuit starts off on the relatively short pit straight with the pit exit feeding cars back on track to the right. Turn one is a fast and sweeping sixth gear right-hander that tightens for the third gear right of turn two. This is a good overtaking place, particularly as the pit straight is where the DRS zone will be positioned.
Turns three to six make up the ‘S Curves’ and is quite possibly the trickiest part of the circuit. A car needs to have a good balance for this section and precision and rhythm is needed for a clean run. Turn three is a fifth gear left before the fifth gear right-left of the fourth and fifth corners.
Turn six is a slightly slower right-hander that leads on to the long left of turn seven. Cars are flat out and building speed through this turn before moving in to the second sector and facing the challenging Degner Curves. This complex starts with a quick fourth gear right that is followed shortly after by a tighter second gear right.
This leads cars on to a short straight and under a bridge that carriers the rest of the circuit. The track is the only one on the calendar to have a crossover, although Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit does feature one with its pit exit.
Turn 10 is a barely-there kink before turn 11, a tight first gear left-hand hairpin that is a strong overtaking possibility. However, it is also easy to get wrong with the sweeping kink coming just before the braking zone. Expect plenty of tire lock-ups into the hairpin over the race weekend.
Good traction and grip is vital for a strong exit from turn 11, as this releases cars on to the flat out right that is turn 12. Drivers enter the Spoon Curve, turn 13, in fourth gear but the corner tightens on the apex for turn 14, in a similar way to turn one, which means that cars exit in third gear.
Again, exit speed is vital for the long straight that follows. Sector three begins just prior to 130R, a formidable flat-out left-hand corner that is taken in second gear just after cars run over the previous part of the track.
It is a corner that can set-up overtaking maneuvers into the next big braking zone, but Fernando Alonso managed to actually pass seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher around the outside at 130R on route to third place in 2005. However, if you crash there it is usually a big one. Allan McNish crashed his Toyota F1 car through the barriers in 2002 and more recently Lucas Di Grassi crashed heavily there on his way to the grid in 2010.
Commitment through the 15th corner is crucial for a good run to the Casio Triangle, a tight second gear chicane that goes from right to left. Due to the big braking zone, this is also another good overtaking spot although it is rather narrow.
The pit entry is on the right as cars exit the chicane and head through the final sweeping right-hand bend of turn 18 to cross the line and start another lap.
Going into this weekend’s race, Sebastian Vettel is definitely the man to beat. He is a three-time winner at the Suzuka circuit and clinched his second world title there in 2011. After yet another clear win in Korea, plenty will be hoping his run of success ends this weekend. The high downforce layout will also favor Red Bull RB9 with plenty of medium and high speed corners.
There is a compromise that teams can take set-up wise that makes it a real challenge for engineers. More downforce is needed for the first sector but the final part of the lap is full of flat-out stretches that require lower drag to give higher top speed.
Tire wear and degradation is expected to be higher than previous races due to the above average cornering speeds and rough track surface. It is similar to Silverstone with low brake energy but high cornering speeds. This is why Pirelli is bringing the hard and medium compound tires.
With tire wear expected to be higher than the likes of Korea and Singapore, Mercedes could struggle more in the race if their past form continues. Lotus could do well around the Suzuka circuit by being easier on the tires and Ferrari can expect to be strong as well. It could be quite close.
With so many difficult corners, Suzuka is definitely one of the most challenging circuits in the world, let alone the F1 calendar. With 60 percent of the lap spent cornering and 18 of them to contend with for 53 laps, it is a busy race which could produce some stunning on-track action.