Formula 1 travels from Malaysia to Japan this week to one of the legendary circuits on the calendar that will host the 17th round of the championship. Drivers will take the challenge of an old-school track that is fast, technical, difficult but really fun to drive.
With a top speed of almost 340kph, Suzuka records one of the highest speeds seen in the second part of the season. As demanding and unforgiving as it is, it brings plenty satisfaction to the drivers when they manage to put together a good lap there. Moreover, the support they receive in Japan is phenomenal and makes their whole experience even more special.
This will be the 32nd Japanese GP since the event has been added to the Formula One calendar in 1976, with races being held at the Fuji circuit in the first two years before disappearing from the calendar for a decade. The event returned in 1987 at Suzuka where it has been held every year since, except 2007 and 2008 when it made a short return to Fuji.
The track has been modified multiple times over the years but even so it still features its famous turns like the 'S' Corner, the Degner Curve, Spoon Curve and 130R. Suzuka has an unusual configuration and it’s as close to a perfect track as you can get in terms of bringing together all of the different elements you would want to see to a circuit.
“Suzuka is one of my favourite tracks”, Nico Hulkenberg says. “It's just got a great flow. You go from one corner straight into to the next and it's a proper old-school track; it's so much fun to drive, especially in qualifying when you have low fuel, soft tyres and lots of grip. You have some high-speed sections, but the main feature is the great rhythm you get as you drive through the lap.
“The track has several great corners: the best section is the Esses, which are pretty cool and so quick - it's three or four corners at once. They're all hooked up, so if you make a mistake in one you can just forget about the rest, you've already lost so much time.”
His team-mate Sergio Perez reckons Suzuka is definitely one of the weekends he enjoys the most, not only from a racing perspective but also because of the enthusiasm shown by the Japanese fans.
“The circuit is a huge challenge and it’s unforgiving. The speeds are high and the best part, for me, is sector one - it’s so impressive. Suzuka is without any doubt one of the best tracks in the world. You need a car that is balanced enough for you to feel completely at ease with it. The other thing to remember is the crosswinds because it can often be very windy there. One lap you can have the perfect balance and the next it can be thrown off by a gust of wind.”
Nico Rosberg has a 23-point lead over his team-mate after Lewis Hamilton suffered an engine failure in the previous Malaysia round. Mercedes are to clinch the Constructors’ Championship in Japan if Red Bull won’t score 23 points more then them this weekend.
The only drivers on this year’s grid to have won the Japanese GP are the five world champions currently racing. No driver has won at this track starting lower than the first three rows, except Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 who won from 17th. Since 2009, the Japanese GP has only been won from the front row.
Suzuka is a difficult circuit to set up the car perfectly for because the track temperatures change a lot due to the unpredictable weather. Over 60% of a lap is taken at full throttle, but the majority of this comes in the second half of the track from the exit of the Spoon corner (Turn 14) to the chicane on the entry of the pit straight. This includes a pass through the 130R, which is taken at over 300kph despite being a flowing left hand bend.
Pirelli will bring the soft tyre to Suzuka for the first time, which should provide a different aspect to the strategy compared with what we have seen in the previous years.
Tyres: soft, medium, hard
DRS: main straight
Driver Steward: Emanuele Pirro
Weather: lows will range from 18-23 degrees Celsius to highs of 22-26 degrees Celsius
Facts and stats
Circuit length: 5.807 km
Race laps: 53
First Grand Prix: 1987
Lap record: 1:31.540 (Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren, 2005)
Most wins (driver): Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins (constructor): McLaren (9 - one at Fuji)
2015 Qualifying: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Race: 1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 3. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Moments in time
Kimi Raikkonen’s final win for McLaren came at the 2005 Japanese GP, after starting 17th on the grid and passing Giancarlo Fisichella for the victory on the last lap.
Timetable (GMT +9):
Friday 7 October
Practice One: 10:00 – 11:30
Practice Two: 14:00 – 15:30
Saturday 8 October
Practice Three: 14:00 – 15:00
Qualifying: 17:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 9 October
Race: 15:00 (56 laps or two hours)