Formula 1 continues its Asian leg with a poignant return to Japan, a year on from Jules Bianchi’s tragic and ultimately fatal accident at Suzuka.
The Frenchman’s horrific collision with a recovery vehicle in 2014 cast a shadow over one of the year’s most popular events, courtesy of the challenging circuit, the history of the sport in the country and the passionate Japanese fans.
Lewis Hamilton heads to Japan with a reduced 41 point lead over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg following his retirement in Singapore, while Sebastian Vettel remains in title contention after his third victory of the campaign.
Japan’s debut came at Fuji Speedway in the 1970s but aside from a brief return to the venue close to Japan’s famous mountain in 2007-8, Formula 1 has called Suzuka home. The figure-of-eight layout, owned by Honda, provides a test to a car’s aerodynamic abilities as well as the effect of the power unit. Teams have to strike a balance between downforce and straight line speed, meaning that sections such as The Esses, Dunlop, Degner, as well as corners such as Spoon and 130r, require maximum commitment from drivers and trust in the handling of their cars.
“Sector one is unbelievable and after you have finished it you can breathe a little bit…but not for long,” says Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.
“There is no margin for error with very little run-off area and the track is quite narrow, especially at the top of the hill. I love it. Every metre of the Suzuka track is special and every metre a challenge.
“Suzuka is an awesome track - one of the best in motorsport and a real test of driver skill,” explains Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg. “There's so much going on around the lap with high, medium and low speed corners all thrown in together. The first sector is great fun to drive; you have to really nail the line and a small mistake can cost you so much time. You have to find a good rhythm and that's a challenge I really enjoy.”
All five of the World Champions on the grid have claimed victory at Suzuka. Kimi Räikkönen stormed from 17th to 1st in 2005, while Fernando Alonso won a year later en-route to his second world title. Since Suzuka’s return in 2009 Sebastian Vettel has been the man to beat, securing four wins during his time with Red Bull. Jenson Button, in 2011, and Hamilton, last year, have also stood on top of the podium.
Due to Suzuka’s layout there will be only one DRS zone, which will be situated along the pit straight, with the detection point on the approach to the Casio Triangle.
Five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro will act as the FIA’s driver steward for the weekend, while Pirelli has selected the Medium and Hard compounds due to the high energy loads put through the tyres at Suzuka.
Timetable (GMT +9):
Friday 25 September
- Practice One: 10:00 – 11:30
- Practice Two: 14:00 – 15:30
Saturday 26 September
- Practice Three: 12:00 – 13:00
- Qualifying: 15:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 27 September
- Race: 14:00 (53 laps or two hours)