Japanese Grand Prixview

By on Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Photo credit: Pirelli & C. S.p.A.

Six races remain in the 2012 season and the first of the three back-to-back events takes Formula One to Asia and to one of the highlights of the season, the Japanese Grand Prix, at the Suzuka circuit.

The build-up to the race has been dominated by the news of Lewis Hamilton leaving for pastures new for 2013, with the Briton being replaced by Sergio Perez. All of this has kept the pressure off of Fernando Alonso, who holds a twenty-nine point lead over Sebastian Vettel as the title fight looks set to be a two-horse race between the double world champions.

History

Suzuka joined the calendar in 1987 but it was the Senna-Prost duels that made the circuit famous a few years later. In 1989, the two collided and this handed the world championship to Prost. The following season, they collided again, but this time it was courtesy of Senna, driven by anger at what he perceived was favouritism for Prost. Senna went straight into Prost at the first corner, eliminating both and giving the Brazilian his second title. The 1994 event took place in atrocious conditions and remains the last time when two separate races were run. The first thirteen laps were ‘won’ by Michael Schumacher by 6.8 seconds. When the race was restarted, the remaining thirty seven laps were ‘won’ by Damon Hill by 10.1 seconds, thus meaning that Hill won the race by 3.3 seconds. Hill later secured the 1996 championship at the Japanese circuit, while the 1998, 1999 and 2000 titles were all settled at Suzuka.

Suzuka Circuit

The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix remains one of the all-time classic races, as Fernando Alonso passed Michael Schumacher around the outside of the fearsome 130R corner, but Kimi Raikkonen stole the show by snatching the lead from Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap, having started from seventeenth on the grid.

The 2007 and 2008 races took place at the Fuji Speedway, with the former event best remembered for a supreme drive in torrential conditions by Lewis Hamilton. The race headed back to the Honda-owned track in 2009, when it played host to one of the most bizarre qualifying sessions of all time. Several drivers fell victim to the Degner corner, while Timo Glock’s Toyota career ended when he went into the barriers at the final chicane. Several drivers then received penalties for setting fastest sector times under yellow flag conditions, but the amount of drivers needing to be penalised meant no-one was quite sure of the grid until Sunday morning. Due to the penalties being applied in chronological order, some drivers dropped one place, while others dropped four places! Such was the chaotic nature of the session that only the top three drivers started from where they actually qualified. Last year, Sebastian Vettel wrapped up his second world championship when he finished in third place.

The run down to the first corner

Suzuka is the highlight of the season for many drivers as the fast, sweeping nature of the circuit, the narrow track and the absence of meaningful run-off means that it remains a real drivers circuit and every mistake is punished. After the first downhill right hander, the drivers head off into a seemingly endless stream of Esses, where one mistake will be exacerbated all the way up to the tricky Degner corners, a fast right kink that leads into a ninety degree right hander. The drivers pass underneath the track and onto the ‘Kobayashi’ hairpin, unofficially named after Sauber’s driver after his overtaking exploits at the turn in 2010. The sweeping Spoon curve leads on to the back straight and 130R, a now flat-out left hander that represents the best overtaking opportunity on the exit of the turn, which quickly leads into the braking zone for the Casio Triangle and the end of the lap.

What might happen?

The nature of the circuit should suit Sauber. Would it be too much to expect the Swiss team to help Kamui Kobayashi to victory at his home circuit? Possibly, but don’t rule it out. Expect McLaren to be challenging at the front as they’ve taken the previous four pole positions and three victories to boot, although Jenson Button will drop five places on the grid after the team was forced to change his gearbox. Fernando Alonso would have been hoping for wet weather but the forecast suggests a dry weekend, meaning that a podium position would represent a good result for the championship leader. His nearest challenger, Sebastian Vettel, is something of a Suzuka specialist, having taken three pole positions and two victories in his three races at the circuit.


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