Suzuka is one of the oldest and most revered circuits on the Formula 1 calendar. It was built as a test track for Honda in 1962, and its undulating 3.6-mile layout has remained largely unchanged to this day. To be fast, drivers need to demonstrate commitment and precision.
The track is located in the Mie prefecture of Japan’s main island, 30 miles south west of Nagoya. It first hosted a World Championship grand prix in 1987, since which 11 World Drivers’ Championships have been clinched at the circuit, including all three of Ayrton Senna’s titles for McLaren.
The track is narrow and undulating, with a unique figure-of-eight layout. Only one corner is taken at less than 100 km/h, and there are great sequences of fast corners in all three sectors. Given the high cornering forces, Pirelli are taking their Medium and Hard tyre compounds to the race – as they did at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps earlier in the season.
From a technical point of view, car set-up is a compromise between cornering grip and straight-line speed. Cars need to generate enough downforce to give them sufficient cornering grip, without compromising their speed along the pit straight and the long drag towards 130R at the end of the lap.
Jenson Button has won at Suzuka before, in 2011 – the most recent of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ nine victories in Japan – and Sergio Perez has finished in the points. As ever, both drivers will be pushing hard for more points in Sunday’s 53-lap race.
Jenson Button: “Suzuka feels a bit like a second home circuit to me. My win there back in 2011 remains one of my most emotional victories, because it was the first Japanese Grand Prix after the terrible tsunami that devastated the north of Japan – it was such an important event for the whole country. The thing I really like about Suzuka is that it’s such an unforgiving track. On most circuits, if you run wide or out-brake yourself, you invariably end up just running onto the Tarmac run-off, so you can easily get back onto the track without any penalty. At Suzuka, if you run wide through the Esses, or go off the track at the exit of the Degners, you’re going to find yourself in the gravel. And I like that – I think it rewards those who don’t make mistakes, and it makes for better racing, because you have to stay honest and focused. Suzuka requires a car with a rock-solid balance and good downforce, in order to go well. We’re not quite there with our car, but Korea showed that we can race well and, even despite misfortune, can score points. I think the whole team is keyed up for another positive weekend.”
Sergio Perez: “I love Suzuka – such a great circuit. I really enjoy driving at fast tracks, and this place just has so many great corners – the Esses, the Degners, Spoon, 130R. It’s a place which has a fantastic flow – once you commit into Turn One, you’re basically just modulating your speed all the way through until the track spits the car out over the brow at Turn Seven. The feeling through there when you nail it is incredible. The only drawback about Suzuka is that it’s very difficult to overtake – most of the corners are very fast, and most of the heavy braking zones are preceded by quick turns, so it’s very hard to get past another car. I tried and failed in equal measure last year, but I’m proud that I was able to have a go. I’ll be pushing like crazy for a good result in Japan this weekend.”
Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “Our race in Korea once again demonstrated the extent of our ability and determination whenever we go racing. Despite suffering numerous setbacks throughout the race, nobody in the team let their head go down, and both drivers posted fantastic, determined comeback drives to get into the points. For Suzuka this weekend, our aim will be for a clean and trouble-free afternoon’s racing in order to see if we can improve upon our results from last weekend. For everybody at McLaren, Suzuka is a place of many fantastic memories – I remember seeing Ayrton win his penultimate grand prix here, Mika’s two world titles were sealed in Japan, Kimi drove one of his very finest races here, and we all fondly remember Jenson’s beautifully measured victory back in 2011. This is a racetrack that ranks with the very greatest in the world, and while we are realistic enough to know that we will not add to the tally of successes this weekend, just being in Suzuka, the spiritual home of Japanese motorsport, will help inspire us to greater heights and many further victories in the future.”
A #mclaren50 memory
Japanese Grand Prix, 09 October 2005
Rain towards the end of one-lap qualifying creates a mixed up grid for the penultimate race of the season. The McLarens of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya line up 17th and 18th, just behind Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso. Ralf Schumacher is on pole position.
Sunny weather on race day allows the big guns to charge through the field, but the race doesn’t start well for McLaren. Raikkonen runs wide at the chicane on the opening lap and falls to the back of the field, while Montoya is squeezed onto the grass by Jacques Villeneuve and he crashes heavily at the exit of the final corner. The impact with the barrier rips off the left side of the Colombian’s MP4-20, bringing out the Safety Car.
Once the debris from Montoya’s accident has been removed and the race re-starts, Giancarlo Fisichella looks like the man most likely. He has a 20s lead after the first round of pitstops, but no-one tells Kimi. The Flying Finn continues to charge through the field and he’s right on the gearbox of the Renault driver with three laps remaining.
Kimi tries to pass Fisichella on the penultimate lap, but his attempt is thwarted. He then blasts past the Italian on the very last lap, going around the outside into Turn One and holds on to win by 1.6s – it’s a magical victory.
The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Formula 1 races of all time.