The Big Preview: Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka

Following a thrilling, hard fought race in Korea, the F1 teams have packed up and made the short trip to Japan and the mighty Suzuka circuit, home of the FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, the 15th round of the 2013 World Championship.

Suzuka is a firm favourite with drivers. The circuit deliver thrills, with part of the allure being the level of risk a fast lap demands. Suzuka has teeth: from the Degner curves to the still-fearsome 130R, it’s a circuit that demands total concentration.

The challenge is as great for engineers as for drivers. The quest for lap time is a highly technical exercise, with a number of differing set-up requirements to be reconciled. Suzuka isn’t easily categorised, featuring swift changes of direction at the spectator-friendly Esses, sinuous curves through Dunlop and Spoon, high-speed sections and heavy-braking, low-speed corners at the Hairpin and Casio Triangle. Great laps require both man and machine to be on the limit.

Grid girls at the Japanese GP

Grid girls at the Japanese GP

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel is the presumptive favourite to deliver those great laps. The Red Bull Racing driver’s form is excellent on arrival at the circuit he calls “the greatest in the world.” Coming to this race he has three successive poles and four successive victories. In addition, his record at Suzuka is excellent. From four visits, he has four poles and three victories . He missed out on victory in 2011, driving conservatively to third – but that was enough to secure a second Drivers’ World Championship.

Seventy-seven points clear of Fernando Alonso in the 2013 title-race, he has an outside chance of claiming his fourth championship this weekend. Should Vettel win and Alonso finish no better than ninth, the German will do what only Juan-Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have done before and win World Championships in four consecutive years.

2012 Japanese Grand Prix podium

2012 Japanese Grand Prix podium

Suzuka Circuit Data

  • Length of lap: 5.807km
  • Lap record: 1:31.540 (Kimi Räikkönen, McLaren, 2005)
  • Start/finish line offset: 0.300 km
  • Total number of race laps: 53
  • Total race distance: 307.471km
  • Pitlane speed limits: 80 km/h throughout the weekend.

Changes to the circuit since 2005

  • The artificial grass around the outside of Turn One now starts approximately 50m earlier, replacing a damaged verge.
  • The verge on the left in Turn 10 has been levelled and taken up to the tyre barrier and wall, both of which have also been raised.
  • A new debris fence has been installed on the left between Turns Nine and 10.
  • A new opening has been provided on the left in Turn 11. This allows a gravel recovery vehicle to be positioned there instead of a large crane.
  • The verge on the right approaching Turn 13 has been laid with a one-metre wide strip of artificial grass, replacing a verge prone to erosion.
  • The last part of the tyre barrier around the outside of Turn 14 has been extended right, to the end of the guardrail.
Ferrari fans in Japan

Ferrari fans in Japan

DRS Zones

  • The DRS zone at Suzuka is on the start-finish straight. The detection point is 50 m before Turn 16, with activation 100 m before the control line.

Japanese GP Fast Facts

  • There have been 28 F1 Japanese Grands Prix. Fuji hosted the race in 1976 and 1977. The race returned to Suzuka in 1987 where it stayed until 2006. The 2007 and 2008 races were held at a much-modified Fuji, with the race reverting to Suzuka in 2009.
  • Michael Schumacher is the stand-out driver at Suzuka with six victories. The seven-time Champion took his first Suzuka victory for Benetton in 1995 and followed it with wins for Ferrari in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004
  • McLaren have the best record of any team at the Japanese Grand Prix with nine victories. James Hunt took the first in 1977 at Fuji, followed by wins at Suzuka for Ayrton Senna (1988, 1993), Gerhard Berger (1991), Mika Häkkinen (1998, 1999) and Kimi Räikkönen (2005). Lewis Hamilton won at Fuji in 2007, and Jenson Button at Suzuka in 2011.
  • James Hunt’s win at Fuji in 1977 has been overshadowed by his third place at the inaugural F1 Japanese Grand Prix a year earlier. It secured him the Drivers’ World Championship, beginning a string of titles that have been settled at this race. Nelson Piquet (1987), Alain Prost (1989), Senna (1988, 1990, 1991), Damon Hill (1996), Häkkinen (1998, 1999) Schumacher (2000, 2003) and Sebastian Vettel (2011) have all secured championships here.
  • Schumacher twice clinched the title at the actual Japanese GP, but did so three times in Japan in total. He became champion in 1995 after a Pacific Grand Prix win at Aida.
  • Piquet’s championship triumph in 1987 was by default. Title rival Nigel Mansell aggravated a back injury in qualifying. He was ruled out of the race and Piquet had the title before the grand prix began.
  • One of Suzuka’s quirks is the figure-eight layout. The current F1 calendar has 13 clockwise circuits, five anti-clockwise and this John Hugenholtz-designed track which does the first half of the lap clockwise and the second half anti-clockwise.
  • Kamui Kobayashi’s third place for Sauber in 2012 made him the first Japanese driver on the podium in Japan since Aguri Suzuki for Lola-Lamborghini in 1990. Kobayashi’s was the first podium for a Japanese driver since Takuma Sato finished third at the 2004 US Grand Prix.
  • Suzuka strongly favours the front row. In 24 races, the winner has come from the front row 20 times. Fernando Alonso (2006) won from fifth, Alessandro Nannini (1989) and Nelson Piquet (1990) from sixth. The anomalous statistic is Kimi Räikkönen’s mesmerising charge from 17th in 2005, overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap for the lead.
  • Last year, Vettel won the race with pole, fastest lap and victory having led every lap of the race. It was his second ‘grand chelem’. Recently he’s recorded a third in Singapore and a fourth last week in Korea. He is halfway to equalling Jim Clark, who collected eight.
Suzuka will be packed throughout the race weekend in Japan

Suzuka will be packed throughout the race weekend in Japan

Japanese Grand Prix Statistics by Reuters

  • Four different teams have won the 14 races so far this year (Lotus, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes).
  • Triple champion Vettel has eight wins in 2013. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg have won two races each. Lotus’s Raikkonen and Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton have each won one.
  • Vettel has won the last four races.
  • Vettel has 34 career wins, Alonso 32, Hamilton 22, Raikkonen 20 and McLaren’s Jenson Button 15.
  • Ferrari have won 221 races since the championship started in 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 42.
  • Vettel will clinch his fourth successive title on Sunday if he wins and Alonso does not finish in the top eight.
  • At 26, he will be the youngest quadruple champion. Only three other drivers have won four titles: Germany’s Michael Schumacher (seven), Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Frenchman Alain Prost (four). Schumacher and Fangio are the only ones to have won four in a row.
  • Mercedes have been on pole eight times in 14 races. Vettel has taken the other six.
  • Vettel has 42 poles to his credit and is third in the all-time list (Michael Schumacher had 68 and Ayrton Senna 65). Hamilton has 31 and Alonso 22.
  • Vettel’s Korean GP pole was his third in a row.
  • Mercedes have locked out the front row in qualifying three times this year.
  • Alonso has not been on the front row in the last 24 races, with his last appearance being his pole in Germany in July 2012. He has not been on pole in a dry qualifying since 2010.
  • Caterham and Marussia have yet to score a point after three seasons in F1.
  • None of the five 2013 rookies has scored points so far.
  • Vettel has been on pole in Japan for the past four years. Michael Schumacher chalked up five Japanese poles in a row for Ferrari between 1998 and 2002 and won six times.
  • Vettel has won three of the last four at Suzuka.
  • Alonso, Button, Hamilton and Raikkonen are the other current drivers to have won there.
  • Ferrari have won seven of the 28 grands prix held in Japan since 1976. McLaren have won nine.
  • No Japanese driver has ever won his home grand prix and this year there is no home driver in the race.
  • Twelve championships have been decided in Japan, including Vettel’s second in 2011.
  • World champions have won 17 of the last 18 races at Suzuka. The exception was Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in 2003.
  • In 24 races at Suzuka, the winner has come from the front row on 20 occasions. Raikkonen is a standout exception, winning from 17th on the grid in 2005.
  • Suzuka has a downhill start. The 130R corner is the fastest of the season, with cars taking it at around 310 km/h
Red Bull fans in Japan

Red Bull fans in Japan

Japanese GP Race Stewards

  • Garry Connelly has been involved in motor sport since the late 1960s. A long-time rally competitor, Connelly was instrumental in bringing the World Rally Championship to Australia in 1988 and served as Chairman of the Organising Committee, Board member and Clerk of Course of Rally Australia until December 2002. He has been an FIA Steward and FIA Observer since 1989, covering the FIA’s World Rally Championship, World Touring Car Championship and Formula One Championship. He is a director of the Australian Institute of Motor Sport Safety and a member of the FIA World Motor Sport Council.
  • José Abed, an FIA Vice President since 2006, began competing in motor sport in 1961. In 1985, as a motor sport official, Abed founded the Mexican Organisation of International Motor Sport (OMDAI) which represents Mexico in the FIA. He sat as its Vice-President from 1985 to 1999, becoming President in 2003. In 1986, Abed began promoting truck racing events in Mexico and from 1986 to 1992, he was President of Mexican Grand Prix organising committee. In 1990 and 1991, he was President of the organising committee for the International Championship of Prototype Cars and from 1990 to 1995, Abed was designated Steward for various international Grand Prix events. Since 1990, Abed has been involved in manufacturing prototype chassis, electric cars, rally cars and kart chassis.
  • During a motor sport career spanning almost 40 years, Emanuele Pirro has achieved a huge amount of success, most notably in sportscar racing, with five Le Mans wins, victory at the Daytona 24 Hours and two wins at the Sebring 12 Hours. In addition, the Italian driver has won the German and Italian Touring Car championships (the latter twice) and has twice been American Le Mans Series Champion. Pirro, enjoyed a three-season F1 career from 1989 to 1991, firstly with Benetton and then for Scuderia Italia. His debut as an FIA Steward came at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and he has returned regularly since. (Apex / various sources)

Subbed by AJN.

Suzuka aerial view

Suzuka aerial view

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