Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘Track Profile Specialist’ Alistair Hunter
This week we go from one of Asia’s newest F1 circuits to the oldest one on the calendar this year in the region – Suzuka, home of the Japanese Grand Prix for what will be 23 editions of the Formula One World Championship race there.
The circuit has a history of hosting championship deciders, and this year could be no different. Sebastian Vettel could clinch the championship this weekend if he wins and Alonso finishes below eighth position, although it is important to note that barring retirements, the Spaniard has not finished in that situation since the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix.
The Suzuka Circuit was designed for Honda to test their cars and motorcycles to the limit in 1961, with the original plan being a circuit based around several long straights, with a curved section based around a lake. However, the lay of the land meant that the design was altered to ensure that as little of the rice fields would have to be dug up as possible, including a staggering three crossover sections.
Needless to say more alterations to the design were undertaken, and by the time the circuit was completed in January 1962 it resembled almost the exact circuit layout that is raced on by Formula One cars today. The first Japanese Grand Prix was held there the next year – for sportscars – and was won by Peter Warr in his Lotus.
Following that, the race moved to Fuji Speedway – owned by the rival Toyota company – which held the first Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in 1976, where it remained for another year before Honda spent lots of money to get the race back many years later in 1987.
Since then, the race has stayed on the calendar ever since, meaning that the race this year will be the 29th edition of the race, as well as the 31st race in Japan. The latter includes the two Pacific Grands Prix, which briefly made the country one of seven to have hosted two races in one season.
Firstly, the lap starts by going through a long, fast-flowing high speed twisty section, before the tricky Degner curve before going under the bridge and ending the first sector. A major braking zone follows into the Turn 11 hairpin, which serves as one of the major overtaking spots on the circuit.
Following on from there, the track continues up to the Spoon corner, before the end of the second sector comes as the drivers speed down the secondary pit straight at the crossover point, and brake for the chicane at the end of the mighty 130R left hand corner.
Continuing out of the chicane, the drivers go on to the start/finish straight and the single DRS zone – making the Suzuka circuit one of only two on the calendar this year to only have one. The drivers reach top speeds of up to 320 km/h, while the lap record is held by Kimi Raikkonen at a 1:31.540.
Due to the high speed nature of the track, drivers are on full throttle for 71% of the lap, in comparison to spending 10% of the lap under braking; although the brakes are not seriously tested until they hit the entry to the final chicane, as mentioned below by one of the brake suppliers to Formula One teams, Brembo. Additionally, an estimated 48 gear changes are required per lap, while this is one of the many tracks on the calendar that favours a heavy downforce setup.
A lap with Mark Webber
Eventually, Sebastian Vettel will not be on the top step of the podium, and whoever can correctly predict when that mythical time is will be proclaimed as a hero amongst the F1 community. Alas, I am not that person. If I say anything other than Vettel to be in first place, I will look like an idiot.
I mean – as I mention every week – other people have won races this season (Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton), and other people have been on pole. Of course, lots of races at Suzuka have been won from pole position, so if a Mercedes gets ahead, it could be like Monaco… I don’t want to get your hopes up though.
To give you an idea of how dominant the young German has been, he has led more F1 laps at the circuit than all of the other drivers on the grid this year put together. At least if this becomes the twelfth drivers championship title to be decided at Suzuka, we can look forward to next season and stop worrying about what I actually have to say in this section.
Pirelli and Suzuka International Race Circuit
Suzuka is one of the most popular circuits on the Formula One calendar, thanks to a thrilling track layout and some of the most passionate fans on earth. This year, Pirelli will take the two hardest compounds in the range: the P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium. These are well-suited to the challenging demands of this famous track, which is located in the middle of Japan near Nagoya.
Suzuka is best known for fast corners such as 130R and Spoon, which have a notable effect on tyre wear and degradation. Consequently, between two and three pit stops are expected. The other feature of Japan is its extremely variable weather, with heavy rainfall a common feature of the weekend. In 2010, qualifying even had to be postponed until Sunday morning because of a rainstorm. Last year’s race, however, took place in hot conditions with temperatures that exceeded 30 degrees centigrade – which just goes to illustrate the unpredictable variety of the Japanese Grand Prix.
Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery: “Suzuka is one of the circuits where we experience the highest rates of wear and degradation all year: because of the relatively abrasive surface and most of all because of the high- energy loadings that are going through the tyres.
That’s why we’ve nominated the two hardest compounds in our range to take to Suzuka this year. It’s not all about the fast corners though as there are also some heavy braking areas and tighter corners. So it’s a high-demand circuit when it comes to lateral energy but relatively low-demand in terms of traction, because the layout is very flowing with one corner sequencing into another.
Strategy is set to play an important role once more – this was a two-stop race last year, when we nominated the soft and the hard compounds – and Suzuka is a circuit that all the drivers enjoy because of the high speeds. Japan is all about raw speed: and the tyres we have selected for this weekend should enable the drivers to showcase that in front of the amazing Japanese fans.”
Jean Alesi: “Japan is one of my favourite circuits and favourite countries: it has everything. A bit like Spa or Monza, Suzuka is a really thrilling track for any driver to compete on, as it has a fantastic flow and so many high-speed corners. But it’s not just that: there is also a brilliant atmosphere because the Japanese spectators are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable: they are really crazy for Formula One!
I’ve got so many good memories of Suzuka but if I had to choose one it would be from 1994, when I was driving for Ferrari. I had a fantastic battle with Nigel Mansell and ended up on the podium in downpour conditions; Damon Hill won the race. This is the sort of rain that you can get in Japan from time to time, and that provides another aspect to the challenge. The choice of the hard and medium tyres is the best one you can make for Suzuka: there is a lot of energy going through the tyres, so you expect a lot of wear. Maybe we’ll have two or three pit stops.
My career has taken in many different types of tyre regulations – from qualifying tyres to grooved tyres – and anything up to three pit stops is fine, in my view. Beyond three it might start to get confusing, but that has only happened so far on one or two occasions, which is a pretty good record.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view
The flowing nature of the 5.807-kilometre Suzuka track means that it actually has the lowest traction demand of any circuit all year. But it also has the highest demand in terms of lateral energy.
The first half of the lap is essentially a non-stop series of corners. This puts plenty of heat through the tyres, as there is no significant straight where they can cool down. As a result, the hottest part of the tyre tread can reach 110 degrees centigrade. The tyre that is worked hardest is the front-left. Pit stops at Suzuka carry a relatively low time penalty, due to the short 395-metre pit lane. This allows further flexibility with the race strategy.
Technical tyre notes
Turn 15 is the fastest corner on the championship, taken at 310kph in seventh gear. The cars operate at maximum aerodynamic downforce, combined with a lateral acceleration of 3.1g. This puts the tyre structure through some of the most strenuous operating conditions seen all year.
High levels of stress on the tyres can cause blistering if the car is not set up properly. This phenomenon is the result of localised heat build-up, particularly in the shoulder of the tyre, as it flexes. The majority of drivers last year used a two-stop strategy. Only three chose to start the race on the harder compound – from a long way down the grid – but this strategy proved to be useful in boosting their track positions. Sebastian Vettel won from pole, at a race that was affected by a safety car on the opening lap.
A lap with Pirelli
Brembo and Suzuka International Race Circuit
As with all the very “driven” tracks, at Suzuka the long, fast turns results in less demanding breaking characteristics. In fact, the Formula 1 cars are not subjected to any severe braking sections except for the 130R turn where they go from more than 300 kph to about 120 kph in less than 100 metres.
* Turn 09 is considered the most demanding for the braking system.
1976 – [Spoiler alert for Rush, by the way…] Back at the Fuji Speedway, the title decider between Niki Lauda and James Hunt saw Lauda pull out of the race in protest at the horrendous weather conditions they had to race in, while Hunt fought back from a bad pit stop to finish third, meaning that he clinched the championship over the German by one point.
1989 – Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost qualified on the front row of the grid, with Prost getting the upper hand into the first portion of the race. However, on lap 46, the two collided going into the final chicane, taking Prost out of the race and forcing Senna to use the escape road, complete another lap, and then pit to fix the car. Despite Senna retaking the lead, he was disqualified from the race for cutting the chicane, handing the race victory to Alessandro Nannini and the championship to Prost.
1994 – Due to rain at Suzuka, Michael Schumacher pulled away to get a 6.8 second lead before the race was stopped due to Gianni Morbidelli and Martin Brundle losing control of their cars at around the same time. As the rain slowed down, the race was restarted on the basis of aggregate collected time, where Damon Hill pushed hard to open up a 10.1 second gap over the rest of the field, therefore making him the winner by 3.3 seconds.
2000 – Michael Schumacher started from pole position but ended up behind Mika Hakkinen for the majority of the race, but a better pace in the rain and a fast in lap and pit stop from the German allowed him to finish on the top step of the podium and win his third drivers championship title (and the first for Ferrari since 1979).
2005 – Rain in the final part of qualifying saw many of the theoretically faster drivers at the back end of the grid, leading to an entertaining race. Ralf Schumacher led the race before his first pitstop, while Raikkonen and Alonso gained positions; the latter doing so controversially in the eyes of the stewards, and the Spaniard was forced to give a place back to Christian Klien. Fisichella led the race, but in the end he was overtaken by Raikkonen on the last lap, finishing his comeback from qualifying 17th to winning the race.
The last Japanese driver to participate in Formula One was Kamui Kobayashi, who had become one of my favourite drivers due to his audacious overtaking manoeuvres on other drivers throughout his four year F1 career. After participating in his first Friday practice session at the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix, he was given the opportunity to race the weekend after in Brazil due to his Toyota teammate Timo Glock’s injuries in the race at Suzuka.
At the next race he took advantage of a different fuel strategy to finish sixth and score his first points, before having three moderately good years at Sauber. The highlight of his career would have to be when he became the third ever Japanese driver to finish on the podium – after Aguri Suzuki and Takuma Sato – at the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, which was pretty amazing in front of his home crowd. This year he is competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship, where he is joint fourth, 27 points behind the leaders Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni.
Unlike last weekend, where I didn’t – and still don’t – know what the support race was supposed to be, this weekend I can be certain that Formula One will be accompanied by the Porsche Carrera Cup Japan and the Super FJ series. This is the final weekend for the Porsche Carrera Cup Japan series, which has previously raced at former F1 tracks Okayama and Fuji. The leader of the series is Ryo Ogawa (or at least, that is how Google Translate renders his name), who has 139 points, 16 ahead of his nearest challenger with only two races remaining.
The Super FJ series is a scholarship series. Since their website doesn’t indicate that they are actually racing this weekend, well, I can’t really help you out with this one. If you are at the track, enjoy the race anyway!
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2009||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
Not a happy hunting ground for Ferrari of late!
Well, yeah, taken out in two start line incidents over three years and no wins in the last eight Japanese Grands Prix doesn’t look too nice. It isn’t too bad for them though – they do seem to be picking up podiums here, and the average race finishing position for their first driver to finish being just below 3rd position. It just so happens that they need to finish first a lot for the remainder of the season, and that probably won’t happen!