After the heartbreak of his Mercedes failure in Malaysia, Lewis Hamilton has an immediate chance to get back into the winning habit in Japan this weekend. Nico Rosberg has been on pole here the last two seasons for Mercedes, but Lewis has come away with the victory each time – and he will need a victory here if his hope of a third consecutive title are not to slip away. Red Bull will be buoyed by their superb result in Malaysia which has seen them distance a disappointing Ferrari in the battle for best of the rest, while behind there is still plenty to play for as the battle for fourth place in the constructors championship between Force India and Williams continues to rage, and further back Sauber will be hoping they can snatch a point to regain tenth place from Manor .
Michael Schumacher has more Japanese Grand Prix victories than any other driver, winning 6 times. Next up with 4 victories is Sebastian Vettel, who won here four times during his spell with Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton has 3 wins here, once for McLaren and the last two seasons with Mercedes, with Fernando Alonso having won twice here, one win for each of his stints with Renault. Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen have a win apiece here for McLaren. Nico Rosberg has yet to win the Japanese Grand Prix and will be hoping to add Suzuka to the list of tracks that he has finally cracked this year after finally making the breakthrough in Belgium, Italy and Singapore this year. The track has also been the decider for numerous world championships due to it’s late position in the calendar, with Ayrton Senna sealing all 3 of his world championships here and Mika Hakkinen wrapping up his two championships here, but the expansion of the calendar has meant that the last driver to win the driver’s championship here was Sebastian Vettel after a particularly dominant season for Red Bull back in 2011.
At last year’s race Nico Rosberg took pole from Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, but a poor start allowed Lewis to get alongside him into turn 1. Rosberg attempted to hang on around the outside, but as so often seemed the case when the pair went head to head, it was Nico who lost out, with Hamilton running him off the track on the exit of Turn 2, and a fast starting Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas taking advantage to pass Rosberg. That would be it for the race as a contest, with Hamilton disappearing up the road to take a comfortable victory that brought him even closer to securing back to back world drivers crowns. Rosberg was at least able to fight back to second place, with Nico passing both Bottas and Vettel on track to do so. Vettel came third for Ferrari with his team mate Kimi Raikkonen getting up to fourth, with Bottas Williams having to make do with fifth place at the flag, a disappointing return after starting an impressive third on the grid.
The Suzuka circuit, home to the Japanese Grand Prix today, also held the first race designated as the Japanese Grand Prix, a non-championship sportscar event that was staged 1963 – the race was won by Peter Warr (who would go on to manage Lotus) – driving a Lotus 23. There would be a number of sportscar and Formula Two races held in Japan between first Suzuka and then the Fuji Circuit, but it was not until 1976 that Formula One would come to Japan. The first F1 World Championship Japanese Grand Prix would be staged in Fuji in 1976, the race won by Mario Andretti for Lotus but made famous for McLaren’s James Hunt sealing the world championship by coming third as championship leader Niki Lauda stopped his Ferrari early on, deeming the treacherous conditions too much risk to continue. The Grand Prix continued at Fuji in 1977, with James Hunt taking the win, but the race was marred by the death of a marshall and photographer. Gilles Vileneuve’s Ferrari went tangled with Ronnie Peterson’s Tyrrell on lap 6, the Ferrari running into the back of the Tyrrell and being launched into the air, the Ferrari being catapulted into a restricted area and claiming the lives of a marshal and photographer, with several spectators also injured. This led to the cancellation of the Japanese Grand Prix in 1978, and the race would stay off the calendar until it was revived in 1987, back at the Suzuka Circuit. Gerhard Berger would win that first F1 race at the Suzuka circuit in 1987 for Ferrari in a race that saw William’s Nelson Piquet crowned champion as his team-mate Nigel Mansell crashed out in qualifying, ruling him out of the remainder of the season. The Japanese Grand Prix would be staged at Suzuka from there on with the exception of 2007 and 2008 when it was held at Fuji.
The Japanese Grand Prix continued to crown champions and have controversial moments. After Piquet wrapped up the driver’s championship in Suzuka in 1987, Ayrton Senna would win his first title for McLaren in 1988 after storming drive, recovering from a bad start to pip team-mate Prost to victory and the championship. The title went Prost’s way in 1989, as the McLaren team-mates collided at the chicane as Senna looked to pass the Frenchman, Senna being famously disqualified after taking the chequered flag first after another storming drive to recover from the collision with Prost, who retired on the spot. The win was awarded to Benetton’s Alessandro Nannini (his only win in Formula One). McLaren would appeal Senna’s disqualification – and Senna’s mood was hardly improved when despite his feeling that Prost had turned into him at the chicane the FIA decided to hand Senna a 6 month ban – which would later be suspended. The events of 1989 boiled over in 1990, when Senna and Prost (now driving for Ferrari) arrived at Suzuka with the championship to be decided between them, only this time a double retirement would see Senna champion. Senna famously exacted his revenge, driving his McLaren into Prost’s Ferrari and forcing both cars off the track at the first corner, with Benetton again the beneficiaries, Nelson Piquet winning the race. Senna, already incensed at his treatment in 1989 had his anger multiplied by a sense of injustice as the pole position was placed on the dirty side of the track in 1990 (as it had been the previous seasons) favouring the car in second place (Prost), despite an agreement having being reached before qualifying that pole position would be moved to the racing line – Senna would later admit to intentionally driving Prost off the track.
The championship would be settled in Senna’s favour again in 1991, when Nigel Mansell’s Williams spun off, Senna slowing to hand McLaren team-mate Gerhard Berger the race victory on the last lap. 1996 saw another title decider, again between two Williams team-mates, this time Damon Hill took the championship with the Japanese Grand Prix victory, as Hill’s rookie team-mate, polesitter Jacques Villeneuve retired after losing a wheel! Mika Hakkinen would take his both his drivers titles with victories for McLaren here in 1998 and 1999, before Michael Schumacher started a run of five consecutive Ferrari victories from 2000-2004 (Rubens Barrichello would win for the Scuderia in 2003 in a race that saw Schumacher crowned champion, the rest were all victories for Schumacher) –despite that run of success Ferrari have not tasted victory in Japan since 2004.
The race moved to Fuji in 2007, with rookie Lewis Hamilton winning for McLaren, and after another Fuji race in 2008 (won by Fernando Alonso for Renault) the Japanese Grand Prix returned to Suzuka in 2009, with Sebastian Vettel taking the first of his four victories for Red Bull. Vettel would also seal his second driver’s championship here in 2011 after coming home third in a race won by McLaren’s Jenson Button. The rain soaked 2014 Japanese Grand Prix will be sadly always be remembered as the race which would cost the talented young driver Jules Bianchi his life following a collision with a crane that was attempting to remove Adrian Sutil’s Force India from the side of the track.
The Suzuka circuit was built by Honda. Having entered the Isle of Man TT in 1959, Honda decided that they needed a permanent track that would be used as a testing ground for the company’s motorbikes and cars. Early in 1960 Suzuka was selected as the site of the future circuit. The original plan was for a flat circuit that would be constructed through rice fields, but this was shelved and a revised plan was put in place by the end of 1960 that would see the track built in its current location, the hillside providing natural elevation change. Honda sent a team to Europe to analyse European racetracks construction and management, and brought in Dutchman John Hugenholtz to rework the design of the track. The proposed track at the new site originally saw the track have two additional crossover points inside the modern esseses section, but these were eliminated as the project proceeded (only the one crossover remained to give the track its figure of eight layout– still, this means the Suzuka circuit runs both clockwise and anti-clockwise, a unique challenge on the F1 calendar). The track was completed in late in 1962, and the track held the first Japan National Road Racing Championships based on the Isle of Mann TT rules in November 1962.
The circuit has not undergone too many changes over the years, with a number of changes from the original 1962 design being implemented prior to Formula One’s arrival in 1987. The chicane was introduce in 1983, with the layout of the Spoon Curve and the run down to 200R updated the following year. The first corner saw some re-profiling as well before the track saw a number of changes in 1987 in preparation of the first Formula One Grand Prix, with the main change being the Degner Curve being split into two corners as we have today. The position of the chicane was moved in 1991, allowing a slightly longer run from 130R , while the pit entry was inserted before the chicane. This was reversed in 2000 when the pit entry was brought back to the final corner. Further changes were made from 2001when the Dunlop corner and esses were re-alligned to provide greater run of, while 130R was altered in 2003 to provide a faster corner with earlier turn also providing for more run off, while the chicane was moved back closed to 130R and re-aligned.
Suzuka has 18 turns and 40.4 meter elevation change, and is a fast circuit in figure of 8 layout.
Off the grid there is a short burst down downhill into Turn 1, a fast right hander that feeds into a longer slower right handed curve Turn 2, with the track at it’s lowest point just before turn 2, the track starting to rise slightly into the Turn.. The pit exit feeds into the first corner, and the start/finish straight is the only DRS activation zone on the track, so there is bound to be plenty of excitement at this turn as the race wears on. At the start watch for cars trying to take a wide line around the outside of turn 1 and carry it through Turn 2 – the start here provides opportunity for drivers to make or break their race here – Eddie Irvine using his local knowledge from his Japanese F3000 days to good effect on his Jordan debut in 1993, going by the all-powerful Williams of Damon Hill around the outside of Turn 1 and carrying on past the Benetton of one Michael Schumacher on the outside of Turn 2 – but it can also go horribly wrong, as we saw in 2012 when the wheels came off Fernando Alonso’s unlikely championship challenge as Kimi Raikkonen tried for a wide line into turn 1 and ran out of room, Kimi taking to dirt but puncturing Alonso’s rear tyre with his front wing.
Exiting turn 2 the cars will run wide on the kerbing and immediately switch back over to the right hand side of the track as the cars head into the esses. Turn 3 and 4 is a quick flowing left right sequence, with the threading a line through the curves and then blipping the throttle on the exit of Turn 4, the cars not having enough time to either run wide or come fully across the track in preparation for the entry to the left hander Turn 5. The cars try to hold the inside around turn 5 and exit with a short burst again into another right hander, Gyaku Bank, or Turn 6, with the track dipping back downhill here before climbing into another flick left through the Dunlop Corner Turn 7.
Exiting turn 7 the cars can finally open out, running wide over the kerb on exit and accelerating hard as the track curves gently around to the left and dips slightly down, the cars winding over to the outside on the left on the run into the Degner Curve. Degner 1, Turn 8, is a quick right hander with the track dipping on entry, the cars bounce into a short downhill burst into Degner 2, a longer slower right hander. Exiting Degner two is crucial as there is not much run off here should things go wrong, with the track opens out onto a straight that runs under the cross over of the track’s figure of 8 layout. The cars burst from the exit of the Degner curve down a short straight, the cars climbing steeply uphill as they take a quick right flick, Turn 10 (110 R ), that leads into the braking zone for the hairpin curve, Turn 11. This is a hard braking left hand hairpin that will test the balance of the cars and also provide a potential overtaking spot, although attempts here can go either way, as Sergio Perez showed us in 2012 when he managed to get his Sauber ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren by braking very late up the inside early in the race, only to botch the move when he attempted it again later in the race, as second time around Hamilton was more alert to the danger, the McLaren denying the inside, with Perez committing to the move and trying to go around the outside and locking up and sliding wide into the gravel and retiring!
Coming out of the hairpin its power down and full throttle as the cars have another short straight leading into a long winding flat out right hand curve right Turn 12 (200 R), which leads into the double left hander Spoon Curve (Turns 13 and 14). The first part of the spoon curve sees the cars having to brake hard, and then try to position themselves to get on the throttle early coming out of the second part of the left hander, running wide over the kerb to get as much speed on exit as possible onto the long straight that follows. This is the highest point on the circuit, and from the exit here the cars blast back down along the straight towards the most daunting corner on the circuit, an ultra fast left hander Turn 15, the famous 130R. The most famous move pulled here was surely Fernando Alonso’s pass of Michael Schumacher in the 2005 Grand Prix, but recent years have seen numerous drivers have a go here, and with the variance in tyre strategies increased this year 130R should be a fun part of the track to watch for sure this year – there is some run off area on the outside of 130R which may encourage drivers to have a go if (Daniel Ricciardo pulled off a wonderful – if illegal – off track overtake of Adrian Sutil’s Force India here back in 2013!).
Exiting 130R the cars dart towards the chicane (Turns 16 and 17), braking hard into the right left flick. The chicane itself has been since moved and modified from the spot made infamous by the 1989 collision between McLaren team-mates Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna that would help decide the title in Prost’s favour, but as always the chicane encourages drivers to have a lunge if stuck behind someone, and although space is tight here it should have its share of moments during the race. The DRS detection point is positioned on the entry of the chicane. Exiting the chicane the cars accelerate around the curve to the right past the pit entry and into and the final corner, the right hand Turn 18, accelerating back down the start finish straight, the only DRS zone in the race, sure to provide plenty of attempts to overtake into the first corner during the race. The pit exit re-joins the track on the run in to the first corner, so as always, expect fun into Turn 1 around pit stop time as drivers attempt to undercut.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Coming straight off the back of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the Japanese Grand Prix uses exactly the same three nominations: P Zero Orange hard, P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft. Another thing that the Japanese Grand Prix has in common with Malaysia is the fact that two sets of the hard compound have been nominated as mandatory sets, meaning that the hardest compound will definitely be used at some point during the race by every driver.
Suzuka is one of the most atmospheric races of the season, with an old-school feel thanks to its fast corners and small run-off areas. Just like Malaysia, there’s a strong possibility of rain featuring during the weekend: but unlike Malaysia the track is quite narrow, which makes overtaking more difficult.
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW:
Track temperatures can vary massively, from very warm weather to cold and wet conditions.
Teams tend to run a high downforce set-up to maximise speed through the fast corners.
Plenty of energy goes through tyres because many corners are very long, maximising loads. The famous 130R, for example, contains the highest continuous g-force loading of the year.
There are few longitudinal forces: instead Suzuka is all about lateral loads through corners.
These factors tend to lead to high levels of wear and degradation, with more than one pit stop.
Track evolution can be hard to predict: strategy also needs to remain flexible because of the possibility of safety cars and relative difficulty of overtaking at Suzuka.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS:
Orange hard: will definitely be used for the race, as it is nominated twice as an obligatory set.
White medium: drivers have selected between one and four sets of these, with different ideas.
Yellow soft: this is the first time that the soft has been seen in Japan; will be quick in qualifying.
HOW IT WAS A YEAR AGO:
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won with a two-stop strategy, starting on medium, switching to medium again on lap 16, then hard on lap 31. The 53-lap race was dry after a wet Friday.
Best alternative strategy: the big majority of drivers adopted a two-stop strategy, but a medium-hard-hard run allowed Nico Rosberg to undercut his key rivals and move up to second.
PAUL HEMBERY, PIRELLI MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR:
“Suzuka is a race that everybody looks forward to coming to: there’s little left to say that hasn’t been said already about the amazing welcome we receive each year from the Japanese fans and the depth of their enthusiasm and knowledge. For the first time we bring the soft tyre to Suzuka, which should provide a different aspect to the strategy, so we may have some tactical thinking right from qualifying on Saturday. Whatever happens, we’ll be seeing the hard tyre used during the race, as was the case in Malaysia, and also high wear and degradation: which always additionally provides varied strategic opportunities.”
There are no major changes to the infrastructure or track in Japan this year.
The race takes place one week later than it did last year, returning to its 2014 calendar slot.
The FIA has confirmed that drivers will have the same allocation of tyres for next year’s first five races rather than choosing: two sets of the hardest compound available, four sets of the medium compound available, and seven sets of the softest compound available.
OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE CAUGHT OUR EYE RECENTLY:
Ferrari has gone for the most aggressive tyre choice with nine sets of the soft. In particular, Sebastian Vettel is the only driver to have selected just one set of medium tyres in Japan.
Pirelli was appointed as the exclusive tyre supplier to the Macau F3 Grand Prix this year.
Pirelli was also revealed as the exclusive tyre partner of the newly launched Electric GT Championship in Ibiza: a new European series that will use Tesla racing cars next year.
The second half of the season has not been kind so far to Lewis Hamilton, but he is coming back to a track where he enjoyed an edge over Nico Rosberg, and despite the frustration of his retirement in Malaysia, his confidence should be high after what was a dominant performance from him all weekend after a uncharacteristically poor performance in Singapore. Nico Rosberg has failed to convert pole position into victory here the last few years, but Nico has looked mentally stronger in 2016 and is unlikely to let past results here phase him–once again it would appear that the run to the first corner could prove to be the decisive moment in the weekend in the battle between the Mercedes pair. Red Bull will be more than capable of causing trouble for either Mercedes should they get their nose ahead, and will be hoping to be able to pressure Mercedes, but should be limited to the role of destroying one of the Mercedes driver’s championship hopes. For Ferrari it seems like any other race – once again they will be hoping to get the most out of their car, but with Vettel serving a grid penalty after the first corner collision that ruined his race in Malaysia it’s hard to see a first win for the Scuderia this season coming in Japan. Valtteri Bottas performed admirably in Malaysia, and once again the pressure will be on Williams to try to overhaul a Force India team who have been delivering consistently. McLaren’s performance in Sepang will give them high hopes that they can again be towards the front of the grid for Honda’s home race, and they will be aiming to be best of the rest after Mercedes/Red Bull/Ferrari and can dream of an outside shot for McLaren-Honda’s first podium since they renewed their partnership should the front runner’s get themselves into trouble.
1988– Senna is world champion for the first time
In 1988 McLaren-Honda were the dominant force, and their two drivers, two time world champion Alain Prost and his younger team-mate Ayrton Senna arrived at the Japanese Grand Prix with the championship within the grasp of Senna. Senna had dominated qualifying that season, taking 11 poles to Prost’s two, but in terms of race wins it was only 7-6 in Senna’s favour. Prost had been the more consistent finisher, an arrived in Japan leading the championship standings by 5 points from Senna, but with the rules of the time dictating that only the best 11 results from the 16 race season would stand, Prost, who had already filled his best 11 results with 1st and 2nd places, could only gain 3 points by winning a race as he would lose the points of one of his second place finishes from the revised total (with 9 points being awarded for a win in 1988, and 6 for second place). Senna on the other hand, came to Japan with a sixth place (1 point) and fourth place (3 points) counting towards his total, so a win would in effect be worth 8 points (the awarded 9 minus the sixth place point that would drop off his total) – and with an extra race win already over Prost that meant that victory in either of the final two races of the season would see Senna champion.
Senna took pole position number 12 of the season, with Prost lining up alongside him on the front row, the McLaren pair light years ahead of the rest of the field, with the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger the closest challenger a full second and a half back on Senna’s time. The race looked set to surely produce yet another McLaren 1-2 to add to the 8 they had already secured that season, but as the lights went out, there was disaster for Senna, his McLaren lurching forward off the grid and stalling, Senna waving his arms as Berger came within a whisker of collecting the McLaren as he flicked to the outside around him. With the help of the downhill slope of the Suzuka starting grid Senna was able to bump-start his McLaren, but by the time he got going he was down in 14th place, cars swarming past him left and right on the run down to the first corner.
Up front Prost was away cleanly with Berger and Ivan Capelli (in the Adrian Newey penned March). Given the dominance of the McLaren Senna would surely be able to work his way through the field, but could he chase down Prost to secure the title? By the end of lap one Senna was up to eight place, his cause aided by a clumsy move by Nigel Mansell (Williams) on Derick Warwick (Arrows) at the hairpin as they disputed fourth place, with both drivers having to pit.
Senna was wasting no time putting the superiority of his McLaren to use, charging through the field. By lap 3 he had already moved up to fifth, passing the the Lotus and Benettons, with only the Ferrari’s of Alboreto (fourth) and Berger (second) and the impressively fast March of Capelli (thord) ahead between him and Prost. Alboreto was dispatched quickly on lap 4, Senna mugging him on entry to the chicane. Senna was already 13 seconds down on Prost, and now had to set about bridging the gap to the Berger/Capelli battle, with Capelli recording the fastest lap of the race at this point, and the unfancied March was putting pressure on Berger’s Ferrari for second, with Prost unable to distance himself from the duo. Capelli pulled off a shock by passing Berger for second on lap 5, getting a better exit from the final corner and slipstreaming him down the straight and passing him into the first corner. Released from traffic Senna was now putting the boot down, hammering in fastest lap as he closed up on the leading bunch. Prost responded though, and pulled 5 seconds clear of Capelli. There was plenty of action going on behind, with Alboreto spun around by an over enthusiastic Nannini (Benetton) at Turn 2, and reigning champion Piquet spinning his Lotus– but all eyes were up front, as Capelli started to up his pace, reeling in Prost’s McLaren as Senna put a move on the struggling Berger to take 3rd place on lap 11. Some rain had fallen prior to the race, and this started to return now, making the track slippy but not damp enough for wet tyres – just to make matters more interesting! Capelli had latched onto Prost’s gearbox, and was starting to give the more fancied McLaren all sorts of trouble, and as conditions got slippy the March even got its nose in front, albeit briefly, as Prost was slowed coming out of the chicane on lap 16, checking as the Lola of Aguri Suzuki spun in front of him– Capelli pounced, running wide around Prost on the final corner and passing him on the outside as they headed down the straight, only for Prost to retake the position immediately, using the superior power of the McLaren Honda to pull back level as they ran down the straight and holding the inside line into the first corner. The combination of the duel with Capelli, the slippy track (as shown by Derick Warwick spinning his Arrows into retirement) and unhelpful backmarkers was allowing Senna to cut chunks out of the gap to Prost. Capelli was giving Prost all sorts of problems, but his wonderful performace would go unrewarded, the March retiring with electric problems on lap 19 – by which time Senna had closed right up onto his tail. The McLarens were now locked in a head to head fight – and even though the rain had stopped in the slippy conditions Senna was surely favored to blast past Prost. But Prost was holding firm, and kept Senna at bay, seeming comfortable holding his team mate behind him, as more drama unfolded down the pack as Nigel Mansell’s eventful race came to an end, his Williams going airborne, launched onto two wheels as he attempted to lap his old nemesis Nelson Piquet Lotus at the chicane, the Williams nearly rolling but correcting itself at the last moment and crashing back down onto its four wheels and into retirement. Up front the battle between championship rivals seemed locked in stalemate – until backmarkers once again caused Prost grief – again at the chicane, this time Prost completely held up by the Rial of Andrea de Cesaris, with Senna getting a run on him onto the main straight – Prost moved to the inside to defend, but Senna squeezed his way past to take the inside line to Turn 1 and the lead of the race. With Senna in the lead the rain returned, and it seemed like the race was done – Senna settling in well to the conditions and pulling a gap over 5 seconds. Prost initially responded, managing to get the gap back down to 1.5 seconds. But Senna was able to slice through the backmarkers quicker in the risky conditions, and Prost began to lose touch, with Senna pulling away to take a comfortable win, some 13 seconds up as he crossed the line to achieve his ambition of becoming world champion.
1976– Andretti wins first Japanese Grand Prix as Hunt is champion
The first Formula One Japanese Grand Prix was the final round of the 1976 season, staged at the Fuji circuit. This was the season where Niki Lauda had his near fatal crash at the Nurburgring whilst looking set to retain the driver’s championship he won in 1975. James Hunt closed the gap to within 2 points Lauda’s absence, but then Lauda amazingly returning to the grid for the Italian Grand Prix, and by the time they arrived in Japan Lauda led by 3 points. A Hunt win would see the Englishman crowned champion as Hunt had already scored 6 wins to Lauda’s five. In qualifying Mario Andretti took pole positionfor Lotus, with Hunt’s McLaren second and Niki Lauda back in third for Ferrari. But on race day the heavens opened, with rain lashing down and mist hanging in the air – treacherous conditions for driving. As the race started Hunt burst through to take the lead, with John Watson skating his Penske into second position behind him. Lauda slipped back at the start, and decided to come into the pits and withdraw at the end of the second lap due to the treacherous conditions– a brave driver with the conviction to say that that bravery was one thing – but that risking his life in these conditions was simply not worth it. Still, the race went on, and now the calculus was changed – Hunt would be champion if he could simply finish fourth. Hunt was comfortable as a driver could be in the dreadful conditions, building a command lead early on from Andretti. But as the laps wore on Hunt started to come under pressure from Vittorio Bambrilla, the March driver who famously spun his way across the finish line when winning the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix, held under similar wet conditions. Hunt needed to simply stay clear of trouble, but nearly came to grief as Bambrilla challenged him, the March getting its nose ahead briefly after diving down the inside at the hairpin, but running too deep and allowing Hunt back past Bambrilla then spun as he tried to stick back onto Hunt’s gearbox. So the threat from Bambrilla was gone, Hunt again seemed safe to coast to the finish. As the track dried, looking after tyres would prove to be key to the race, and Hunt, needing only that fourth position, backed off, with Mario Andretti surging into the lead with only 9 laps remaining. The McLaren team were leaving the decision on stopping for fresh tyres to Hunt, but he stayed out, slipped down to third but regained the spot when Patrick Depailler had to pit for tyres. Hunt stayed out but eventually the decision was made for him as he suffered a blown tyre and a puncture – Hunt dropping to fifth as he rejoined after a slow stop with the mechanics struggling to jack up the car. So fresh tyres and five laps remaining, with Hunt needing to make a place to be world champion – he set off in determined mood, his day not going to be ruined as he passed first Clay Regazzoni’s Ferrari and then Alan Jones Surtees to make sure of the job. Hunt finishing in third place behind Mario Andretti and Patrick Depailler and in so doing became the World Champion of 1976.
The regular support of GP2/GP3 and the Porsche Supercup stay at home, with the supporting action provided by the local Super FJ series and the Porsche Carrera Cup Japan.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2009||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|