Drivers relish Suzuka challenge (Japanese Grand Prix preview)

Sinuous Suzuka is a firm favourite among the drivers

Sinuous Suzuka is a firm favourite among the drivers

Suzuka has only been off the calendar for two years, but already eight of the 20 drivers competing this weekend have never raced there in F1.

It’s a warm welcome back for one of F1′s most beloved circuits. And once again, it could provide the setting for a championship showdown.

Whatever bland PR nonsense was put out about F1′s return to Fuji two years ago, it’s quite clear most (if not, all) F1 drivers are glad to be back at Suzuka. None of them bothered to praise Fuji as highly as they have spoken about Suzuka this week:

I am thrilled that my favourite Formula 1 circuit is back on the calendar.
Nick Heidfeld

Suzuka is the best track in the world. I’m looking forward to racing there as it’s one of the most challenging circuits with a lot of high-speed corners.
Sebastian Vettel

Vettel is one of the eight drivers yet to race in F1 at Suzuka although, like Adrian Sutil, he did test at the circuit in 2006. The other six are Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Romain Grosjean, Timo Glock, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and home driver Kazuki Nakajima.

Those who have raced before will find many changes at the venue. Thankfully, few alterations have been made to the track, which is in substantially the same form as it was after the controversial easing of 130R in 2003.

The most significant change to the circuit is the extension of the pit lane exit. As at Singapore, it now comes out after the first corner. There’s also a couple of corners where the run-off has been extended.

But it largely remains faithful to the John Hugenholz design first used by F1 in 1987. It may not have the dramatic backdrop of Mount Fuji, but it does have a sublime, fast, rhythmic ribbon of tarmac that challenges the drivers and thrills the fans in equal measure. Suzuka is a rollercoaster – by comparison, Fuji was a kart track laid out in a car park.

So which teams will have the upper hand this weekend?

My first choice would be Red Bull, who impressed at the similarly quick Silverstone, and Ferrari, who relished Spa’s high-speed turns.

But the mystery factor this weekend is tyres, as Bridgestone are returning to their previous policy of bringing rubber that is two ‘stages’ apart. This weekend they’re bringing the hard and soft tyres.

Expect the latter to struggle for durability and, just as we saw at the start of the season, there is one driver above all who should relish that: Jenson Button. Keep a close eye on those green-striped tyres when practice gets started and see how well the drivers cope with them…

Drivers to watch

Sebastian Vettel – Suzuka’s high-speed configuration should suit Red Bull and make Vettel one of the favourites to win.

Rubens Barrichello – Singapore was a costly setback. He needs a win on a poor day for Button to apply fresh pressure in the championship chase.

Kimi Raikkonen – Magnificent at Suzuka in 2005 – and he has a point to prove to Ferrari.

Vitantonio Liuzzi – Back to a track he knows – can he put one over his team mate?

Japanese Grand Prix

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68 comments on Drivers relish Suzuka challenge (Japanese Grand Prix preview)

  1. Ronman said on 1st October 2009, 7:30

    I’m really looking forward to see what Raiko will do in the last 3 races. i have a feeling his Ice calm demeanor will somewhat be diminished as he fights to prove Ferrari wrong. more luggage to add to their regret in 2010 if Kimi end up in a very capable McLaren…

    I also Hope Barrichello steps it up and conquers his teammate at Suzuka, it would be sad to see him loose it with 2 to go…i hope this title drags out to the final corner like last year’s challenge. now that was worth all the Gates and Sagas…(not including crash-gate)

    roll on Japan

    • Gill said on 1st October 2009, 9:42

      U must have seen Kimi’s performance in Singapore. He could not even make 1 place coz he knew he is gonna kicked out from Ferrari so why make an effort. HE IS NOT AN ICEMAN, HE IS AN ICECREAM MAN

      • Ronny said on 1st October 2009, 16:48

        the ice man has a car that has had no developements since hungary. ferrari will regret raikkonen going if he gets into a fast mclaren car

        • Gagan said on 1st October 2009, 18:41

          ya thats true,,, but no team apart from Brawn, Red Bull and BMW had any updates… they r still giving there 200 % muscling there car around. And u cant deny that

  2. GeeMac said on 1st October 2009, 8:07

    I’m hoping that Force India will be quick here. It is another fast, flowing layout, that should suit them. Shouldn’ it?

    • Jonathan said on 1st October 2009, 11:07

      The Force India seems to excel in low downforce trim on tracks with long straights.

      But Suzuka is dominated by high speed corners, which are a real test of downforce. So of the other circuits, it’s most like Silverstone rather than Spa or Monza.

      So the best bet is to go back to the Silverstone formbook. Red Bull should do extremely well compared to Brawn, while McLaren may suffer compared to Ferrari.

      But the rate of technical development on these cars means that anything could happen. The relative performance of the cars has been highly unpredictable this year.

  3. Prisoner Monkeys said on 1st October 2009, 8:10

    Come on, JB. Show the world you’re the best. I know you don’t want to stage a foolhardy push for the title and make a costly mistake, but if you find yourself in a position to seal the title, TAKE IT!

  4. Jonesracing82 said on 1st October 2009, 8:42

    Jenson needs a “champions drive” now,tho overall for the year he deserves the title, his drive at Singapore proves that once again he’s been the best driver all year, also, with him taking the title (which he should from here) then Bernie’s “medals system” is irrelevant as with most seasons, winningest driver ends up as the champion

    • A “champions drive” would lift some of the negative comments about his form. But to be honest he’s had quite a few this year already. If he had done the season performances the other way round, people would be calling it an immense comeback and awesome.

      People seem to loose track that Button v Barrichello is 10-4 (or 9-3 removing retirements)

      • RedBullRacer said on 1st October 2009, 9:39

        It’s true that Button has largely outperformed Barrichello but you can’t deny that his form in the latter half of the season has been comparatively poor, particularly when you look at what he achieved in the first seven races.
        Personally I’m not a Button fan and would rather see Rubens finally win a WDC, but if Button’s going to win it then I at least hope he does so by winning another couple of races rather than shuffling to victory on the back of his early-season form.
        If he’s going to be champion then I want to see him drive like a champion again.

        • Dougie said on 1st October 2009, 13:01

          Buttons dip has been in Qualifying rather than the race. Considering his start position has has mainly brought it home with a solid drive into the points, with some great first lap moves and ultimately getting it past Rubinho as well.

          If Jens can produce the speed when he needs it in Qualy then it would certainly make his charge for the title a shed load easier.

          Personally, I’m hoping for a commanding Button victory at what is widely accepted as a true drivers circuit. Like that probably sealing the title and putting silent all those nay sayers! It’ll be tough though as this is not a Brawn circuit being more suited to RB and Ferrari as stated already.

          • Antifia said on 1st October 2009, 17:39

            I have nothing against Jenson – he seems to be a nice bloke. But why rating his performance above what it really is? What was so special about his drive in Singapore? He started 11th (?), got two positions before the race started from Kimi and Heidfeld, benefited from the penalties of Webber and Rorsberg and got two postions in the last pitstops because Barrichello and Kovi were brought in ridiculously early (as always, the bad strategy is certain to be allocated to Rubens). Oh, he drove fast those few laps before he pitted…Don’t all drivers do it all the time when they go longer? And what about the argument that if the results had been in reverse, it would have been the best comeback ever? But they didn’t! He won his races when Brawn was leagues above everybody else, after that he hasn’t got any decent shot at winning – Barrichello did (twice). And before I forget: I really don’t rate Barrichello. Outperforming him doesn’t mean much.

          • TommyB said on 1st October 2009, 18:06

            It would be a shame for the championship to end with Button just cruising to 5th place every race. Hopefully we’ll see some good racing.

            Suzuka should be great. Its a proper circuit.

          • Dougie said on 1st October 2009, 22:08

            Well firstly, in the first 7 races of the year the Brawn was not the fastest car. They just made the least mistakes. If you don’t believe me study the lap charts across the whole weekend.

            In Singapore Button had to get past Nakajima and did, had to put in some fast laps when it mattered and he did. Okay so he benefited from the decision to stay out at the second crash, but don’t forget he lost out big time at the first crash.

            Button won 6 out of the first 7 races, the Brawn was faster you say? So why wasn’t Barrichello second 6 out of 7, or why didn’t Rubinho win at least one??

            No doubt you rate Hamilton and his championship last year… Lewis is a great driver no doubt, but last year was won by he who didn’t succeed in throwing it away, and they were both trying hard… although in Massa’s case it was Ferrari, for Lewis it was the driver. The Championship is won, and richly deserved, by he who scores the most points… don’t be-little Buttons championship challenge from the comfort of your own armchair, with next to no experience of what it is to be a Formula 1 driver.

            If he wins, he deserved it 100%

          • Antifia said on 2nd October 2009, 13:03

            “Brawn was not the fastest car”.. What are you talking about? Brawn was the best car and the fact that Button was getting all the poles shows that (he can’t even get to Q3 nowadays). Besides, one looks at lap charts when it matters – i.e. qualifying and race. Regarding Rubens’ performance, what part of “I don’t rate Rubens” you don’t understand? Finally, in relation to the “don’t be-little Button’s achievement from the confort of your arm-chair” comment, well, get real. Who do you think these drivers are? Holly-men? Are they striving to get the cure for cancer or something? The whole thing is part of the entertainment industry and I’ll be the judge of who entertains me skillfully or not.

          • Dougie said on 2nd October 2009, 13:22

            LOL!! You’ve taken my “don’t belittle” statement totally out of context, I don’t see the word “Achievement” any where in my last post. I don’t know about “getting real” but I think you may need to calm down a wee bit :-)

            Formula 1 is first and foremost a sport, whose entertainment value has been destroyed in the name of entertainment. Button and the other drivers are not doing this to entertain you, that is just a by product (and a sad one at that these days), they are doing this for their own selfish desires.

            If Button wins the championship this year by scoring the most points (or, if Bernie had his way, Button would be champion already with the most wins) then he got it done when it mattered and richly deserves the title World Champion. Great names like Fangio, Andretti, Senna, Prost, Schumacher etc etc all won their championships with a superior car for the entirety of the championship, if Button manages it with a superior car (by your definition) for only the first handful of races that makes (in my view) his Championship equally if not more deserved.

          • Antifia said on 2nd October 2009, 15:56

            Ok Dougie..perhaps I came out a bit too hash. Sorry about that – I have to say that when I read a comment on the lines that since I am not an F1 driver I cannot have a meaninfull opinion about it, I tend to “see things red”. Returning the the subject, however, I’ll desagree with you about the purpose (and lifeline) of the sport – I do think that the main rason-de-etre of F1 is entertaining us. Concerning Button, I do think that his title would have had much more meaning if he had had some sort of strong competition – either from a strong teamate or from a driver of another team with comparable equipment. The fact that he hadn’t and that his career up to 2009 was rather lackluster does detract from his achievement this year in my opinion – see that Mansel won his title in similar circunstances, but at least he had by then a very strong CV. His title was somewhat overdue while this is not the impression I have about Button.

  5. esbeone said on 1st October 2009, 8:48

    Kimi :” Magnificent at Suzuka in 2005 “.

    That was a great race to watch with Fisi overtaken in the last lap. What a performance !
    I think Kimi is going to do a strong race on this kind of track. He doesnt like street circuits but fast ones like Spa. With the ferrari loving high speed corners he will be on top.
    Furthermore kers will help him in the end of 2nd sector ;after spoon, in the straight ; and sector3;through 130R as its full throttle.

  6. Timo Glock HAS raced at Suzuka – for Jordan in 2004. So there are only 7 drivers who have never raced it.

  7. Gill said on 1st October 2009, 9:39

    Who can forget Alonso’s pass to Schumi at 180 miles/hr. That was the most brilliant pass I have ever seen.

    • patrickl said on 1st October 2009, 10:26

      That was the most brilliant Ferrari too.

    • David A said on 1st October 2009, 10:55

      If that was the most brilliant pass you’ve ever seen, you fell asleep before the final lap.

      • TommyB said on 1st October 2009, 18:07

        Suzuka 2005 was the best race I have ever seen. Incredible.

        Makes you think about reverse grids :P But that would be too fake

      • Gagan said on 1st October 2009, 18:57

        Now I seriously doubt ur intelligence. Either u rate Fisichella and Schumi equally or u certainly doubt Kimi’s abilities. Schumi n a slow ferrari would be much faster than Fisi in a fast Renault and I think noone can deny that. DAVID COULTAHRD, use brains not dont be emotional

    • Jonathan said on 1st October 2009, 11:10

      Overrated.

      Schumacher’s Ferrari on the Bridgestones was vastly outpaced by Alonso’s Renault on Michelins. Schumacher knew this and backed off.

      As a result, it looks like Alonso is lapping him.

      • Gagan said on 1st October 2009, 18:51

        what if that pass was made by Kimi, then people like u and david would have said that its a great pass. Anyone can pass a slower car but it needs guts and self belief to pass a 7 times champion from the outside without lifitng foot from throttle. Try and appreciate good racing and dont be a blind eyed fan.

  8. Can anyone tell me why this track was removed for 2 years? Were they working on the track or?

    Really looking forward to it though.

    • indeed, why??? i’ve been waiting all year for this! finally we’re here. hope the race is as good as 05 (although i doubt i’ll ever see another race that good). the race can be boring as anything and i’ll still love it. suzuka is just awesome.

    • Harv's said on 1st October 2009, 11:00

      it had a huge up grade, new pits new surface!
      new new new!

    • Jonathan said on 1st October 2009, 11:16

      Ask Bernie.

      Toyota own Fuji Speedway and wanted to host a GP there. So they lobbied Bernie and reached a deal.

      Thankfully sanity has been restored and we now have the great Suzuka again.

      • Robert said on 1st October 2009, 13:15

        It is nothing quite so sinister. Honda needed to do a set of upgrades to the pit and paddock complex, so that meant no racing in 2007 and 2008. In order to keep the Japanese GP around, Toyota and Fuji were available, so they filled the gap.

    • Hey dude find an original name K is taken already.

  9. antonyob said on 1st October 2009, 11:02

    It was probably removed because Bernie didnt like the helipads at Suzuka.

    I think people should ease up on JB. If you had been driving in f1 for 9 yrs with hardly a sniff of a win let alone a WDC then you’d be feeling the pressure to. In Singapore he kept his nerve whilst most around him lost there’s. He has lost some outright pace but im not sure that was ever his strongest suit anyway; he’s never in FA or LH’s class (who is?) but hes a fine driver -you dont get paid mega bucks in F1 if you’re not

  10. Suzuka ’05 is one of the best races I’ve ever seen – both Kimi and Alonso charging from the back, Alonso’s pass on Schumi around the outside of 130R (tyre problem or not that took balls), Fisi self destructing in the last stint, and as an Aussie seeing Webbo put one over Button in the final pitstop.

    This year will be interesting. RBR should have the upper hand (Am I the only one wondering why they went back to the pre-Silverstone nose for Spa and Monza?) and Force India should also be quick. Maybe another chance for Webber to win? If RBR are 1-2 though they might do a Ferrari and get Vettel in front – makes sense. Brawn would be happy with a 4th-6th place for Jense.

    The last of the four proper F1 tracks!

  11. Mussolini's Pet Cat said on 1st October 2009, 11:40

    For all you residents of Britian, I implore you to tune into the Beeb’s red button channels and watch the classic Suzuka races being shown at the moment… Once watched, you’ll agree the Herman Tilke tracks should be ripped up. F1 needs tracks like Suzuka, Spa & Silverstone for it to survive.

  12. antonyob said on 1st October 2009, 11:53

    crown jewels

    spa
    suzuka
    silverstone
    Montreal

    clown fools

    hungary
    both spanish circuits
    singapore
    monaco (it’ll never happen)

    • Steph90 said on 1st October 2009, 12:07

      I don’t mind Hungary just wish it was wider, that said I wouldn’t really care if we lost it. Monaco is usually only good if it is wet, Singapore could be quite good I feel if it is given a chance and some changes are made. Spanish circuits are boring though.
      Antonyob I would put Monza as a ‘jewel’ and I adore Interlagos. I hope Imola comes back.

      • GeeMac said on 1st October 2009, 13:12

        Imola doesn’t have the same appeal since they butchered it after the 94 San Marino GP.

        It is such a shame they changed Tamburello and Villenueve into slow chicanes. They could have just pushed the barriers further back and put in wider run off areas, but what’s done is done I guess. The enviro hippies probably would have had a baby if you had to cut down a tree in the name of driver safety.

        One weekend cost us a genius behind the wheel and a gem of a circuit.

    • Agree with adding Monza but I’d leave out Montreal. Montreal is good but not on the same level as the others, for me it’s in the Albert Park/Interlagos class good but not great. Also Monaco is usually a good race even if it doesn’t seem to suit a modern F1 car s*** always seems to go down, you really can’t add it to a list that includes Singapore and Valencia that’s just ridiculous.

    • ronmon said on 1st October 2009, 16:06

      I pretty much agree with your track ratings, with a couple exceptions.

      Monaco, for it’s history and lack of forgiveness. There is no passing, of course, but you need large appendages and no mistakes to win there.

      The only two F1 races that I’ve attended were at Montreal in the mid ’80s. It’s a great track, but there is nowhere that you can sit and see more than two corners (I sat near the hairpin both times). On TV is much better than in person.

      I think I’d add Nurburgring, even though it has been neutered a bit.

  13. LewisC said on 1st October 2009, 12:06

    I’m looking forward to seeing the classic Suzuka races when I get home tonight… it’s my favourite F1 track bar none. Shame I can’t Sky+ the red button :D
    I agree that the Red Bull should be great here, but there are question marks: Vettel is running out of engines, so won’t get much practice and time to get used to the place… and the long drag up the hill from Spoon to the chicane via 130R may put a strain on the Renault engine.
    McLaren should be better than they were at Silverstone, but overall I expect Raikonnen to win: KERS out of Spoon and the chicane, he loves the place, and the Ferrari is good in the quick corners.

  14. Suzuka is awesome, it was indeed a shame that 130R got neutered, but Spoon is still Spoon and the same goes for the rest of the track. How does Tilke get it so consistently wrong?

    Let’s not forget though despite it being “a kart track laid out in a car park” Fuji gave us two great action packed races, you can’t deny that. I’m not saying I’d rather see Fuji over Suzuka, I wouldn’t, but the two Grand Prix we had there were really good and I think that deserves to be acknowledged. They were much better races than say Singapore or Valencia or even the Circuit de Catalunya. I know all drivers love Suzuka but remember F1 isn’t only for the enjoyment of 20 privileged Super License holders.

    That said I am glad that Suzuka is back, the best have always excelled there and I’m sure we’ll see the same this time around. It’s an immense track to watch an F1 car drive around, even on TV, it’s especially great to see a driver really on the limit for a whole lap, Schumacher and Senna come to mind, I think Hamilton is the kind of driver who can achieve that also so it will interesting to see him there.

  15. Hope that Kimi will nail it… Suzuka is the “BIG BOYS” track…

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