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. John H said on 1st October 2009, 14:02

    Strangely, this race is perfect for Jenson, not because he has a chance of winning but because the Red Bulls will be miles quicker than anything else and limit any damage Rubens may inflict.

    The championship will be won in interlagos in my opnion, everyone will say well done Jenson but you haven’t won a race in a while… and then he’ll win at Abu Dhabi.

    • Mussolini's Pet Cat said on 1st October 2009, 14:12

      What relevence is it that Button hasnt ‘won in a while’? What is relevent is that he’s won 6 races so far. Hamilton by contrast, ‘only’ won 5 in 08.

      • steph90 said on 1st October 2009, 14:24

        I don’t care who wins really, just who delivers a spectacular performance and Jenson is failing on that front imo

        • patrickl said on 1st October 2009, 15:23

          Did you miss the fact that Buton score 6 wins?

          That’s pretty spectacular by any standard.

          • steph90 said on 1st October 2009, 16:06

            I know I meant since then when the Brawn has been suffering Barrichello has clearly been ahead of him and he hasn’t delivered anything special.

          • Dougie said on 1st October 2009, 22:11

            I know I meant since then when the Brawn has been suffering Barrichello has clearly been ahead of him and he hasn’t delivered anything special.

            Which is why he continues to command the championship while those around him produce sterling performances I guess… oh!!…

      • Hakka said on 1st October 2009, 14:33

        Agreed (@Mussolini). The poor drivers can’t win either way it seems.

        If drivers perform poorly in the first half and then perform well in the second half of their championship bid, they are deemed to have “been lucky” to come from behind, and to have won only because the opposition dropped the ball in the second half.

        If drivers perform well in the first half and then perform poorly in the second half, they are deemed to have “faded” and it is said that they do not deserve the championship.

        With in-season development, it is rare to see one driver dominate all parts of a season.

        Fans should give drivers a break – the driver with the most number of points at the end of the day wins and deserves it.

    • John H said on 1st October 2009, 17:23

      to quote myself:

      everyone will say well done Jenson but you haven’t won a race in a while…

      I’m not saying I’d think that by the way… I’m just pointing out it might happen if he doesn’t finish strongly at the end of the season – and I think he will have a strong finish.

      For sure, Jenson is a deserving champion.

  2. f1aroo said on 1st October 2009, 15:30

    seems to me that Jensen is learning from Lewis’s mistake in 07 of trying too hard to win a race instead of doing what’s necessary to clinch the championship. The picture of LH stranded in the gravel in China is probably forefront in Jensen’s brain. To be 17 points ahead with two races to go and then beach it just because you always want to win…stupid, stupid. Jensen is being careful; maybe a little toooo careful, but careful

  3. steph90 said on 1st October 2009, 16:13

    Or maybe he’s all out of answers on track…

  4. steph90 said on 1st October 2009, 16:14

    Hard on truck drivers too…

    A transport container carrying eight BMW formula one engines has been dropped at the Suzuka circuit.
    Auto Motor und Sport magazine reports that the engines were to be used in Friday practice by Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, as well as being potential replacement units in the event of engine failures.
    It is reported that the engines to be used in the race by the BMW-Sauber drivers were not in the affected container.
    On the way into the paddock at the Japanese GP venue, the container reportedly fell off a truck after it grazed a bridge.
    “It was the worst damage (to F1 equipment) that we’ve ever seen,” team boss Mario Theissen is quoted as saying.
    Inside the container, the crates which enclosed the engines were destroyed, but the engines not obviously damaged.
    “What I am most worried about are the valve trains,” said admitted

  5. There have been many many technical upgrades across the field since Spa, and it is therefore difficult to make any meaningful assertions about who will be quick.

    BMW has a brand new car and may shock. McLaren’s car has extensively evolved as well, still has KERS, and still has a quick madman at the wheel. Toyota has everything on the line now, with their fate hanging by a thread, and have been shockingly quick when they hit their sweet spot. For the team, and for Trulli, who watches his former teammates go to his national team while his career fades away, this is their occaision if they will rise to it.

    The only car we know will turn up in Spa form is the Ferrari, which will be piloted by a sacked driver and a retiree.

  6. F1Fan said on 1st October 2009, 17:51

    I think Vettel will be the man to beat here. If RBR were so quick in Singapore, imagine what the should be able to do on this track.

  7. Suzuka is a rollercoaster – by comparison, Fuji was a kart track laid out in a car park.

    Summed it up perfectly there Keith. :D

  8. hunnylander said on 1st October 2009, 21:11

    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.

    9, 7

  9. erturista said on 1st October 2009, 23:46

    am I the only one able to count up to 7? :) ok let’s remove Glock that already raced there…

    The other six are Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Romain Grosjean, Timo Glock, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and home driver Kazuki Nakajima.

  10. erturista said on 1st October 2009, 23:47

    hunnylander,

    I swear I read the first 200 posts, but not the last one, sorry :)

  11. ajokay said on 2nd October 2009, 17:03

    I can’t see how the pit-lane exit has changed, It still comes out onto the end of the start/finish straight, before the first corner, like it always has.

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