This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix marks the 25th anniversary of Suzuka’s first world championship race. Since then almost every Japanese Grand Prix has been held on the flowing figure-of-eight course which has consistently been among the drivers’ favourites.
Although Japanese interest in the shape of Honda, Toyota and Bridgestone are gone, Japan currently has one of its most exciting F1 prospects ever in Kamui Kobayashi.
“Suzuka is a very special place,” he said. “I?óÔé¼Ôäóm sure a lot of drivers would agree it is a really great circuit.
“It is a very technical track, really exciting to drive and challenging, especially because it is so difficult to put a perfect lap together there. I would say at most of the circuits it takes no more than 20-30 laps to really learn them. Some are getting boring even before that, but in Suzuka you are still learning and improving after you have done hundreds of laps.”
Suzuka circuit information
|Lap length||5.807km (3.608 miles)|
|Distance||53 laps (307.5km/191.1 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’31.540 (Kimi Raikkonen, 2005)|
|Fastest lap||1’28.954 (Michael Schumacher, 2006)|
|Tyres||Hard and Soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
Suzuka’s many high-speed corners make it a punishing track for tyres. Pirelli will bring its hard and soft compounds for this race, where the medium and soft were used last year.
“While it might at first seem from the names of the compounds that we are bringing harder tyres to Japan this year, in fact they are softer,” explained Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery.
“Despite the increased demands that this places on the compound and structure, they are still more than capable of withstanding the immense forces to which they are subjected lap after lap. With a full step between the compounds as well, we hope this will bring extra performance and excitement to what is already a classic race.”
Japanese Grand Prix team-by-team preview
In his three appearances at this track, Sebastian Vettel has never failed to start from pole position. Nine thousandths of a second was the slender margin between him and Jenson Button last year, and the McLarens will surely give Red Bull considerable opposition again this weekend.
Last year Vettel stayed his hand in the fight for victory as he sought to guarantee his second world championship. This year a win would put him within striking distance of Fernando Alonso in the points standings.
On his return to Suzuka Vettel intends to take the win that eluded him last time: “I wish I had won in 2011, it was my third Formula One race on my favourite track and it still bothers me a bit that I took my world title with a third place,” he said.
Team mate Mark Webber, however, is looking for a way back into contention after a string of results which just seem to get worse. He has failed to score in the last two races.
Lewis Hamilton begins his final half-dozen races for McLaren at a track which he, like most drivers, relishes.
He has vowed it’s “gloves off” in the championship contest and any thought of driving conservatively will banished as he stares at a 52-point deficit to Alonso. He needs to make serious inroads on that lead here to keep the Ferrari driver within reach.
Button’s victory in last year’s race was an emotional achievement for him in a country he is especially fond of, coming so soon after the devastation wrought by last year’s tsunami and earthquake. But facing a five-place penalty due to a gearbox change, his chances of a repeat win have already taken a knock.
The team’s decision to discard the high-downforce wing they brought for the Singapore Grand Prix was a reminder of the difficulties they faced at the start of the season getting the F2012’s aerodynamics right.
The subsequent news that they have taken their wind tunnel off-line, in a bid to get to the bottom of problems correlating the data it produces with what they observe in the real world, shows that all is still not right at the Ferrari factory.
But Alonso keeps plugging away and bringing home the solid points scores which look increasingly like adding up to a world championship. Singapore was his eighth podium finish of the year, two more than anyone else has managed.
Question marks remain over who will be his team mate in 2013. It’s rare for the season to reach this late stage without Ferrari having confirmed their line-up for next year, which indicates the difficulty they’re having trying to choose between keeping Felipe Massa for one more year or appointing a replacement.
Nico Rosberg’s fifth place in the race showed the team had made progress with the upgrades they tested at Magny-Cours. Their performance in the final races will be under even greater scrutiny as they await the arrival of Hamilton next year.
Kimi Raikkonen remains in championship contention, 45 points behind Alonso having finished in the top ten in each of the last 11 races.
Force India have looked increasingly strong since the summer break – a well-timed resurgence with their home race coming up soon.
Beating Sauber, who are 26 points ahead, still looks like a stretch. But fourth places for their drivers in Belgium (Nico Hulkenberg) and Singapore (Paul di Resta) have strengthened their advantage over Williams.
“Suzuka has never been our best track,” admitted owner Vijay Mallya, “but hopefully this time the team has something up its sleeve.”
“I think we have been pretty consistent on most tracks this season so we are quietly confident that we can perform well this weekend.”
A repeat of his front row start at Spa – minus the unfortunate lap one assault from an airborne Romain Grosjean – would certainly go down well here.
Team mate Sergio Perez had an excellent run to eighth here last year despite being unwell, and even wound up his team by telling them his car had died as he drove towards the finishing line. Hopefully his next team will also appreciate his sense of humour.
Suzuka is a tough challenge for any rookie and Daniel Ricciardo’s prior experienced at the track should give him a useful advantage over Jean-Eric Vergne this weekend.
While the FW34 is clearly a much more competitive car than the one it replaced, Williams find themselves just one place higher in the constructors’ championship than they were at the end of last year.
A double retirement in Singapore didn’t help matters and the team say they have focused on improving reliability since then. “Given the excellent pace shown at Singapore in both qualifying and the race, we expect to be strong in Suzuka and will bring further updates as part of our continuous improvement process,” said chief operations engineer Mark Gillan.
Pedro de la Rosa has never scored at Suzuka and that is unlikely to change this weekend. Nonetheless he has positive recollections of his time at the track:
“I?óÔé¼Ôäóve got great memories of it because my first victories in Formula Three and Formula 3000 came there and it?óÔé¼Ôäós one of the tracks which has brought me most luck in my career because by winning there the doors to Formula One opened.”
Having scored the team’s best-ever result in Singapore, Timo Glock is hoping for more progress this weekend:
“For this race we again have a couple of new developments on the car suited to this track, and I am hoping we will see another step forward and an even better chance of fighting with our immediate competitors and further closing the gap to the front of the field.”
2012 driver form
|Q avg||R avg||R best||R worst||Classified||Form guide|
|Sebastian Vettel||4.86||5.38||1||22||13/14||Form guide|
|Mark Webber||7.43||6.64||1||20||14/14||Form guide|
|Jenson Button||6.21||8.08||1||18||13/14||Form guide|
|Lewis Hamilton||4.79||5.45||1||19||11/14||Form guide|
|Fernando Alonso||6.21||3.62||1||9||13/14||Form guide|
|Felipe Massa||10.79||9.69||4||16||13/14||Form guide|
|Michael Schumacher||8.21||7.14||3||10||7/14||Form guide|
|Nico Rosberg||8.79||7.86||1||15||14/14||Form guide|
|Kimi Raikkonen||8.14||5.29||2||14||14/14||Form guide|
|Romain Grosjean||6.92||6.13||2||18||8/13||Form guide|
|Paul di Resta||10.93||9.15||4||14||13/14||Form guide|
|Nico Hulkenberg||12.29||10.92||4||21||13/14||Form guide|
|Kamui Kobayashi||11||10.09||4||18||11/14||Form guide|
|Sergio Perez||12.93||7.91||2||14||11/14||Form guide|
|Daniel Ricciardo||13.93||12.46||9||17||13/14||Form guide|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||16.57||12.73||8||16||11/14||Form guide|
|Pastor Maldonado||10.93||12.1||1||19||10/14||Form guide|
|Bruno Senna||14.57||12.38||6||22||13/14||Form guide|
|Heikki Kovalainen||18.14||16.77||13||23||13/14||Form guide|
|Vitaly Petrov||18.64||16.55||13||19||11/14||Form guide|
|Pedro de la Rosa||21.77||19.45||17||22||11/13||Form guide|
|Narain Karthikeyan||23.08||20.13||15||23||8/13||Form guide|
|Timo Glock||20.62||17.17||12||22||12/13||Form guide|
|Charles Pic||21.29||17.91||15||20||11/14||Form guide|
|Jerome D’Ambrosio||15||13||13||13||1/1||Form guide|
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2012 Japanese Grand Prix
- Kobayashi edges Vettel for top Japanese GP driver
- Rate the race result: 2012 Japanese Grand Prix
- Grosjean: ‘The team’s not happy and I’m not happy’
- No apology needed from Raikkonen – Alonso
- F1 fans’ videos from the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix
Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty images