The last week has been all about action on the F1 driver market, so it’s a relief in many ways to be returning to some action on the track.
And what better venue to demonstrate great driver and car combinations than Suzuka, long-time home of the Japanese Grand Prix, which is this weekend’s destination for the F1 travelling circus…
Let’s take a look at the RichardsF1.com Japanese Grand Prix Preview…
|Date:||05-07 October 2012|
|Venue:||Suzuka International Circuit, Suzuka, Japan|
|Race Lap Record:||1:31.540, Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes MP4-20) – 2005|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00|
|Race (53 laps, 307.471km)||Sun 15:00-17:00|
|Past Winners:||Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes MP4-26)||2011|
|Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB6)*||2010|
|Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB5)*||2009|
|Fernando Alonso (Renault R28)||2008#|
|Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-22)*||2007#|
|Fernando Alonso (Renault R26)||2006|
|Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes MP4-20)||2005|
|Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004)*||2004|
|Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari F2003-GA)*||2003|
|Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2002)*||2002|
* Denotes victory from pole position
# Denotes race held at Fuji
The Honda-owned Suzuka circuit has enjoyed hosting the Japanese Grand Prix ever since 1987 (bar a brief excursion to the Fuji International circuit in the late 2000s), and every driver looks forward to the challenges that this unique venue poses.
One of the few figure-of-eight circuits in the world, Suzuka is the only one of this configuration on the F1 calendar, and remains a supreme test of driver skill, right up there with the likes of Spa-Francorchamps.
Penned by Zandvoort designer John Hugenholtz, the narrow, undulating circuit features virtually ever type of corner imaginable.
It opens with a seemingly never-ending series of S-bends in the first sector, which are among the most demanding sequence of corners on the F1 calendar. Exiting the long Dunlop left-hander, the drivers have to hop the kerbs over the Degner right-handers before sweeping under the cross-over bridge and into the tight left-hand hairpin.
Exiting this, drivers are then tested with a long right-hander before swinging left into the Spoon Curve that feeds onto the back straight. The final test of the lap comes with the 130R left-hander – much of its challenge has been nullified with ongoing safety modifications – before the drivers stand on the anchors for the Casio Triangle, a fiddly right-left chicane that marks one of the few true overtaking points on the circuit
Let’s take a look at our Suzuka Circuit Guide:
The History Bit
With its late-season slot often meaning that it plays host to championship deciders, Suzuka is often synonymous with action, and certainly a bit of controversy since it made its debut on the F1 calendar in 1987.
Picking our five most memorable Suzuka moments has been a tough ask. Here they are:
1989: The feud between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna came to a flashpoint during the championship-deciding Japanese Grand Prix. The McLaren team-mates were the only ones in the title hunt: Prost simply needed to finish ahead of Senna to claim the title, while Senna needed to win to keep the battle alive to the season-ending Australian Grand Prix. With the pair running 1-2, Senna attempted a pass on Prost at the Casio Chicane, but Prost closed the door and the pair collided. Prost climbed out, while Senna was disqualified for receiving assistance from the marshals to rejoin the race.
1990: After their contretemps at the previous year’s race, the battle between Prost and Senna was on again. This time Senna got revenge by deliberately ramming the Frenchman (now driving for Ferrari) off at Turn 1 on the opening lap to win his second Drivers’ Championship. Nelson Piquet came through to claim Benetton’s first 1-2, while Aguri Suzuki delighted home fans with third place in his Larrousse.
1994: Another crucial championship round, which saw Damon Hill keep his championship battle with Michael Schumacher alive until the following Australian Grand Prix. The Williams driver mastered some of the worst conditions ever seen to win a two-part race from Schumacher, narrowing the points’ gap between the pair to just a single point.
2000: With Mika Häkkinen having secured successive championship crowns with wins in his McLaren in 1998 and 1999 to see off the challenge of the Ferraris, Michael Schumacher finally got his revenge with a win to claim Ferrari’s first World Championship since 1979 and deny the Finn an historic threepeat.
2005: Suzuka has never enjoyed a reputation for overtaking, but the 2005 race was a magnificent exception. A rain-hit qualifying session completely shuffled the grid, and Kimi Raikkonen charged through from 17th on the grid to claim victory on the last lap of the race. Phew!
Suzuka Talking Points
So what do the RichardsF1.com readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
The Form Guide
When we headed into Suzuka last year, all Sebastian Vettel had to do was collect a single point to successfully defend his Drivers’ Championship crown. This year, Vettel has considerably more work to do in a Red Bull that’s not shown itself to be a pack leader on too many occasions.
While Suzuka has generally been a circuit where the Red Bulls have been rapid and Vettel is arriving on the back of a welcome win at Suzuka, the same cannot be said for the other half of the garage. Since announcing his re-signing with the team after his British Grand Prix win way back in July, Mark Webber’s results have absolutely tanked and he’s tumbled down the championship order. For a man who was touted as a likely champion in 2012, he’s hardly looked like one in the past few months – he must win here – and dominantly – to have any hopes of remaining in the hunt.
Shuffle one garage either side, and you have chaos and intrigue at both Ferrari and McLaren. The former is suffering the most minor of slips in pace after a sensational mid-season with Fernando Alonso, while the latter is facing the prospect of trying to win a Drivers and Constructors’ title with its main points-scorer set to jump ship to Mercedes.
Both teams have serious form here – McLaren is the defending race-winner and looking in the best shape to finally break its Constructors’ Championship drought that has lasted since 1998 – and it should again be a close battle.
And don’t discount the likes of Lotus, Mercedes and Sauber, whose cars and driver pairings all have the potential to be competing near the pointy end of the field.
Lotus and Mercedes are finally expected to be running their passive double-DRS systems, which should make them mightily quick through Suzuka’s sweeps, while the higher-speed nature of the Japanese circuit should come as a welcome reprieve for Sauber after such a disastrous showing last time out at the ‘point and squirt’ Singapore.
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The fifteenth round round of the 2012 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!
The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!
You can view the latest Predictions Competition ranking right here.
There were more changes in the points table following the Singapore Grand Prix round, and the overall winner’s title remains open to many people to claim. Again, we’ll be awarding a prize to this weekend’s highest points-scorer (before ‘double up). Will it be you?
To enter your predictions, click here.
As always, RichardsF1.com will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Japanese Grand Prix fix!