Preview: Japanese Grand Prix, Round 15 at Suzuka
3 October, 2012
Oct.3 (FIA) After the bright lights of the Singapore Grand Prix and a win for Sebastian Vettel that reignites the defending champion’s challenge for the 2012 drivers’ title, Formula One continues its Far-Eastern trek with a visit to one of the sport’s truly classic circuits – Suzuka in Japan.
Designed by John Hugenholtz, the superb figure-8 circuit is the only one of its kind on the calendar and is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary. In that time it has seen some remarkable races and as the battle for both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships hots up, this year is sure to be no exception.
Suzuka sets a stern challenge for both man and machine. Featuring a blend of low, medium and high-speed turns, as well rapid changes of direction, it’s not only a thrilling lap for the drivers but also a huge technical challenge and hooking up a perfect lap here is a feat that often separates the great from the merely good.
That challenge extends to the engineers too. Setting up a car to cope with the swift changes of direction through the “Esses”, the long arcs of the Dunlop and Spoon curves, the high-speed blast of the fearsome 130R and the heavy-braking, slow-speed hairpin and Casio Triangle chicane is a complex task and, again, making the right compromises at the right time marks the difference between a good and a great weekend.
Sebastian Vettel experienced one of those great weekends last year. The German may have raced to third from pole but the podium finish handed him a second title. A year on and the Red Bull Racing driver is now firmly back in contention for a third crown after winning in Singapore a fortnight ago.
The victory sees him arrive in Japan just 29 points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso who has 194 points. In the Constructors’ Championship Red Bull continue to lead, with 297 points, though their lead over McLaren has been chopped from 53 points after the Hungarian GP to just 36 points as we head into Round 15 of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Suzuka Circuit Data
- Length of lap: 5.807km
- Lap record: 1:31.540 (Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren, 2005)
- Start line/finish line offset: 0.300km
- Total number of race laps: 53
- Total race distance: 307.471km
- Pitlane speed limits: 60km/h during practice and qualifying, 100km/h during the race
Changes to the circuit since 2011
- The whole West Course (from turn 7 until after the chicane) has been resurfaced.
- New storm water drainage systems have been installed around the newly resurfaced section of track.
- The DRS Zone is 20m shorter this year. The detection zone is 50m before Turn 16 and the activation zone is at the Control Line after Turn 18.
Japanese Grand Prix Fast Facts
- Pirelli will this weekend bring its Silver-banded Hard tyre and the Yellow-striped Soft compound. Both variants offer pace but more importantly they have the durability needed for what is quite an abrasive track surface.
- Of the 27 Japanese Grands Prix held to date, Suzuka has hosted all but four. The first two were held at the Fuji International Speedway, as were the 2007-’08 races, but then Fuji owners Toyota pulled out of hosting the event and the race returned to its spiritual home of Suzuka.
- Michael Schumacher is without doubt the most successful driver here with a staggering six Japanese Grand Prix wins (1995, ’97, 2000-’02 and 2004) to his credit. His nearest rivals are all stuck on two wins apiece. Double winners include Gerhard Berger, Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen. From the current grid Fernando Alonso (2006, ’08) and Sebastian Vettel (2009-’10) have also won twice here.
- The Japanese Grand Prix hasn’t been a particularly happy hunting ground for home-grown drivers, however. Over the course of 27 races, Japanese drivers have scored just 22 points. Satoru Nakajima finished sixth in 1987 and 1989 to bag a total of two points under the scoring rules in effect at the time. Aguri Suzuki became the first Japanese driver on the podium in 1990, taking four points for the third place under the same rules and Kamui Kobayashi grabbed six points under the current scoring rules with seventh place in 2010. Takuma Sato is the country’s most consistently successful racer at this race, finishing fifth in 2002, sixth in 2003 and fourth in 2004 for a total of 10 points.
- The 1989 race is remembered as one of F1’s most controversial. A tumultuous rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost reached boiling point here when the pair collided at the final chicane. Prost was forced to retire, while Senna kept going. He overhauled Alessandro Nannini for the lead and claimed victory. The Brazilian was, however, disqualified afterwards for missing the chicane and Prost won the title, much to Senna’s disgust. It was Nannini’s only F1 win.
- The feud between the pair continued the following year, only this time the collision occurred at turn one. The accident handed the Brazilian his second world title.
- The first Japanese team to take part in its home race wasn’t a big gun such as Honda but the tiny privateer outfit Kojima, which lined up for the inaugural race at Fuji in 1976. The car, the KE007, was driven by Masahiro Hasemi and the team finished 11th. Compatriot outfit Maki had attempted to start grands prix before but had never succeeded in qualifying for a championship round. That pattern continue at Fuji in ’76 when Tony Trimmer failed to qualify its F102A car. It was the team’s final Formula One event.
Race Stewards Biographies
- Swede Lars Österlind is a highly experienced FIA steward, who has officiated at more than 100 grands prix and a similar number of World Rally Championship rounds. A social sciences graduate and lifelong motor sport enthusiast, Österlind was President of the Swedish Rally Commission from 1978-1982, then President of the Swedish Automobile Sport Federation from 1982-1996. He became honorary president in 1996 and has been a member of the FIA World Council since 1984. Outside motor sport Österlind has specialised in management, working as a management consultant and pursuing his own business interests. He is also experienced in local government at city council level.
- Italian-born Vincenzo Spano grew up in Venezuela, where he went on to study at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, becoming an attorney-at-law. Spano has wide-ranging experience in motorsport, from national to international level. He has worked for the Touring y Automóvil Club de Venezuela since 1991, and served as President of the Sporting Commission since 2001. He was president for two terms and now sits as member of the Board of the Nacam-FIA zone. Since 1995 Spano has been a licenced steward and obtained his FIA steward superlicence in 2003.Spano has been involved with the FIA and FIA Institute in various roles since 2001: a member of the World Motor Sport Council, the FIA Committee, and the executive committee of the FIA Institute.
- Derek Warwick makes his second appearance as an FIA driver steward this season here in Japan, having adjudicated at the German GP in July. Warwick raced in 146 grands prix, from 1981 to 1993, for Toleman, Renault, Brabham, Arrows and Lotus. He scored 71 points and achieved four podium finishes, with two fastest laps. He was World Sportscar Champion in 1992, driving for Peugeot. He also won Le Mans in the same year. Warwick raced Jaguar sportscars in 1986 and 1991. Warwick competed in the British Touring Car Championship in 1995, 1997 and 1998, as well as making one more appearance at the Le Mans in 1996, driving for the Courage Competition team.