Suzuka Hosts Japanese Grand Prix
SUZUKA, Japan — Following a thrilling and hard fought race in Korea, the F-1 teams have packed up and made the short trip to Japan and the mighty Suzuka circuit, home of the FIA Formula One Japanese Grand Prix, the 15th round of the 2013 World Championship.
Suzuka is a firm favorite with drivers. The circuit deliver thrills, with part of the allure being the level of risk a fast lap demands. Suzuka has teeth: from the Degner curves to the still-fearsome 130R, it’s a circuit that demands high concentration.
The challenge is as great for engineers as for drivers. The quest for lap time is a highly technical exercise, with a number of differing set-up requirements to be reconciled. Suzuka isn’t easily categorized, featuring swift changes of direction at the spectator-friendly Esses, sinuous curves through Dunlop and Spoon, high-speed sections and heavy-braking, low-speed corners at the Hairpin and Casio Triangle. The great laps require both man and machine to be on the limit.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel is the presumptive favourite to deliver those great laps. The Red Bull Racing driver’s form is excellent on arrival at the circuit he calls “the greatest in the world.” Coming to this race he has three successive poles and four successive victories. In addition, his record at Suzuka is excellent. From four visits, he has four poles and three victories . He missed out on victory in 2011, driving conservatively to third – but that was enough to secure a second Drivers’ World Championship.
Seventy-seven points clear of Fernando Alonso in the 2013 title race, he has an outside chance of claiming his fourth championship this weekend. Should Vettel win and Alonso finish no better than ninth, the German will do what only Juan-Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have done before and win World Championships in four consecutive years.
► There have been 28 F-1 Japanese Grands Prix. Fuji hosted the race in 1976 and 1977. The race returned at Suzuka in 1987 where it stayed until 2006. The 2007 and 2008 races were held at a much-modified Fuji, with the race reverting to Suzuka in 2009.
► Michael Schumacher is the standout driver at Suzuka with six victories. The seven-times Champion took his first Suzuka victory for Benetton in 1995 and followed it with wins for Ferrari in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004
► McLaren have the best record of any team at the Japanese Grand Prix with nine victories. James Hunt took the first in 1977 at Fuji, followed by wins at Suzuka for Ayrton Senna (1988, 1993), Gerhard Berger (1991), Mika Häkkinen (1998, 1999) and Kimi Räikkönen (2005). Lewis Hamilton won at Fuji in 2007, and Jenson Button at Suzuka in 2011.
► James Hunt’s win at Fuji in 1977 has been overshadowed by his third place at the inaugural F-1 Japanese Grand Prix a year earlier. It secured him the Drivers’ World Championship, beginning a string of titles that have been settled at this race. Nelson Piquet (1987), Alain Prost (1989), Senna (1988, 1990, 1991), Damon Hill (1996), Häkkinen (1998, 1999) Schumacher (2000, 2003) and Sebastian Vettel (2011) all secured championships here.
► Schumacher twice clinched the title at the Japanese GP but three times in Japan. He became champion in 1995 after a Pacific Grand Prix win at Aida.
► Piquet’s championship triumph in 1987 was by default. Title rival Nigel Mansell aggravated a back injury in qualifying. He was ruled out of the race and Piquet had the title before the grand prix began.
► One of Suzuka’s quirks is the figure-eight layout. The current F-1 calendar has 13 clockwise circuits, five anti-clockwise and this John Hugenholtz-designed track which does the first half of the lap clockwise and the second half anti-clockwise.
► Kamui Kobayashi’s third place for Sauber in 2012 made him the first Japanese driver on the podium in Japan since Aguri Suzuki for Lola-Lamborghini in 1990. Kobayashi’s was the first podium for a Japanese driver since Takuma Sato finished third at the 2004 US Grand Prix.
► Suzuka strongly favours the front row. In 24 races, the winner has come from the front row 20 times. Fernando Alonso (2006) won from fifth, Alessandro Nannini (1989) and Nelson Piquet (1990) from sixth. The anomalous statistic is Kimi Räikkönen’s mesmerising charge from 17th in 2005, overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap for the lead.
► Last year, Vettel won the race with pole, fastest lap and victory having led every lap of the race. It was his second ‘grand chelem’. Recently he’s recorded a third in Singapore and a fourth last week in Korea. He is halfway to equaling Jim Clark, who collected eight.