Pit lane will swing into action again this weekend as the drivers take to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.
One of the most popular races, Suzuka is hailed as a true test of driver and car.
The track was built in 1982 as a Honda test facility and has hosted Formula 1 races since 1987. It has played a key role in deciding many championship battles and is the scene of the now infamous collisions involving Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
The unforgiving circuit is narrow, the layout is fast and flowing, and the design is a unique figure-of-eight.
And there is no way for the drivers to escape the unforgiving nature of the track. It is undulating and bumpy – especially around Degner Two (Turn 9) – and features a host of fast corners. Probably the most challenging and exciting are the sequence of corners in the first sector called the Esses – five inter-linked bends that are all taken at a minimum speed of 130mph/210kph.
If downforce is crucial in the opening part of the lap, the second sector requires braking stability and traction around lopping corners while the third sector features the infamous 130R (Turn 16) and a chicane leading into the straight.
Another interesting challenge presented by Suzuka’s layout is the downhill grid. At the start the drivers need to hold their brakes until releasing the clutch. If this isn’t done smoothly a poor getaway is likely – and with Mercedes’ clutch problems this may cause some issues.
All of this fast and furious action tends to attract some of the most passionate crowds to the Japanese Grand Prix and it remains a favourite among drivers.
“If I had to choose one track as my favourite,” said Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, “it would have to be Suzuka because of the high speed nature of the circuit. It’s a proper race track really built for Formula 1 cars.”
“On top of that, the atmosphere is very special. The Japanese fans get so excited about the race.”
What to watch
Despite being one of the few back-to-back races on the Formula 1 calendar, it can’t come soon enough for many spectators following the dramatic conclusion in Malaysia and the tense contest between – and among – many teams.
Lewis Hamilton looked to be cruising to victory at the last outing before suffering an engine problem towards. Asking for “some answers” after the race and pointing to a conspiracy theory, the Englishman now finds himself 23 points behind Rosberg with only 5 races left on the calendar. On top of that, no driver has won as many races as Rosberg in a season and failed to claim the championship. The prospect looks daunting but Hamilton still holds the natural ability and speed to mount a comeback.
“The championship is not over. Lewis had a massive blow; that’s clear. But let them battle it out hopefully without any reliability woes and see how it plays out,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
Aside from Mercedes, the focus remains on Ferrari and how they will close out a disappointing season. They now trail Red Bull by 46 points in the constructors standings and with Vettel already penalized 3 places on the grid for his opening lap collision in Malaysia, the Prancing Horse will be going all out to take maximum points.
Also intriguing to watch in Japan will be the arm-wrestle between Williams and Force India. A successful race in Malaysia sees Force India edge ahead by only 4 points in the standings and they are confident of another strong showing at Suzuka.
“We head to Suzuka off the back of a very strong weekend in Sepang,” said Team Principal Vijay Mallya.
“It means we can arrive in Suzuka confident of another competitive performance. The team is working extremely hard, the drivers are extracting the performance from the car, and we are looking forward to the challenge that awaits us this weekend.”
The Japanese Grand Prix will start at 14:00 local time and will run over 53 laps.