It is truly rare that a Formula 1 weekend sees a real and genuine threat of weather intervention, however this coming weekend, the Japanese F1 at Suzuka, is shaping up to be one of them. Typhoon Hagibis, apparently shaping up to be a Category 5 storm, is looking to be tracking towards Tokyo and Yokohama. Category 5 storms have winds of 280 kilometres per hour or close to 175mph. Not only is it a strong storm, it’s currently forecast to make landfall over the weekend. As always, there is a caveat and that caveat is Mother Nature herself, as to where and if the storm continues and stays on its forecast track. The Japanese Grand Prix weekend has been affected by extreme weather before, most recently in 2014 when heavy rain fell during the race. Meanwhile, in 2004 and in 2010 qualifying was postponed and held on Sunday morning because of bad weather.
EDIT: In news that broke early afternoon on Friday (Sydney time) the F1 organisers confirmed that the Saturday schedule was scrapped, with qualifying now on Sunday morning Suzuka time, with the race still scheduled as per the original start time.
Renault has said that they’ll be trialling a modified wing, with an expectation that grip and downforce around Suzuka. Chassis Technical Director Nick Chester said: “With lots of elevation changes, long straights ending in tight chicanes or hairpins and interesting corners, Suzuka’s a challenge to get right.” Renault knows that it’s in a position to challenge but needs improvements, and quickly. Soon to be ex-Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg stated: “Our Sundays especially have to be cleaner, but that’s down to a range of factors: on my side, on the team’s side and some things we can’t control. We have to target big points in Japan.”
There’s no doubt either that eyes will be on the red team, with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel having clearly differing views about who is king. For Suzuka, Vettel can hold a finger up and say, “I am king” with four pole positions from 2009 to 2012. However they were with Red Bull and in the six years since he has only been on the starting row twice. Leclerc’s rise with Ferrari has him in a position to challenge for the throne and it’s not unfair to postulate that tensions between the two, courtesy of what could be seen as questionable decisions from the garage, need to be damped down before a major blowup occurs between the two.
Vettel, and Ferrari, must contend with one other car and driver. Mercedes and Hamilton haven’t proved unstoppable however the form of both Hamilton and Bottas in 2019 would indicate, especially with Hamilton also having four wins at Suzuka since 2014 and the silver team having won all races here since that year, that it’ll be hard work for any of the other teams. Then we tap into Red Bull and Max Verstappen standing on the podium three times in the last three years. Haas cannot also be discounted, even with the inconsistency that is Romain Grosjean. He and Kevin Magnussen took double points in 2017, while Grosjean finished a strong eighth in 2018.
53 laps is the distance on the 5.807 kilometre track for a total of 307.471km. Race lap record was set by Kimi Raikkonen back in 2005, at 1:31.540. Purpose built by Honda as a test track, it hosted its first round in 1987. It’s an intriguing design with a section like a hairclip. A straight on one side is balanced by a series of opposing curves at one end, against a straight and a long sweeping right hander at the other. The cars hit the track for Free Practice 1 at 10:00 local on Friday 11 October. Qualifying gets underway at 15:00 local on Saturday, with the race starting at 14:10 local, Sunday October 13.