2010 Japanese Grand Prix Preview


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Round 16 - Suzuka Circuit

With the championship battles distilling and the outsiders needing to produce something special in the few remaining races, it is fitting that the F1 circus moves to the familiar and dramatic stage of Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.

John Hugenholtz, designer of the Zandvoort Circuit in Holland, was commissioned to build Suzuka as a test track for Honda in the early 1960s, with a brief to include a variety of tests suitable for all machinery, whether two- or four-wheeled. Despite the unprepossessing nature of the site, a narrow sliver of awkwardly sloping land close to the company's factory, Hugenholtz produced a masterpiece. Famous for the unique figure-of-eight layout, Suzuka packs in a heady combination of undulating fast esses, a tight hairpin, long straights and the tight Triangle Chicane at the pit entry - added in 1983.

Interest in motorsport in the early days was limited, and the first event held in 1963 was won by Englishman Peter Warr - of Team Lotus fame - but the Japanese Grand Prix remained a sportscars-only event until 1969, and thereafter was run to Formula Two regulations. Honda's great rivals Toyota then stole a march by running the first F1 Grands Prix at their Fuji circuit in 1976 and '77, but disappointing ticket sales contributed to the event falling off the calendar again.

It was the return of Honda to Formula One in the early 1980s as an engine supplier to the Spirit team, and then to Williams, that really triggered the call for the Grand Prix to regain its slot, and this time in Honda's own back yard. The opening race in 1987 saw Nelson Piquet claim his third world title for the home team as rival and team-mate Nigel Mansell was injured in a qualifying shunt. Subsequently however it was Ayrton Senna who claimed the hearts of the passionate Japanese fans as Honda joined forces with the McLaren team, forming an almost unbeatable combination. From the late 1980s through the early 1990s there was a ballot to determine which of the many hundreds of thousands of applicants would be granted tickets to the Grand Prix. As the number of Japanese drivers reached a peak so too did the number of spectators and the sport was fully embraced by the whole nation.

As with so many modern tracks, Suzuka struggled to cope with the increased costs of hosting the race, and Toyota regained the race at a modernised Fuji for 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately they found the maths no easier than their old rivals had done, and despite an initial agreement to rotate the race, it now seems that Suzuka will remain the host venue for the foreseeable future. With its position in October/November Suzuka has seen a number of championship deciders in recent years, and has often been packed with drama - Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso racing through from the back in 2005; Michael Schumacher's engine failure while leading in 2006; and the series of high-speed accidents in qualifying and the race last season.

With its proliferation of long, fast turns, Suzuka places a premium on downforce and rapid direction change through the Esses in sector one. Good engine power and aero efficiency are rewarded by the long straight on the return leg of sector three, but overall wing levels are high as cornering speeds predominate. Typically low temperatures and a grippy track surface mean tyre problems are unusual, but the weather can often play a part, whether in the form of light, hanging mist or a sudden torrential downpour.

The overall finishing rate at Suzuka is above the average for this year's circuits.
The likelihood of a driver-related retirement is also low.
Mechanical failures in Japan have around the average likelihood of all current tracks.
Finally, the circuit is also consistent with other circuits in terms of first-lap retirements.

The Last Five Years
2005201703116 - Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren)
200622184106 - Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren)
200919171106 - Fernando Alonso (Renault)
[td]Year[/td][td]Starters[/td][td]Finishers[/td][td]Retirements - Mech[/td][td]Retirements - Acc[/td][td]Lap 1 retirements[/td][td]Most places gained[/td]

Circuit Ranking (of all 18 circuits)
Finishing Rate
3rd Valencia 88%
4th Suzuka 85%
5th Istanbul 83%

Mechanical Failures

15th Monza 9%
16th Suzuka 8%
17th Valencia 8%
18th Silverstone 7%

Driver-related Retirements
11th Hungaroring 9%
12th Suzuka 8%
13th Istanbul 8%

First lap Retirements
11th Istanbul 1.9%
12th Suzuka 1.6%
13th Hockenheim 1.6%

Putting aside Michael Schumacher's dominance at the venue in his peak, several of the championship challengers have reason to look forward to the Japanese Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel won in strong fashion last season, while Lewis Hamilton finished third on his Suzuka debut in a McLaren arguably unsuited to the circuit. Fernando Alonso can claim a strong finishing record and a win in his championship season of 2006. Jenson Button struggled from 10th on the grid to finish seventh last season, but Mark Webber may have the most cause for concern, with a single points finish at the circuit from six starts, and fresh memories of his error in qualifying at the Degner turn last year. Rubens Barrichello has gone well at Suzuka in the past, while Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil will hold strong hopes of opening their Suzuka accounts this weekend.

Ferrari have won five of the eight races at Suzuka in the past decade, and also have the strongest finishing record of any team. Rivals McLaren do not have the results to show for their often impressive pace at the venue, and Raikkonen's against-the-odds victory of 2005 is their only win over the same period. The former Honda team, now Mercedes, typically ran well at their home race, though this did not carry through in 2009.

Current Drivers' Records at Suzuka
Michael Schumacher16111st (6)81413.81
Jenson Button883rd (1)27007.13
Rubens Barrichello1591st (1)25238.87
Fernando Alonso651st (1)201011.83
Jarno Trulli1072nd (1)153110.5
Sebastian Vettel111st (1)10001
Felipe Massa432nd (1)80111.25
Lewis Hamilton113rd (1)6003
Mark Webber644th (1)51111.33
Nico Rosberg225th (1)4008.5
Nick Heidfeld766th (1)41011.14
Robert Kubica229th (2)00010.5
Christian Klien229th (1)0009
Heikki Kovalainen1111th (1)00011
Adrian Sutil1113th (1)0008
Vitantonio Liuzzi2214th (2)00016.5
Timo Glock1115th (1)00017
Jaime Alguersuari10Ret00112
Sebastien Buemi10Ret01013
Lucas di Grassi0------
Nico Hulkenberg0------
Kamui Kobayashi0------
Vitaly Petrov0------
Bruno Senna0------
[td]Driver[/td][td]Starts[/td][td]Finishes[/td][td]Best result[/td][td]Points[/td][td]Retirements - Mech[/td][td]Retirements - Acc[/td][td]Average grid pos.[/td]

Chassis Records at Suzuka
Ferrari16141st (5)77115.56
McLaren16131st (1)58128.25
Renault16131st (1)393110.38
Mercedes GP16133rd (1)32209.5
Williams16122nd (2)31238.06
Red Bull16111st (1)134010.94
BMW Sauber16136th (1)51211.81
Force India16115th (1)23113.44
Toro Rosso161110th (1)03317.63
[td]Chassis[/td][td]Starts[/td][td]Finishes[/td][td]Best result[/td][td]Points[/td][td]Retirements - Mech[/td][td]Retirements - Acc[/td][td]Average grid pos.[/td]
Results for Renault include Benetton
Results for Mercedes GP include Honda and Brawn
Results for Red Bull include Jaguar
Results for BMW Sauber include Sauber
Results for Force India include Jordan and Midland
Results for Toro Rosso include Minardi

Engine Records at Suzuka
Ferrari34251st (5)78549.94
Mercedes-Benz20171st (1)61128.7
Renault16141st (2)493010.19
Cosworth26196th (1)34213.19
[td]Engine[/td][td]Starts[/td][td]Finishes[/td][td]Best result[/td][td]Points[/td][td]Retirements - Mech[/td][td]Retirements - Acc[/td][td]Average grid pos.[/td]
Results for Ferrari include Petronas and Acer
Results for Cosworth include Ford

All ranking figures are expressed as a % of total starts.
"Retirements-Acc" are retirements where the reason has been listed as Collision, Accident or Spun Off.
The likelihood of a qualifying red flag at Suzuka, based on last year, is high. Oh so high! What a crazy session that was! I think Kovalainen binned it twice, and of course Glock's crash turned out to be great for F1. A first home race for Kobayashi; always seems to inspire Japanese drivers!
I sometimes find the result is more interesting than the race itself.

What are the implications to the Drivers Championship ready for the next race.

Hoping for in Japan:

1st - Button - 25 pts (202)
2nd - Vettel - 18 pts (195)
3rd - Hamilton - 15 pts (196)
4th - Alonso - 10 pts (201)
DNF - Webber 0 pts (202)

Championship Standings - 3 races to go

1st - Webber 202
2nd - Button 202
3rd - Alonso 201
4th - Hamilton 196
5th - Vettel 195
Doesn't look like there will be much Fuji TV advertising compared to previous years. Usually you see it down the main straight but it's not there this year, despite being race title sponsor. Replaced with the Think Pad things that seem to be at every blooming track.
Suzuka is the best track that F1 now races on now that Montjuic, Spa pre-1970 and the Norschelife are no longer . Lots of challenges, really shows the best in not just cars, but drivers as well :) :). Every kind of corner imaginable is here: fast sweeps, esses, double apex, hairpins, chicanes and a 180mph corner. Very difficult to produce a perfect lap.

As for this years race, should be nothing other than a Red Bull/hopefully Webber walkover. Too many fast corners for the Mercs to get a look in. Overtaking is very hard here :givemestrength: (limited to the chicane in reality) so qualifying will be all important. Given the difficulties of last year, this year may be even harder, especially the likes of Hispaina, Lotus, Virgin.
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