Suzuka has seen the crowning of 11 World Champions in its long history, due to it frequently hosting the final race of the season. It has seen Prost and Senna clashing in 1989 and 1990 and was the setting for Schumacher taking his sixth title in 2003 to beat the previous record set by Fangio.
This weekend’s race promises no such drama, as the championship is far from over, but there is nonetheless plenty at stake. Fernando Alonso will be looking for a win to further increase his lead in the Drivers’ Championship, while Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton will all be hoping to take as many points as possible off the championship leader.
The track is a favourite with teams and drivers, and the local fans are extremely enthusiastic. Suzuka International Racing Course is built in an unusual figure of eight configuration and is a great technical challenge for the drivers. The fast flowing esses in the first sector are followed by the fast and difficult Degner double-right-hand curve before the hairpin – the slowest point on the track. Then it’s hard on the power towards the spoon curve, where a good exit is essential for a good run up the hill and onto the crossover before 130R, the famous flat-out left-hander that leads to the final chicane and onto the start-finish straight.
The two weeks leading up to the race have been full of driver-related news. Sergio Perez has been confirmed as a McLaren driver for 2013, in place of Lewis Hamilton who is departing for Mercedes. The news of Hamilton’s move led to speculation over the future of Michael Schumacher, with suggestions that he could perhaps make a sensational return to Ferrari or otherwise find a seat at Sauber.
Schumacher ended the speculation on Thursday in a press conference when he announced his retirement from Formula One as at the end of 2012. Although he has not achieved the aims he set for himself at the start of his comeback, the seven-time World Champion called time on his career due to uncertainty over his own continuing motivation.
Pirelli are providing their hard and soft compound tyres for the race.
Suzuka is one of the greatest challenges of the season for tyre performance and degradation. Long and fast corners including Spoon and 130R place large lateral loads on the tyres, with loads peaking at 3.4G in the turn 7 Dunlop Curve.
Tyre management will therefore be crucial to the outcome of the race. The early phase of the race will be particularly important, as the cars will be carrying heavy fuel loads through the high-speed corners.
McLaren, Red Bull and Lotus have strong aero packages on their cars, which should give them an advantage, particularly in the twisty first sector and through 130R. The high-speed and high-downforce nature of the track should test Mercedes’ recent upgrades thoroughly.
Lewis Hamilton must surely be the favourite for victory. He is the form driver of the last few races and could have won four in a row had he not been taken out by Romain Grosjean in Belgium and mechanical failure in Singapore.
Circuit Length: 5.807 km
Race laps: 53
Race length: 307.471 km
Lap Record: 1:31.540 – Kimi Raikkonen / McLaren (2005)
Race winner: Jenson Button / McLaren
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull – 1:30.466
Fastest lap: Jenson Button / McLaren – 136.568
- Michael Schumacher holds the record for most victories in Japan, with six.
- Ferrari won the race five years in a row – from 2000 to 2004, with Michael Schumacher taking four wins and Rubens Barrichello one.
- All six of the World Champions on the grid for this weekend’s race have won the Japanese Grand Prix at least once in their careers.
No rain is expected this weekend and temperatures are expected to be fairly consistent in the mid-20s centigrade. Conditions will therefore be optimal for set-up work on Friday and Saturday morning.