Preview: Japanese GP

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Japan, Circuit Suzukajp

Suzuka is the next stop for the Formula One teams, and a much beloved event for most. The circuit emphasises driver skill the old fashioned way with sweeping corners and unforgiving gravel traps.

The combination of corners, relentless flow through high speed sections and radial turns, esses and hairpins makes Suzuka one of the toughest challenges of the year for F1 engines. A high-speed figure of eight track, it really is the perfect storm of every type of corner imaginable.

As with all the very "driven" tracks, at Suzuka the long, fast turns also determine not-so-demanding braking. In fact, the single-seaters do not face any particularly sudden braking sections except for the chicane ahead of the start-finish straight where they go from more than 300 km/h to about 120 km/h in less than 100 metres. Overall, braking is no concern at all, while aerodynamic balance on the other hand is crucial to make sure drivers can extract the maximum performance of their cars through the high speed corners.

Suzuka features only a single DRS section on the start finish straight as it proved in recent years this was generally enough to allow overtaking attempts, despite the tricky first corner.

Track highlights

Turn 1 Taken almost flat with only a light lift, the opening corner of the lap is a quick curve leading into the slower Turn 2.

Turns 3 – 6 The high speed Esses are a flowing sequence of interlinking turns that sees the car change direction rapidly at very high speed. The driver will enter turn three, the start of the Esses, at approximately 245kph and carry the speed through until the exit of the complex. The high speed switches of direction subject the internals of the engine and lubricant systems to high lateral G-forces. The fuel and oil can be squashed to one side of the tank away from the collectors, so engineers must regularly check minimum levels. Gear selection is also crucial here as the driver will spend approximately 15secs in fourth or fifth gear through this section.

Turns 8 + 9 Two tricky turns make up the Degner Curve. The first is short and narrow with a cautious approach required thanks to the inner kerb, to which drivers need to get as close as possible without making contact.

Turns 13 + 14 Understeer saps speed through the Spoon Curve and so needs to be minimised, with a fast exit necessary onto the following straight.

Turn 15 (130R) The awesome 130R corner is actually a straight in engine terms, with the driver at full throttle throughout the corner. This long ‘straight’ is 1,250m from the exit of the Spoon Curve and is taken at nearly 310km/h, subjecting the drivers and car to massive g-forces as they take the corner. Drivers will brake down to under 100km/h for the chicane leading onto the pit straight so engine engineers will work to provide effective engine braking as well as literal braking and rear stability for this big stop.

Turn 16 The best overtaking opportunity around the circuit layout, with DRS less effective at this particular track than elsewhere.

Car setup

Front Wing Front wing level is important to eradicate speed sapping understeer through the long Spoon corner, and to assist with quick change of direction through the ‘Snake’ of Turns 3 – 7.

Rear Wing Comparable downforce levels to Silverstone or Barcelona; not maximum levels, but not far off.

Suspension Good change of direction is required, especially for the ‘Snake’ through Turns 3 – 7, so a stiffer and more responsive setup is sought.

Brakes The only heavy braking applications are into the Turn 11 hairpin and into the Turn 16 – 17 chicane. As with Silverstone, much of the lap is spent cooling the brakes meaning that – in contrast to Singapore – more attention is paid to keeping these warm.

Tyres The hard and medium tyre compounds will be used, meaning that the selection for Suzuka moves a step harder for the third year in a row after 2011’s soft and medium and 2012’s soft and hard allocations. Suzuka is one of the biggest challenges of the year for tyres as the track layout contains a wide variety of corners; many of which are fast, but with some heavy braking areas and tighter turns intertwined. The hottest part of the tyre tread can reach 120 degrees centigrade at Suzuka.

Engine A high-speed figure of eight track that features every possible corner; from high speed kinks to flowing linked turns, profiled curved bends and hairpins. The engine needs to deliver across the entire power spectrum without sacrificing driveability and responsiveness. High speed corners such as the ‘S’ Curves also subject the internals of the engine and lubricant systems to high lateral G-forces.

Quick facts

Number of corners: 18 (8 left, 10 right)
Maximum speed (no DRS): 320 km/h
Minimum speed: 70 km/h
FIA corners below 100 km/h: 2
FIA corners above 250 km/h: 4
Average lap speed (qualifying): 225 km/h
Distance from pole to apex of T1: 545m
Braking events: 9 (1 heavy)
Pit-lane length under speed-limit control: 413m
Pit-lane time at 80 km/h: 18.6s

Full throttle per lap (% lap distance): 70%
Full throttle per lap (% lap time): 60%
Longest period at full throttle: 16s
Average gear changes per race lap: 48 (2544/race)
Braking energy: low