Preview: Japanese GP

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Japan, Circuit Suzukajp

Formula One arrived at Suzuka, one of the most revered circuits in the world. Its fast corners and undulations are a genuine test of man and machine, which might explain why 18 of the last 19 grands prix at the track have been won by world champions.

Built in 1962 as a test track for Honda, Suzuka’s sweeping figure-of-eight layout has remained largely unchanged for more than 50 years. The track hosted its first Formula 1 race in 1987, since when it has staged the Japanese Grand Prix every year, except on two occasions (2007/’08).

As with most of F1’s classic circuits, drivers and team members know the corners by name, rather than simply by number. The Esses, Degner, Spoon and 130R are some of the most famous corners in motor racing, and each will demand ultimate respect and commitment from the drivers this weekend.

With an average speed of 225km/h (139mph), Suzuka is one of the fastest circuits on the F1 calendar. All three sectors around the lap contain fast corners and a period of full-throttle, and the track is also very narrow and bumpy. It punishes even the smallest of mistakes.

Engine power is important and aerodynamic efficiency is vital, especially through the Esses in sector one. This sequence of five high-speed corners tests the agility of a car and it’s through this section that the drivers have to position their cars with pinpoint accuracy, or risk losing large chunks of time.

Another challenging feature of Suzuka’s 5.807km (3.608-mile) layout is the downhill grid. At the start of the race the slope requires the drivers to hold their cars on the brakes until releasing the clutch; if the task isn’t carried out seamlessly, a poor getaway is inevitable.

Pirelli are making available their two hardest rubber compounds – the Medium (Option) and the Hard (Prime) – as they did in Malaysia, Spain, Great Britain and Italy earlier in the year. The reason for the conservative tyre choice is the number of high-speed corners on the lap, through which up to 800kg of load is placed on the tyres.

On a completely different note, Max Verstappen will make his official debut in an F1 car this weekend, completing FP1 for Toro Rosso in Jean-Eric Vergne's place. At Marussia, Will Stevens will get an FP1 outing while Roberto Mehri gets back in the Caterham for his second outing in a practice session.

Car setup

Front wing The downforce levels are critical and the spec is not too dissimilar to Barcelona and Silverstone.

Rear wing Generally the front aero of the car is very important at Suzuka especially through the first sector and the Spoon corner in sector three. Stability through the swift changes of direction here is vital.

Suspension Suzuka tests the qualities of the chassis with quick changes of direction calling for a good responsive ride. The Degners 1 and 2 corners also call for a good stiff set-up.

Brakes The big braking areas are into the hairpin and also the final chicane. Re-generation will not be an issue because of the fast nature of the track. Keeping brake temps up is more important than cooling them here.

Tyres Medium and hard Pirelli tyres are available for Suzuka this weekend, as they were in 2013. The rubber is tested to the maximum, with high loading on the sidewalls through the first sector and then the constant radius Spoon curve before the lap finishes with the punishing 130R, where the hottest part of the tyre tread can reach 120 degrees centigrade.

Engine The power unit is called upon to deliver driveability in most areas with flat out corners, two reasonably sized straights and high traction areas from the hairpin and Degner 2. These challenges subject the internals of the power unit and lubricant systems to high lateral G-forces.

Quick facts

Race distance: 53 laps (307.471km/191.054 miles)
Start time: 15:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)
Circuit length: 5.807km/3.608 miles

Track abrasiveness: High. A lot of the asphalt is old and abrasive, which, when combined with the high lateral loads generated in the fast corners, makes it very demanding for tyres
Fuel consumption: Average
Brake wear: Low. The brakes are used in only 11 of the 18 corners, the equivalent of 10 percent of the lap
Turbo effect: Average, owing to the high average speed and minimal levels of acceleration from low speed
Grid advantage: The racing line is on the left, giving that side of the track a slight advantage
Pitlane time: 21s