Japan GP – Preview

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Formula One touches down in Japan this weekend to celebrate its 16th race of the 2017 world championship season. The East Asian country welcomes the F1 community for the 33th time in its colorful history.

Despite being mainly associated with the Suzuka circuit, the first ever F1 race was held in Fuji in 1976. The very fast Fuji Speedway has held four GPs so far, all of them were marked with some sort of drama. The 1976 race was the title-decider of the legendary battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. After surviving a near fatal crash, the Austrian was on course to win his second title with Ferrari despite missing the Austrian and the Dutch GP while recovering from his severe injuries. However, in the final race of the season which took place in torrential rain Lauda decided to withdraw from the action, as did Emerson Fittipaldi and Carlos Pace. James Hunt had a botched pit stop, but it did not stop him to secure the third spot in the race which he earned enough points to win the title in front of Niki Lauda with the slender margin of one-single championship point.

The 1977 saw James Hunt win the Japanese GP, but an incident between Gilles Villeneuve and Ronnie Peterson saw the Canadian’s Ferrari somersault into a restricted area, killing two spectators.

Japan had to wait a decade for its GP history to continue. Formula One returned to the country in 1987. However, the GP found a new venue at the Suzuka circuit. The Honda-owned circuit was designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz.

The Japanese GP has often turned out to be a controversial race and held a few title showdowns. The 1988, 1989 and 1990 races are considered to be among the all-time best races due to fierce battles between Ayrton Senna and Alan prost. This acrimonious and long battle between the two great drivers reached unprecedented heights of controversy in those three championship events where the title was decided.

After 30 years, Fuji Speedway reappeared on the F1 calendar. The Toyota-owned circuit held the GP in 2007 and 2008. Both events saw a series of problems on both the organizational and sporting sides. In 2007, torrential rain meant the field started behind the safety car. The race was won by Lewis Hamilton in front of Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Räikkönen, making the first time that two Finnish drivers stood together on the podium. The event met a lot of problems including reserved seats without a view, poor facilities, issues with the shuttle bus service and expensive meals.

Organisers addressed these problems for the following year which turned out to be a another controversial race in the history of the Japanese GPs. The two title contenders Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton collided which enabled Renault’s Fernando Alonso to win the race and secure his second consecutive victory of that season.

Since 2009, F1 races have been held on the Suzuka race circuit.

Successful drivers and constructors

The most successful driver is Michael Schumacher in Japan with his six victories. Sebastian Vettel won four times for Red Bull while Lewis Hamilton crossed the line first three times. Gerhard Berger, Fernando Alonso, Mika Häkkinen, Damon Hill and Ayrton Senna all secured the win two times. Mario Andretti, James Hunt, Alessandro Nanini, Nelson Piquet, Kimi Räikkönen, Jenson Button, Riccardo Patrese and Rubens Barrichello all have a race win to their names.

Among the teams, McLaren stands out with its nine victories followed by Ferrari which recorded seven wins. Red Bull won four times while Benetton, Mercedes and Williams have all three wins on their tally. Renault recorded one triumph while Lotus won the very first Japanese Grand Prix.

Japan - the country of the rising sun

Japan is a sovereign island country in East Asia, located in the Pacific Ocean. The country controls a total of 6852 islands. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Approximately 73 per cent of the country is forested or mountainous. Japan has a population of 126740000 habitants. As a result of the big areas conquered by forests and mountains, the habitable zones are mainly located in costal areas. It makes Japan one of the most densely populated countries of the world.

As Japan is located in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is substantially prone to earthquakes, tsunami and volcanos. According to a measurement made in 2013, it has the 15th highest natural disaster risk.

The name of the country mean ‘the origin of the sun’. The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate, but varies greatly from north to south.

There are 11 recognised national languages. 98.5 per cent of the habitants are Japanese, the other main ethnic groups are Korean and Chinese. The two major religions are Shinto and Buddhism.

Track characteristics

The length of track is 5.807km which means drivers have to circulate 53 times over the circuit to complete the race distance.

Suzuka is the only figure-eight race track to appear on the F1 calendar. The shape of the track is unique as a straight runs on a bridge over another straight of the circuit. It has 18 corners, from which 8 are left-handed turns. The speedometer only falls under the 100 kph barrier in two corners. Drivers reach speeds of over 250 kph in four corners – turn 1, 7, 12 and 15 are the fastest bends of the flowing layout.

The distance from the first row up to the first corner is 545m long. Drivers travel 413m long in the pit lane. The longest full throttle section is 994m which can be completed over approximately 16 seconds.

The gearboxes have to withstand moderate pressure compared to Singapore, there are 48 gear changes over a lap. Drivers spend around 66 per cent of the lap by applying full throttle. The time loss for a pit stop is around 18 seconds.

The power unit burns 1.89kg of fuel per lap and every tiny amount of additional fuel punishes the drivers heavily in the ultra-high-speed bends.