Tyre preview for the Japanese Grand prix

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This weekend sees Formula One return to the high-speed track of Suzuka with the sport's sole tyre supplier Pirelli bringing the three hardest compounds to Japan. F1Technical's senior writer Balázs Szabó delivers his tyre preview for Round 4 of the 2024 F1 season.

Formula 1 returns to Japan just over six months after its last visit to the country. This year, the Japanese Grand Prix takes place in April for the first time in its history: right up to last year the race was always scheduled for the second part of the season, in September or October. As a result, Suzuka has frequently crowned world champions – both in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ standings. The last two years have been no exceptions: in 2022, Max Verstappen sealed his second title at the venue, while last year Red Bull were crowned constructors’ champions.

The fourth event of the season coincides with the peak of the cherry blossom – or Sakura – season, between the end of March and beginning of April. It’s also the very first time that the Japanese Grand Prix will be held at this time of year: the first Pacific Grand Prix took place at Aida on 17 April 1994, before moving to October in 1995. The early spring will also bring lower temperatures than the teams are used to in Japan, with average temperatures ranging between 8°C and 13°C.

Suzuka is a true classic: the 5.807-kilometre Honda-owned track tests every driver’s talents with a demanding layout characterised by a figure-eight layout, unique in Formula 1.

In addition to representing an extraordinary challenge for cars and drivers, the track also tests the tyres: both in terms of wear – due to high levels of asphalt roughness and abrasiveness – as well as through the forces and loads to which they are subjected throughout the variety of corners that make up the lap. As usual, Pirelli has selected the hardest trio of compounds: C1 as hard, C2 as medium and C3 as soft. This is the same selection as was used in Bahrain for the first race of the season.

The huge number of high-speed corners of the Suzuka circuit has prompted Pirelli to nominate relatively high minimum starting pressures: 25.0 psi for the front and 23.0 psi for the rears. The camber limits are as follows: -2.75 for the front and -1.50 for the rear tyres.

As fo the strategy, Pirelli thinks that a two-stopper might become the most common strategy, due to the energy going through the tyres and the stress to which they are subjected. However, lower temperatures might mean that a one-stop strategy becomes possible, especially for drivers who are gentle on their tyres.

On the other hand, this might make it harder to keep the tyres in the correct operating window, particularly when bringing them up to temperature on an out-lap from the pits. A one-stopper also decreases the effectiveness of the undercut, which is usually very useful at Suzuka, even with the hard and medium compounds being the preferred race compounds.

After the Japanese Grand Prix there will be two days of Pirelli tyre testing on Tuesday 9 April and Wednesday 10 April with Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber and Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team, to develop constructions and compounds for next season.

There have been 37 editions of the Japanese Grand Prix so far, 33 of which have been held at Suzuka. The remaining four took place at Fuji track, which is owned by Toyota. The most successful driver is still Michael Schumacher with six wins: the German also has the most pole positions (8) and podium finishes (9). In terms of team achievements, McLaren has the most victories (9) while Ferrari has the most pole positions (10).

The Suzuka circuit has 18 corners, some of which – such as Spoon, 130R and the uphill combination between Turns 2 and 7 – are among the most famous on the world championship calendar. Less well-known are the two Degner corners, named after Ernest Degner, a German motorcycle racer of the 1950s and 1960s.