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Prixview – Japanese Grand Prix

Round seventeen sees Formula One head to the high-speed tricky Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix. Japan was the country in the Asia-Pacific region to host a world championship Grand Prix in 1976. The first races in Japan in the 1960s were non-championships rounds at Suzuka and Mount Fuji.

Both would hold championship races; the first championship race was the title decider between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. That showdown never came, the Austrian withdrew because of the monsoon conditions. Lauda, who had survived a near-fatal crash at the German Grand Prix earlier in the season, withdrew from the race stating that his life was more important than the championship.

The torrential rain eventually stopped, Hunt drove very hard and climbed up to 3rd, scoring the four points he needed to win the title by the slender margin of one point over Lauda.

The race was then not held for another nine years when it returned to Suzuka, the first race would be a common backdrop over the next decade the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alian Prost came to ahead. Suzuka is one of the drivers’ favourites, it is an old-style circuit, high speed fast following and lined with grass and gravel traps.

The figure of eight layout, means that downforce outweighs the need for straight-line speed. It’s a tricky circuit which requires drivers who can attack the circuit, and push themselves to the limits. But mistakes are costly as the barriers are close and not as much run-off areas as at modern circuits.

The most famous one being in 1990, both started on the front role with Senna on pole. However the Brazilian felt that pole was on the dirty side, he didn’t yield and move over for the Frenchman with them both crashing out at Turn One.

The 1996 race say Damon Hill taking the win and the title after his rival Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve retire. That made Hill the first son of a champion to become champion.  Ferrari dominated the race in 2000s with Michael Schumacher winning three out of four, with the other going to teammate Rubens Barrichello. Schumacher wrapped the title from fourteenth to victory in 2003 taking a sixth title.

In what was meant to be his last season, Schumacher was on course for an eighth title before retiring in 2006. After two years away at Fuji where Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso won, the race returned to Suzuka.

The 2009 race saw Sebastian Vettel take victory, in a weekend which was dominated by accidents in practice and qualifying. Vettel would go on to win the four more times before the end of Red Bull’s dominance.

Jenson Button took an emotional win in 2011, following the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, he was then in a relationship with a Japanese model. The win was hard-fought against Vettel and Fernando Alonso. But it wasn’t enough to stop Button from victory.

Since 2014, as expected with the layout the race has been dominated by Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton took his first win at Suzuka, a race sadly remembered for the fatal accident of Jules Bianchi. Bianchi lost control of his Marussia at Dunlop Curve on lap forty-three and collided with a tractor crane that was recovering Adrian Sutil’s Sauber, which had spun off on the previous lap. The last from Grand Prix weekend until Spa this year, and the death of Anthoine Hubert.

Suzuka can be a difficult circuit for overtaking, Mercedes have dominated the race since the beginning of the hybrid era. However, can create great action on the track.

Facts and figures

Round 17 of 21
Race Honda Japanese Grand Prix 2019
Venue 2003 Grand Prix Circuit, Suzuka International Racing Course, Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, Japan
Circuit Length 5.807 km (3.608 mi)
Laps 53
Race Distance 307.573 km (191.117 mi)
Lap Record 01:31.540 (Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren, 2005)
Most wins drivers Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins manufacture McLaren (9)

Fast facts

  • Honda is both the owner and title sponsor of the race. The circuit was originally built as a test track in 1962 by Dutchman John “Hans” Hugenholtz, Suzuka is one of few circuits in the world to have a “figure eight” layout.
  • Michael Schumacher is the only winner of the Pacific Grand Prix to be held in japan after back to back wins at Okayama International Circuit in 1994 and 1995. Japan one of only seven countries and the only one in Asia to ever host more than one Formula One event in the same year.
  • Two-time World Champion Mika Häkkinen scored his first F1 podium at Suzuka in 1993 and also clinched his first World Championship at the circuit in 1998.
  • Seventeen Japanese drivers have competed in Formula 1. The best result for a local driver on home soil was third by Aguri Suzuki in 1990 and Kamui Kobayashi in 2012.
  • The 2009 and 2018 Japanese Grands Prix are the only races at Suzuka where the top three finished in the order which they started.

Event timetable

 

Session

Local

BST

Friday

P1 10:00-11:30 02:00-03:30
P2 14:00-15:30 06:00-07:30

Saturday

P3 Cancelled

Sunday

Qualifying 10:00-11:00 02:00-03:00
Race 14:10 06:10

What happened in 2018?

Lewis Hamilton was on it again in qualifying at Suzuka the Englishman topped all three sessions, conditions were ones which suited the Mercedes driver as the rain moved in. Hamilton took pole from Valtteri Bottas as Ferrari made another error, leaving Sebastian Vettel only ninth.

Vettel went straight out in Q3 on the intermediates, while Mercedes went for supersofts. That decision proved key, as conditions soon deteriorated as the Ferraris switched to supersofts. On his supersoft run, Vettel ran wide followed by Kimi Raikkonen Mercedes went quickest. The timing was key, Mercedes took advantage of the dry condition early on, to lock out the front row.

Hamilton went onto another dominant victory after Ferrari’s miserable Saturday saw the team implode. Vettel attempted a move on Max Verstappen, aggressively attacking the Dutchman on the opening lap. The German then went into a spin.

Hamilton sailed off into the distance, while behind it was another clash of the Finn’s. Bottas was awarded a five-second penalty for a first lap tangle with Raikkonen. Verstappen was putting pressure on Bottas to the very end after serving a penalty, which was awarded after he re-joined the track dangerously following the first corner incident.

While the drama unfolded, Daniel Ricciardo had brought himself into fourth following a long stint, he had started fifteenth but was the last to stop re-joining and holding the position to finish fourth.

The drama between Verstappen and Vettel wasn’t the only drama, as Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc collided. The Sauber ran into the back of the Haas, it appears as is be made a double move. But both looked to escape undamaged.

Vettel’s disastrous weekend and Hamilton’s dominance meant that the Englishman only needed a win with Vettel third in the next four races to seal his fifth world title.

Race Result – 1) L. Hamilton, Mercedes, 01:27:31.199, 2) M. Verstappen, Red Bull – Tag Heuer, +1.211, 3) D. Ricciardo, Red Bull – Tag Heuer, +9.679

What to watch for?

Mercedes head to Japan I believe as the team to beat, this circuit is like Sochi low speed and about the corners. Lewis Hamilton has won all but one race in the turbo-hybrid era, again this is a circuit which favours a good combination of power and downforce. However, Suzuka can have surprises with the teams performances and Honda are hoping that recent upgrades can see them fight the top two teams.

Red Bull also normally go very well here, Max Verstappen was in the mix at the front last year. Certainly, the Honda power is better than last season, the car is also good with downforce. This circuit is about downforce mainly, Red Bull’s main problem may be the effective straight from Spoon Curve to Casio Triangle, where power is key on the flat out run.

You cannot dismiss Ferrari,  they won the first three races of the second half of the season so are they able to fight Mercedes at a downforce circuit. These factors make it difficult to say where the teams’ performances are. The midfield you have to believe will be close, though overtaking can be tough there could be great fights. This McLaren Renault battle is the midfield fight will be just as interesting, we know that they are fighting for fourth in the constructors.

2017 vs 2018 Race Data

P1 Fastest

P2 Fastest

P3 Fastest

Q1 Fastest

Q2 Fastest

Q3 Fastest

Race Time

Fastest Lap

2018

01:28.691 01:28.217 01:29.599 01:28.702 01:27.987 01:27.760 01:27:17.062 01:32.318

Diff

-0.475 -20.502 +0.544 -0.342 +0.168 +0.441 -14.132 -0.174

2017

01:29.166 01:48.719 01:29.055 01:29.047 01:27.819 01:27.319 01:27:31.194 01:33.144

A lap of Suzuka

Lewis Hamilton comes out of Eighteen heading for the outside of the circuit as he crosses the line to start the lap. He is in eighth gear using the DRS to give himself maximum speed and turn into First Turn breaking half way through the corner. Stays in a low gear and at low speed on the short run into Two, goes to the outside then back to the inside as he approaches Three. Outside then to the inside as weaves his way through the S Curves. Opens up the car on exit of Seven.

Eases off slightly through Degner goes along the kerb before easing off a bit more at Nine. He runs to the outside staying there before quickly heading to the outside kerb through Ten. Continues on the breaks rolling his Mercedes around the Hairpin, before heading to the outside kerb. Building his speed through twelve goes for the central line on approach to thirteen breaks for first part of Spoon, continues until he hits the second part. Goes to the outside opening up his Mercedes.

Eighth gear as he crosses the bridge taking Fifteen flat, before he breaks into the first part of Casio Triangle. Hits the entry kerb in third gear, into the second part the chicane running along the kerb crossing the track to the outside and across the line with a 01:27.319

Tyres

Driver

Team

White Hard (C1)

Yellow Medium (C2)

Red Soft (C3)

L. Hamilton

Mercedes 1 4 8
V. Bottas 1 4

8

S. Vettel

Ferrari 1 3 9
C. Leclerc 1 3

9

M. Verstappen

Red Bull – Honda 1 3 9
A. Albon 1 3

9

D. Riccardo

Renault 1 2 10
N. Hulkenberg 2 1

10

K. Magnussen

Haas – Ferrari 1 2 10
R. Grosjean 1 2

10

C. Sainz Jr

McLaren – Renault 1 3 9
L. Norris 1 3

9

S. Perez

Racing Point –Mercedes 2 2 9
L. Stroll 2 2

9

K. Raikkonen

Alfa Romeo – Ferrari 1 3 9
A. Giovinazzi 1 3

9

D. Kvyat

Toro Rosso –Honda 1 3 9
P. Gasly 1 3

9

G. Russell

Williams –

Mercedes

2 2 9
R. Kubica 1 3

9

 

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Jack Fielding
Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.

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