Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix Preview: Tyres, DRS, Weather and Session Times
The Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is Round 15 of the 2013 season.
Traditionally held towards the end of the year, 13 championships have been decided at this race. The number could rise to 14 this year—if Sebastian Vettel outscores Fernando Alonso by 23 points, he'll be champion.
This will be the 29th Japanese Grand Prix. With the exception of a two-year break in 2007-08 when it returned to Fuji, the race has been held at Suzuka since 1987.
Michael Schumacher has the most wins here with five. All five of the currently active champions have won at least once in Japan, with Sebastian Vettel leading the way with three victories.
Here's a full preview of the weekend ahead.
As It Stands
The fat lady is finishing off her breathing exercises and having a final read-through of the lyrics before she marches out on stage.
Sebastian Vettel has a 77-point lead in the drivers' championship standings. Even if he doesn't score again, Fernando Alonso's Ferrari doesn't have the pace to score that many points in just five races.
Those are only the three words spoken after the fat lady sings in Götterdämmerung, the opera which gave us the phrase.
The current Top 10 (with thanks to Formula1.com for the lovely table) are:
|1||Sebastian Vettel||German||Red Bull Racing-Renault||272|
|5||Mark Webber||Australian||Red Bull Racing-Renault||130|
|10||Paul di Resta||British||Force India-Mercedes||36|
In the constructors' standings, Red Bull aren't going to be caught.
But there's still excitement to be had out of the constructors' standings. Just one point separates Ferrari and Mercedes in the battle for second, while the resurgent Sauber are fighting Toro Rosso for seventh.
The current standings are:
Suzuka is a rare example of a circuit which has stood the test of time. Designed in 1962 as a test track for Honda, only slight modifications have been made.
The untrained (and even the trained) eye would struggle to differentiate between the layout which hosted the first F1 event in 1983 and the one in use today.
A massive favourite with the drivers, Suzuka is without question one of the highlights of their year.
Turns 1 and 2
A lap begins on the start-finish straight. There's a fairly long run down to Turn 1, a downhill right-hander with a fast entry and the first overtaking opportunity of the lap.
The drivers bleed off the speed as they go through this corner ready for the tighter right of Turn 2 which follows immediately.
Incidents here on the opening lap aren't uncommon.
Turns 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7
The track climbs slightly here, and continues to rise steadily as the drivers head into the S Curves (Turns 3, 4, 5 and 6). This sequence, made up of medium-speed corners, is without question one of the best in the world.
First up is a left, then a right, then another left and another right.
The exit of each corner leads straight into the entry of the next and even the smallest error can ruin a driver's rhythm and cost him a lot of time.
The final corner of the group, Dunlop (Turn 7), is quicker and much longer than the rest. After a brief lift at the entry it's flat out as the corner opens out.
This 180 degree turn takes seven seconds to complete, making it one of the great tyre and neck killers of the F1 year.
Turns 8 and 9
Dunlop opens onto a short straight, before the very fast entry to the first of the two right-hand Degner Curves. Taken in sixth gear, it looks so easily to put a wheel wide on the exit here.
As soon as they're through the first the drivers brake hard for the second, a much tighter 90-degree corner (Turn 9). There's a bit more run-off area than there used to be, but not much.
Just after the exit the cars pass through a short tunnel under a different section of the circuit. They drive back over here later in the lap.
The corners (once a longer, single curve) are named after East German defector Ernst Degner, a motorcycle Grand Prix rider who suffered terrible burns in a crash here in 1963.
He came over to the west in 1961, and won Suzuki's first world championship the following year.
Turns 10 and 11
Turn 10 is a flat-out right-hand kink just after the tunnel, then it's hard on the brakes for the hairpin left of Turn 11.
Overtaking is certainly possible here, but you need a bit of courage, a lot of luck and a compliant rival.
Get it slightly wrong, and you'll probably lose your front wing. Or your entire race—just ask Sergio Perez.
Turns 12, 13 and 14
Starting just after the exit of the hairpin is a long, flat-out right-hander (Turn 12). It's so simple in the dry it might as well be a straight, but it becomes a challenge whenever there's rain.
Next up is one of the best corners on the track, the long double-apex left-hander of Spoon (Turns 13 and 14).
The first part is slightly quicker than the second, which leads out onto the circuit's longest full-throttle zone. Taking a smooth line through here and getting a good exit is crucial for a quick lap time.
The back straight is quite attractive for a piece of tarmac, with a pleasant downhill blast into a shallow valley before the track rises again on the approach to the Crossover.
This is spot where the track passes over itself at the point just after Degner. Overtaking is possible around this area, but not likely.
And next up is the fastest corner of the F1 year—130R (Turn 15).
The name comes from the radius of the original corner (130 metres). It was reprofiled for safety reasons in 2003, so the name is no longer strictly accurate—but "85 and 340R" just wouldn't sound the same.
This corner was once considered a fearsome test, and taking it flat out was a true challenge. That doesn't really apply now.
Modern cars generate so much downforce that taking it without lifting is now relatively easy. The Red Bulls (and probably a few others) took it flat with DRS open in qualifying last year.
Turns 16, 17 and 18
Another overtaking opportunity presents itself on the short straight following 130R and under braking for the Casio Triangle (Turns 16 and 17).
This tight chicane jinks right then left, dramatically slowing the cars before releasing them through the long, flat-out right-hander of Turn 18 and back onto the pit straight.
The start-finish line is only a short distance down. The actual start line (used at the beginning of the race) is further along the straight.
The pit lane entry is on the inside of Turn 18, and the exit is just before Turn 1.
Tyres and DRS
Pirelli are bringing the two hardest compounds to Japan—the white-marked medium and the orange-marked hard.
Few circuits test the tyres quite as much as Suzuka. Traction demands are the lowest of the year, but lateral loading is the highest.
The first half of the lap is the real killer. Corners like the Esses and Dunlop put a lot of lateral energy through the tyres and there are no straights on which the tyres can cool down.
Then later in the lap we have Spoon and 130R—also massive tyre-bashers.
Pirelli say the front left is worked the hardest, but the front-right also catches a lot of pain.
So Suzuka is what's known as a "front-limited" circuit—wear to the front tyres will determine how frequently the cars have to stop for fresh rubber.
Two stops should be the norm.
There's only one sensible place to put DRS at Suzuka—the pit straight—so this will be one of only two races in 2013 with a single DRS zone. The other was Monaco.
The detection point for the single zone will be just before the final chicane (Turns 16 and 17), with the activation point 100 metres before the start-finish line.
The zone, which is 100 metres longer than it was in 2012, ends at Turn 1.
Japanese weather is varied and often unpredictable. Rain has affected numerous races here over the years; others have enjoyed unbroken sunshine.
The prevailing forecast for this weekend is for the odd shower on Friday, with bright sunshine for qualifying and the race.
But one never quite knows with Japan.
As always, the Japanese Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
All are given in Japanese local time (JST). Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!