Japanese Grand Prix 2014: 10 Key Facts About Suzuka Circuit

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2014

Japanese Grand Prix 2014: 10 Key Facts About Suzuka Circuit

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    Greg Baker/Associated Press

    The majestic Suzuka circuit will host its 26th Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

    Located towards the southern end of the largest Japanese island, Honshu, the circuit is considered one of the finest on the modern calendar. Quick, relatively narrow in places and surrounded by unforgiving gravel traps and walls, Suzuka presents a challenge to even the most experienced of drivers.

    Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen are among those to have won here more than once.

    The race weekend starts on Friday, so to get us in the mood, here are 10 interesting nuggets of information about this beautiful piece of tarmac.

It Was Built by Honda and Designed by a Dutchman

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    ANDY WONG/Associated Press

    Suzuka was built by Honda in 1962, primarily to function as a test track. Their original plan for the circuit was rather blanda pair of long straights connected by a spoon-like corner and a somewhat detached "infield" section.

    E-Tracks Online has a small circuit map of what they had in mind.

    Fortunately, renowned circuit designer John Hugenholtz was called in to consult. He produced several drafts before coming up with the layout we see today.

    He went on to have a hand in the design of other tracks, including Jarama, Zolder and the stadium section of Hockenheim.

Circuit Characteristics

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    Will Pittenger / Wikimedia Commons

    The modern-day Suzuka circuit is 5.807 kilometres in length. It has 18 corners and two noteworthy straights, along with some noticeable elevation changes. The lap record around here was set in 2005, a one minute, 31.540-second lap by Kimi Raikkonen.

    It has, for the most part, managed to escape the tarmac plague. Most of the run-off areas feature beautiful expanses of gravel; a mistake at Suzuka tends to cost the driver more than a couple of tenths.

    And given the quality and challenge of the corners, mistakes aren't rare. Spoon, 130R, the Degners and the Esses are considered some of the best turns in the world.

    No wonder many (if not all) the drivers rate it so highly.

It's the Only Figure-of-Eight Circuit in F1

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    Ker Robertson/Getty Images

    Suzuka is the only circuit used by F1 with a figure-of-eight layout.

    The first meeting with the crossover occurs just after the Degner Curves. Half a lap later, the track passes over this point just before 130R.

    Abu Dhabi has a crossover of sortsthe pit lane exit runs through a tunnel under the pit straight.

    But only Suzuka has one where the racing surface crosses over itself.

It Almost Had 3 Crossovers

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    John Hugenholtz's first draft for Suzuka featured a layout which wouldn't look out of place on Gran Turismo.

    The first corner was a long, decreasing radius right-hander which exited through the first crossover. The second was passed a few seconds later, before a series of tight corners took the track back over them.

    Crossover three was located in roughly the same place it occupies todayseen in the video above.

    This opening section was replaced in later draftswhich you can see here on e-Tracksby the beautiful Esses section we see today.

It Has Its Own Funfair

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    Shuji Kajiyama/Associated Press

    Suzuka has its own funfair, Motopia.

    Located behind the main grandstand to the north-east of the circuit, its most prominent feature is a huge ferris wheel. It's not quite as large as the Singapore flyer, but you can't miss it as the cars come out of the final chicane and onto the pit straight.

    The circuit grounds also contain a heliport, karting track, swimming pool, natural hot springs, tennis courts and a wide variety of hotels.

It Has Crowned 11 World Champions

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    Ayrton Senna in 1988.
    Ayrton Senna in 1988.Neokazu Oinuma/Associated Press

    Since it first hosted the Japanese Grand Prix in 1987, Suzuka has traditionally occupied a spot late in the calendar.

    As a result, this has been the place where 11 drivers' championships have been decided.

    Nelson Piquet (1987), Ayrton Senna (1988, 1990 and 1991), Alain Prost (1989), Damon Hill (1994), Mika Hakkinen (1998 and 1999), Michael Schumacher (2000, 2003) and Sebastian Vettel (2011) all clinched titles here.

    A total of 13 have been decided in Japan. James Hunt won his at Fuji in 1976, and Schumacher's 1995 triumph was confirmed at the Pacific Grand Prixheld at the TI Circuit Aida.

The Story of Degner

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    The Degner Curves are considered one of the finest corner combinations in modern F1, but when one looks at their angular nature, they don't quite "fit" with the elegantly curved nature of the rest of the circuit.

    Nor should they, because they weren't on the original design.

    Degner used to be a single, faster corner which ran through the space currently occupied by a gravel trap. It was modified as part of a raft of safety improvements in the 1980s, which eventually brought F1 to the circuit.

    The corners are named after German motorcycle rider Ernst Degner. He spent the early part of his career riding for East Germany's state-owned MZ team, but defected to the west in 1961 and took a few engineering secrets with him.

    He won the 125cc world title for Suzuki the following year.

    Degner suffered severe burns after crashing heavily at the corner now bearing his name in 1963. Though his team, Suzuki, were rivals of Honda, the corner was named in his honour.

    The video above tells the story of his defection.

It's Home to Some of the Greatest Fans in the World

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    The fans at Suzuka are like those nowhere else on the planet.

    Perhaps due to rarely having a decent Japanese driver to support, their adulation is spread far and wide and national flags from all over the world pop up on tall poles at the rear of the stands. Banners deck the grandstands supporting everyone you could imagine.

    Red Bull published a gallery of some of them, including perhaps the only HRT banner that ever existed.

    The fans of individual drivers are there too, from the expected to the less common.

    And the effort put into race-day costumes is on a different level:

    An example of how much effort goes into a Japanese fan's race wkend. Got to love them #f1 #JAPGP #redbull #bestfans pic.twitter.com/kAPkUSkFqg

    — Dom (@DrawnbyDom) October 10, 2013

    It's a fancy dress lover's paradise.

It Only Has One DRS Zone

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Despite being a quick circuit, Suzuka is one of only two tracks (so far) on the 2014 calendar with only one DRS zone. Monaco is the other.

    This is due to a lack of usable straights. The long back straight after Spoon would be suitable, but it ends at 130R. As there's no braking at this turn, the device would have to be manually deactivated.

    Because of this (and perhaps, because regularly putting cars side-by-side into 130R isn't a good idea), it can't be used.

    The one and only zone will be located on the pit straight.

130R Used to Be a Bit Better, with a Correct Name

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    The circuit's most famous corner is 130R, a very fast left-hander towards the end of the lap.

    But while other great corners have "cool" namesEau Rouge, Parabolica or Peraltada, for examplethis magnificent curve has an extremely functional title.

    130R simply means a corner with a radius of 130 metres. There's a 200R further back along the track (between the hairpin and Spoon), and Suzuka's main rival, Fuji, has a 100R and a 300R.

    After being re-profiled and made a little less awesome in 2003, 130R no longer lives up to its name. The new two-part corner which sits in its place has a first part with a radius of 85 metres and a second part with a radius of 340 metres.

    But even if you're a world-class pedant, "85 and 340R" doesn't sound right, does it?