Round 15 - Japan 5-7 October 2012
Circuit Length: 5.807 Km
Lap Record: 1:31.540 = 228.372 km/h - K. Raikkonen (McLaren) 2005
Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:30.466 = 231.083 km/h
1st: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1:30.53.427 (av. race speed 202.972 km/h)
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 1.180s behind
3rd: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), 2.006s behind
Fastest Lap: Button, 1:36.568 = 216.481 km/h on Lap 52
SUZUKA: ‘A BRILLIANT CIRCUIT’
Here’s a question for you. In the last 17 visits to Suzuka the Japanese Grand Prix has been won only once by a driver who was not a World Champion. Who was that, and when? Answer at the end of our preview!
“There are six races left and I need to win them all,” said Lewis Hamilton in the aftermath of his Singapore disappointment. But how will the news of his defection to Mercedes in 2012 affect the rest of Hamilton’s 2012 campaign? If we are to believe the man himself, he’s 100% focused on a second title, even though the odds are against it. “There’s nothing to really be gained by analysing the points tables, from now on, it’s simply gloves-off,” he says. Lewis is 29 points behind Fernando Alonso...
Last year’s Suzuka winner, in highly emotional circumstances, was Hamilton’s current teammate Jenson Button, who sums the Japanese track up perfectly: “Suzuka is definitely a circuit that puts hair on your chest,” he smiles. “It’s extremely uncompromising; like a street circuit, it doesn’t allow for a single mistake, punishing you for putting a wheel wrong at almost every point on the circuit.”
“But it’s also extremely quick,” adds Button. “There’s only one line through the esses that make up the whole first section; the Degner corners are blind, hidden in dips in the track, and approached over bumps that jolt the car, trying to unbalance it. Successfully hitting the apex for Degner 1 is a bit like trying to thread a needle while running the 100 metres – difficult!” More difficult for Jenson this year: he has a five-place grid penalty because he needs a new gearbox.
To meet the Suzuka challenge, including the thrilling 130R – fastest corner of the whole season – tyre suppliers Pirelli are taking their P Zero Silver (hard) and Yellow (soft) tyres, which sounds like a step back from last year (medium/soft) but as the Italian company points out the 2012 tyres are in fact softer than their 2011 counterparts. With a full step between the two compounds on offer, they also expect to see a range of pit stop strategies.
A man with local knowledge of his own is Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, currently overshadowed in the cockpit and out of it by teammate Sergio Perez. “It is a very technical track, really exciting to drive and actually it is very difficult to do a perfect lap there, which is part of the challenge,” says Japan’s lone F1 representative. “I would say at most of the circuits it takes no more than 20-30 laps to really learn them. Some are getting boring even before that, but in Suzuka you are still learning and improving after you have done hundreds of laps.”
Perez, of course, is off to McLaren to replace Hamilton, who is replacing Michael Schumacher at Mercedes. How will the German driver cope with six more races as his comeback threatens to peter out? He’s won at Suzuka before – six times, to be precise, and he says he’s up for it again: “My motivation is completely intact after the news last week, especially because Suzuka is one of the season’s highlights for me,” he says. “I enjoy the circuit – it has sections that challenge you as a driver like almost nowhere else.” Michael too has a bigger challenge this weekend: his collision with Vergne in Singapore has cost him 10 places on the Suzuka grid.
Lotus Renault’s Romain Grosjean has only raced at Suzuka once in an F1 car but he still loves it as much as the rest of them. “It’s difficult to pick one part of the circuit as your favourite. The first sector is brilliant, with turn one, turn three, four and five – it’s crazy! Then you go right under the bridge, then a small hairpin, and next up is the ‘Spoon corner’ which is a nightmare for the drivers. Then you’re flat out, DRS wide open, before the last chicane. A brilliant circuit.”
So it takes a brilliant drive to conquer it – and that’s exactly what Grosjean’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen produced when he won the Japanese Grand Prix for McLaren seven years ago. “In 2005 I had one of my best wins there after starting the race near the back of the grid and then taking the lead on the last lap,” recalls the taciturn Finn. “Winning in that way, you never forget the feeling it gives you while crossing the finish line.” It included a brush with his teammate Montoya, a superb swoop on Schumacher’s Ferrari and an irresistible last-lap attack on Fisichella’s Renault.
For Aussie fans it will be fun to see if Dan Ricciardo can steal Mark Webber’s thunder again as the Toro Rosso man did in Singapore. Ricciardo’s one appearance at Suzuka saw him qualify 22nd in the HRT last year and finish in the same position. Webber has a bit more experience: the Red Bull man has raced eight times at Suzuka for Minardi, Jaguar, Williams and his current team. His best result: 2010, when he qualified second – his only Suzuka front row – and finished in the same spot.
Answer: it was Rubens Barrichello in his Ferrari days in 2003.