Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Japan and Suzuka after the earthquake
- Red Bull Racing ready to party at Suzuka
- The battle for the Contractors’ title
The Japanese Suzuka Circuit will host round 14 of the 2011 FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship this weekend. Suzuka is a thoroughbred drivers’ circuit with many technical challenges which makes it the favorite circuit of many drivers. Especially the 130R corner is an interesting challenge as drivers take the corner flat out, and have to be totally committed to get through the 130R unscathed. The circuit was originally a Honda test track and was designed by Dutchman Hans Hugenholz in 1962 and the only rack with a figure-eight layout.
The circuit has been the scene of many championship battles, most notably the battles of Prost and his archenemy Senna who famously eliminated each other in 1989 and 1990, in 1989 Prost crashed into Senna in the last chicane, in 1990 Senna decided it was pay-back time and took Prost out just ahead of Turn 1 with speeds close to 300 km/h. As a result Prost won the title in 1989 and Senna in 1990. When Senna was asked at the time if this kind of racing was acceptable he said, “What is acceptable in motor racing is with what you can get away with.”
Japan after the earth quake and the tsunami
Japan was hit by an earthquake in March this year and the earthquake and the resulting tsunami claimed the lives of thousands of Japanese. To make things worse, the nuclear power plant at Fukishima was badly damaged and radioactive material escaped and contaminated a large area around the power plant. An enormous tragedy for the Japanese people as many lost their family as well as their livelihood. Formula One hopes to give the Japanese people a positive impulse and hope they will enjoy this year’s Grand Prix.
A few reactions from the paddock, Team Lotus Mike Gascoyne, “It is important that Formula One goes back there and we all show our support and commitment to the country and the Grand Prix.” Force India’s Adrian Sutil, “After all the tragic events that happened at the start of the year, I think it's a good sign that we're going back there.”
Jenson Button, who considers Japan as his second home as he has a Japanese girlfriend, “I'm very proud that the Formula One World Championship will put Japan on the world's sporting stage next weekend: while the country is still collectively rebuilding itself, I'm deeply aware that sport can play a significant role in helping to restore hope and normality to communities that were torn apart by the earthquake and tsunami.”
Marussia Virgin Team Principal John Booth commented, “The F1 fraternity was heartbroken to see the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami eight months ago and the widespread suffering as a result, so our return there this year will be all the more poignant.”
Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn, “We hope that the race will provide entertainment and enjoyment, and it seems somehow fitting that the championship is likely to be decided in Japan.” This inevitably leads to the next topic of today.
Red Bull Racing ready to party
Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel can clinch the title at Suzuka this weekend, he just need to score one point more to do so, and the expectations are that the 24-year old driver can celebrate his second World Championship in Japan. McLaren’s Button is Vettel’s only remaining rival, but he has to win all remaining five races and Vettel has to score no points for the Briton to take title, which is realistically speaking simply not going to happen. If he does take the title it will be a back-to-back championship and he will join Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Fernando Alonso, who were the only Formula One drivers to win a back-to-back titles.
Vettel so far has taken 11 pole positions this season, won nine Grands Prix and leads the championship with 309 points. The German has led 13 of the 14 races, and led 582 of the 839 racing laps. Altogether an very impressive CV, and as he is now just 24 years old, it is expected he in the future will win many more titles and will break even more records.
Vettel himself is still very reluctant to say the title is already in the bag, and asked about this during the Thursday press conference he replied: “Well, that is what most of the people talk about and for them it is over, but even if it's one point, I said it straight after the race and I still say the same thing even if people would like to hear something else. Even if it is one point we need to make sure we get it.” And he jokingly added, “If someone feels to do me a favour he can push Jenson down the stairs later on. That would help!”
The odds are in favor of Vettel, as he won the previous two Japanese Grands Prix after starting the race from pole position. Asked whether he will have a different approach this weekend he said, “I don't think there is any reason why I should approach it differently. The target we have going into this weekend is to get the best out of our car, the best out of ourselves.”
McLaren can spoil the party
Button also knows it is inevitable Vettel will take the title one day or another, but he is the only driver who could spoil Red Bull’s party. The Briton thinks his McLaren is fast enough, but he also knows Adrian Newey’s Red Bull is also fast on high speed circuits. “In the last few races, I think we've shown that we have extremely good pace and that we've been the team most able to take the fight to Red Bull. On paper, I think it's a circuit that will suit the Red Bulls, particularly in the high-speed sweeps that make up the first sector of the track, but I certainly don't think people should under-estimate our package,” he commented.
He is hopeful to score a good result, “We showed at Spa that we have a car that's very effective in high-speed corners. We've also improved our straight line speed and we have a more efficient rear-wing for qualifying, so I think we're feeling positive about the weekend.” And he concluded his comment, “It would mean a lot to me to win here at Suzuka. That’s our aim this weekend. Whether we are quick enough or not we will have to wait and see but we are in the hunt and I am looking forward to a fun weekend.”
Lewis Hamilton had a by now famous clash with Felipe Massa during the Singapore Grand Prix, and has once again been criticized about his driving style. In an interview with the BCC Hamilton however, claims he ‘does nothing wrong’. He is aware of his recent woes, not just with Massa, and commented, “I'm trying my best to avoid those things but I've been in awkward positions this year. I'm trying my hardest. I'm still here, still fighting, and I'm not giving up.” Asked for an explanation he said, “When things go that quickly, sometimes you get it wrong. You are juggling tons of balls and sometimes you drop one of them. You can drop the ball that gets you a penalty and I just seem to be dropping that particular ball quite often.”
Ferrari to test 2012 parts again
Ferrari know for them the championship battle is over, and all that is left for the Maranello-based team is to try to win the remaining races, and there is of course still the battle for second place in the championship. Alonso is just one point behind Button, while Mark Webber is two points behind the Spaniard. Hamilton is currently fifth, 14 points behind Webber. With five races and 125 points still to be earned anything is still possible.
Alonso is still poised to win a few races, “It's no different to previous races. I want to win and I want to be on pole position. I know that this may not be possible with the performance that we have now, but you always have the hope to do it. I don't like to be second or third so we will try to be in the best position possible.” And asked about the Constructors’ Championship he said, “In terms of the championship, the most important thing is to try to get second place from McLaren in the constructors'. It's an extremely difficult target, but we will try to push for that.” And it will indeed be difficult as Ferrari is currently third 85 points behind McLaren.
And because Ferrari has now set their sights on the development of the 2012 car, and with the current limited testing opportunities have also decided to test parts of the 2012 car during the remaining races. During the Singapore Grand Prix they tested the 2012 front wing. “From now on we will be spending some time on Friday to start testing parts for next year,” Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali said. Greek-born designer Nicolas Tombazis, “Some of these components are now at the production stage, while others are at the final part of the design process. We are right in the middle of development for the aerodynamic elements and it's fair to say we are now totally concentrated on the new car.”
The battle for sixth in the Constructor’s Championship
The midfield battle for sixth place which involves Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso is not only interesting from a sporting point of view, for these teams it is also the scrap for their share of the Formula One revenues. It has been reported that according to the Concorde Agreement the ultimate prize for sixth place could be as much as $10 million. The three teams are separated by less than 20 points and with five races to go all three are aiming to finish the season in sixth.
Sauber team boss Swiss Peter Sauber is determined to take sixth place from Force India. “We will move heaven and hell for this sixth place,” Sauber was quoted saying. For Kamui Kobayashi it will be his home Grand Prix, and he is of course looking forward to the venue. “It is always very exciting going back to Japan to race, but when I went back last year it had been a long time since I had raced there and it felt especially good to be there.” About the track he said, “Suzuka is one of my favorite circuits, and I also think one of the best tracks as well. Racing there is exciting and cool. I think every driver likes it. It is really enjoyable to drive on if you get in the right rhythm. The S Curves - two, three, four, five and six - are my favorites.” And he added, “This is my home country and so many fans are waiting, so I really think it is great to do. I believe Japan is very important for Formula One and I think we can put on a good show for the sport, which is a good thing for the Japanese fans.”
Force India team boss Vijay Mallya has already taken over sixth place from Sauber, and has now set his sights on beating Lotus Renault in the battle for fifth place. “I'm now looking to the remainder of the season with confidence. I see no reason why we cannot build on the performance we showed in Singapore and get some more excellent results in the final few races. I was focused on getting ahead of Sauber and securing sixth in the championship. Now I've got my sights set on fifth, and I think we can do it, with a bit of luck!”
Adrian Sutil is considered to be a Suzuka ‘specialist’. “Suzuka is a great circuit, one that suits me very well,” the German said. “It's a pure driver's circuit. Some of the corners are outstanding, such as the 'S' curves and 130R, which is easily flat. It's unusual to have so many amazing corners all in the same lap and getting them all right is the best feeling. Also, I spent a year living in Japan when I raced Formula 3, so it always feels like a second home,” he explained.
Suzuka Circuit - Japan
|Circuit length||5.807 km|
|Corners||18 turns, 8 left, 10 right|
|Longest straight||850 m|
|Total number of race laps||53|
|Total race distance||307.471 km|
|Average lap speed||237 km/h|
|Maximum speed||320 km/h|
|Minimum speed||70 km/h|
|Tyre compounds||Prime: Medium (white) - Option: Soft (yellow)|
|Brake wear||Medium to high|
|Down force level||Medium|
|Lap record||Kimi Raikkonen - McLaren - 1:31.540 (2005)|
|2010 Pole Position||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull - 1m30.785|
|2010 Race Winner||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull - 1h30m27.396|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice, 100 km/h|
during qualifying and race |
|FIA Stewards||Alan Jones (AUS), Gary Connelly (AUS), Jose Abed (MEX)|
Suzuka Circuit, Japan - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Clear sky, sunny and warm||11C||22C|
|Saturday||Clear sky, sunny and warm||17C||23C|
|Sunday||Light rain showers||17C||23C|
Pirelli tyre report
Pirelli brings the Medium (Prime, white marked) and Soft (Option, yellow marked) tyres to Suzuka. The track is a technical challenge, with high speed corners like the Spoon Curve and the 130R which are also very demanding for the tyres. But there are also slower corners like the last chicane before the start-finish straight, while the sequence of Turns 1-7 is of paramount importance to score a good lap time. As the past has learned, rain can also play a role at Suzuka and the Pirelli intermediates and full wet tyres are ready to give drivers maximum grip in rainy conditions.
Pirelli's Motorsport Director Paul Hembery commented, “Suzuka is all about putting power down effectively in order to obtain maximum grip in terms of traction, braking and cornering. There's a lot of energy and lateral load going through the rubber, so once more it is going to be important for all the drivers to manage their tyres effectively, because of the speeds involved and a high-downforce set-up that pushes the tyres onto the road surface.”
The FIA have announced the DRS (Drag Reduction System) setup for the Japanese Grand Prix. It will be a single zone setup, the detection zone, where a driver has to be within one second of the driver he wants to overtake, starts 70 meters after Turn 15 and ends 30 meters after turn 18. The activation zone covers the whole length of the start-finish straight and ends when the driver hits the brakes before Turn 1. As drivers are allowed to use DRS during qualifying, they can use it in the 130R corner as well, and Lotus Renault Technical Director James Allison commented, “It will be particularly interesting to see whether anyone dares make it through there in qualifying with their DRS activated.”
More drivers and team quotes\
Fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship is currently held by Mercedes GP, but Lotus Renault are closing in on the German Silver Arrows team. The main objective for Mercedes is to keep fourth place, and with the recent results both Schumacher and Nico Rosberg are confident they will score points at Suzuka.
Schumacher is another fan of Suzuka, “Suzuka is a very special circuit, and one which has held great races, and great memories, for me over the years.” And the seven-times World Champion added, “I always enjoy the challenge of driving here and getting the technical set-up of the car right to get the best from the demanding layout of the track. A great first sector, high-speed turns, and interesting corner combinations all make Suzuka one of the best race tracks of the year, and definitely one of my favorites. We will be working hard to make the most of our weekend here, and hopefully we can come away with a strong performance and some more points.”
Rosberg commented, “Personally I think it's one of the best circuits on the Formula One calendar, along with Spa, and one which every driver loves. The layout is very challenging with high-speed corners and difficult chicanes. In the past, overtaking has been really difficult here, so it will be interesting to see how the new rules affect the racing. I always love the atmosphere in Japan and the fans are really enthusiastic in their support. Let's hope we can put on a show for them and achieve a good result.”
For Lotus Renault Team Principal Eric Boullier Suzuka is also a magic place, “Suzuka is one of the big names in F1. It is up there with Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Monza. We've seen so many amazing races there. I still remember, as a teenager, waking up early to watch the battling between Prost and Senna on TV at the end of the 80's.” After a disastrous weekend at Singapore, Boullier is still optimistic, “We fully understand why we performed so poorly and the explanation is simple: slow corners in the 60-100km/h range just don't do it for the R31. Things should get better for us on quicker tracks and Suzuka is one of them. In Japan, we expect to return to the level of performance we saw in Belgium and Italy. Our mission will be to focus on getting both cars into Q3. From then on, the weekend should be pretty straightforward.”
Bruno Senna, now with three races in the Lotus Renault under his belt, is also adamant Suzuka will suit his car better, “The low-speed nature of Singapore made it the worst circuit for us in terms of performance. That hurt us a little bit, but with the updates that we have planned for Suzuka we should be strong there, and get both cars in the points again - that's where we belong,”
The last team to have scored points for the Constructors’ Championship is Williams, who are ninth in the championship with only five points out of 14 races. Mark Gillan, who has taken over Sam Michael’s duties is confident his team will perform better in Japan. “Our levels of understanding regarding the drivability issues of the FW33 have increased significantly since Singapore and we are currently working hard to optimize the set-up and improve the car going into the Japanese GP. We obviously need to ensure that the car operates in the optimal aerodynamic window - this is fundamental to maximizing our performance and we aim to be fighting for a points finish with both cars,” said Gillan.
Team Lotus Team Principal Tony Fernandes remembers last year’s race at Suzuka, “2010 in Japan was our best race of the season - we finished 12th and 13th and essentially wrapped up our little battle for the title of fastest new team in Formula One, so it is a race and a country we hold very dear.”
Marussia Virgin driver Timo Glock is all ready for this weekend, "I've been back to Europe in the break to continue to work on my fitness for the long-haul races, which means a lot of cycling in Switzerland of course. The next two races, being back-to-back, are tough ones for the team so I'm as prepared as I can be to support us with what I hope can be two strong race performances.”
And finally Colin Kolles, HRT Team Principal and he is hoping to gain some more progress, “It is a medium to high downforce track but we expect the updates that we brought to Singapore to slightly improve our performance under such conditions. Tonio's [Liuzzi] experience and skills will certainly contribute to this improvement while Daniel [Ricciardo] will find himself again facing a new challenge at a track that he has never driven around before, although I am sure he will adapt to it and push as he has done over the past races.”
Who to watch this weekend
Formula One returns to Suzuka with the disaster that struck the country still in mind, on the other hand everyone involved in the sport hope they can contribute to help Japan and the Japanese Formula fans to continue with their life, and hope the Japanese Grand Prix can offer a little comfort for those who lost everything they had. It is a bit of an awkward situation but as life goes on, the show also goes on.
All eyes will be on Button as he is they only one who can spoil Red Bull’s party, but every fan knows it is inevitable Vettel will take his second successive title, and the German plans to take it in style, which means he simply wants to win this race.
Midfield there is still the battle for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship, and Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso are still dicing for sixth, while Ferrari and McLaren are aiming for a maximum result. Despite their efforts, Mercedes still hasn’t scored a podium this season, and now would be the right time to do it.