The challenge of Suzuka Ask any driver on the grid to rank their favourite circuits and you can be sure that Suzuka will appear pretty near the top of most lists. It's one of the old-school tracks; a rollercoaster ride that all the drivers...
The challenge of Suzuka
Ask any driver on the grid to rank their favourite circuits and you can be sure that Suzuka will appear pretty near the top of most lists. It's one of the old-school tracks; a rollercoaster ride that all the drivers relish, as well as being a technical challenge for the engineers. The reason why the drivers rave about the place is probably because it's so tricky to master. No other track, with the possible exception of Spa, can boast such a spectacular range of corners and hooking up the perfect lap always gives the drivers a real buzz.
The famous sequence of 'S' curves, from turns three to seven, stretches for 850 metres and is perhaps the most critical and demanding section, as Robert's race engineer, Simon Rennie, explains: "The drivers have to work really hard through the first sector because each corner flows into the next. So they need the car to be consistent and predictable, with a good change of direction. If they get the line wrong through turn three, they will be compromised for turns four, five, six and seven. This sequence only last for about 14 seconds, but it's easy to lose half a second of lap time with just a small mistake. The best approach is to moderate the throttle, largely in fifth gear, with just a tiny touch of the brakes in turns four and six."
The challenging first sector confirms that local knowledge is crucial at Suzuka, which is why it's a tough place for a rookie to get up to speed. "It's probably more difficult to learn than most of the new circuits because there are no straightforward corners, the track is quite narrow, and it's easy to make a mistake," confirms Vitaly's race engineer, Mark Slade. "Getting the car balance right is also more of a challenge at Suzuka because it's so technically demanding, and if you don't find the sweet spot with the set-up there's a bigger penalty compared with other tracks."
While the start of the lap is twisty, the end of the lap is quite the opposite. It may feature turn 15, the legendary 130R, but it's a watered down version of the original corner and no longer presents the same challenge for the drivers. "130R will be taken flat for every lap of the Grand Prix with an apex speed around 305 km/h," says Simon. "Even if you're tucked up close behind another car, it's still easily flat, and it shouldn't pose any problems with heavy fuel either. So the drivers will be on full throttle from the exit of turn 14 all the way to turn 16 -- that's 1.2 km in 16 seconds."
130R may be a shadow of its former self, but it still represents the fastest corner on the circuit and the drivers will experience around 3.5G of lateral acceleration for nearly two and half seconds with a peak at 4G. It's these high-speed corners that make Suzuka especially tough on tyres, which is why Bridgestone is supplying the harder end of their range this weekend (the hard and soft compounds).
"There is a lot of lateral loading on the tyres, which increases the wear rates," explains Mark. "The braking and acceleration loads are also significant and there aren't many parts of the lap where you're braking in a straight line, so the drivers are really leaning on the tyre while braking. The nature of the tarmac is the final contributing factor because it's very grippy and abrasive, which leads to high degradation."