Thirty miles southwest of Nagoya, Japan's third largest city, the Suzuka International Racetrack was built in 1962 as a test track for Honda. Close to the manufacturer's Suzuka factory, the three and a half-mile figure of eight circuit was part of...
Thirty miles southwest of Nagoya, Japan's third largest city, the Suzuka International Racetrack was built in 1962 as a test track for Honda. Close to the manufacturer's Suzuka factory, the three and a half-mile figure of eight circuit was part of a motorcycle theme park and was designed by John Hugenholz, the Dutchman who also designed Jarama and Zandvoort.
Suzuka has been the scene of some exciting conclusions to world championships. In 1987, Nigel Mansell crashed in qualifying and Williams teammate Nelson Piquet was the victor. In 1989 Ayrton Senna and McLaren teammate Alain Prost collided, a scenario they recreated almost exactly the following year, although Prost was then with Ferrari. In '89 it was Prost that triumphed and in 1990, Senna took the title.
Senna won the race at Suzuka twice, as did Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen. The circuit is surely a favourite of Michael Schumacher's, as the German has won there five times, including the last three years in a row.
Suzuka is a technical track that is challenging for both the drivers and the engineers. With no general testing allowed at the circuit it means the Friday test teams will have a slight advantage, at least in the way of preparation. Suzuka is a track where driver skills really come to the fore and is a favourite of many.
The series of esses behind the pits requires a well-balanced car and in general a lap needs a compromise between downforce and straight-line speed. Set up is likely to be in the medium to high downforce range. The figure of eight layout makes tyre wear fairly even but the track is quite abrasive and temperatures can be high. Compounds are from the harder end of the scale.
The engine spends about half the lap at less than full throttle but if the 130R curve can be taken flat it becomes a 17 second maximum power run. With the combination of chicanes, high-speed corners and changes of direction, the rev range is the second widest after Monaco. High speed cornering is as important as straight-line speed.
Last year it another Ferrari one-two that finished the season. Michael Schumacher led Rubens Barrichello in what was a trouble free race for the pair -- others were not so well favoured. Allan McNish, then a Toyota driver, had a huge crash in qualifying and had to miss the race, although he was not badly injured. Ralf Schumacher suffered an engine failure and Williams teammate Juan Pablo Montoya had a solitary time and came home fourth.
Of course, the big question this weekend is: can Raikkonen do it? Can he really snatch the championship from Michael Schumacher, when the German only needs one point to secure his sixth title and Raikkonen needs the race win -- and for Michael not to be in the points at all.
It seems a tall order. Not that Raikkonen isn't capable of winning. He's already proved he can but Michael would have to either crash out or be forced to retire for him not to finish at least eighth. If he's on four wheels and pointing in the right direction, it seems unfeasible for him to finish outside the points.
Schumacher has to be the favourite; Raikkonen has a mountain to climb and Michael only a molehill. However, having said that, anything could happen. A champion will be crowned on Sunday and it's been a long, hard fought battle for whichever driver is the victor.