Some F1 insider tips on how to do well in Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka
It’s a classic circuit with some famous corners, but there are many important tricks to doing well at Suzuka - race strategy is often the decisiv...
It’s a classic circuit with some famous corners, but there are many important tricks to doing well at Suzuka - race strategy is often the decisive factor, as it was clearly last season where Red Bull and Lotus fought for the win with split strategies for Red Bull carrying the day for Sebastian Vettel to take his fourth Suzuka win in five seasons. So what will be the key this weekend?
One crucial element will be avoiding Typhoon Phanfone, which is on a possible trajectory towards Suzuka around Sunday or Monday. It is being closely monitored, but organisers will be thinking of contingency planning to get the race away without disruption.
The Japanese Grand Prix has an impressive history; so many significant moments have happened at this circuit and Suzuka has a special place in most drivers’ hearts, along with Spa Francorchamps, as it provides a great driving challenge with its high speed corners and the first sector of the lap in particular is special, with a series of fast, winding curves through which there is only one really fast line.
This year one of the key elements affecting performance in qualifying and the race will be the Energy Recovery System – Suzuka is one of the lightest circuits of the season on braking and getting the MGU –K system fully charged over a lap will not be easy. With the way the respective systems work, this is likely to make it quite close in qualifying, but the Mercedes system should have more of an edge in the race, which will help Mercedes and Williams.
So for Red Bull qualifying will be critical to try to put pressure on Mercedes and outqualify them to get the track position advantage at the start. Pole position, which is on the outside, has a significant grip advantage compared to the inside line. Red Bull's challenge is that it is going to be forced to take a grid penalty for using an extra power unit soon. They will want to avoid that here. We may see some teams run fewer miles in practice to save the engines.
The first and second sectors of the lap will suit Red Bull, as they are all about aerodynamic efficiency, whereas the final sector is more power oriented.
It is a high degradation circuit for the tyres, so Pirelli has brought the medium and hard tyres. Last year most runners found that the hard tyre was the better race tyre, also partly due to the additional stability it offers. So the classic strategy is to start on mediums, pit for hards around lap 12-14 and then divide the remaining 40 laps into two stints on new hard tyres.
Despite DRS, Suzuka is still a tricky track on which to overtake, even though there are places like the chicane after the famous 130R corner, where we do see passing.
Track characteristics - (Click on map to enlarge)
Suzuka – 5.807 kilometres. Race distance - 53 laps = 307.471 kilometres. 18 corners in total. High speed, figure of 8 - a real drivers’ favourite
Aerodynamic setup – HIgh downforce. Top speed 324km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) - 312km/h without.
Full throttle – 70% of the lap time (ave/high).
Time spent braking: 10% of lap (low); Number of brake zones – 9; Brake wear- Light. Not a tough race on brakes.
Total time needed for pit stop: 22 seconds (ave)
The Japanese Grand Prix is the 15th round of the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.
Mercedes has won 11 of the 14 races so far this season, with Lewis Hamilton now on seven victories to Nico Rosberg’s four. Neither man has ever won a Grand Prix at Suzuka.
In contrast Vettel’s record at Suzuka is excellent; he has won four of the past five editions of the Japanese Grand Prix.
As far as other drivers’ form at Suzuka is concerned; Fernando Alonso won once (he also won at Fuji), while Jenson Button won in 2011. Kimi Raikkonen won a classic race in 2005, overtaking for the lead on the last lap. Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji in 2007, but has some unfinished business at Suzuka.
Being coastal, Suzuka is always likely to get sudden rain showers, sometimes heavy. Strong winds can also be a factor sometimes. Temperatures can vary widely. It is important to bear in mind that if it is warm the tyre degradation will be more severe.
There is a typhoon called Phanfone, on a pathway, which could take it close to Suzuka on Sunday or Monday. It looks quite a serious typhoon, so it is being monitored. Heavy rain will precede its arrival.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Suzuka: Medium (white markings) and hard (orange markings). This combination was most recently used at Silverstone
As with the race at Silverstone, the main interest will revolve around whether some teams can race with two stints on the mediums and one on the hard tyres to take advantage of the better pace of the mediums. If they can make the mediums last, this will be a competitive strategy. Last year most runners stuck with the hards. At Silverstone Daniel Ricciardo managed to take a set of mediums to 37 laps.
The performance gap between the medium and hard tyres is likely to be around 0.8 seconds per lap in qualifying trim. But in the race at Silverstone there was little to choose between the tyres; this could well happen at Suzuka this weekend.
Like Silverstone, Suzuka presents a great challenge for the tyres, with loadings in excess of 800 kilos on the tyre through some of the corners.
With the first sector of the lap featuring a series of high energy corners putting lateral load into the tyres, warm up is never a problem at Suzuka.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
Last year with hard and medium tyres, simulations showed that two stops would be faster than three stops by around 5 seconds. Most people did two stops.
A classic two stop is to pit for the first time around Lap 14 and then a second time around Lap 35. We may see drivers trying the undercut, trying to push rivals into running a longer final stint than they would ideally wish to do.
Thermal degradation will be the limiting factor, particularly on the front tyres and that will dictate strategy. Teams will react to degradation once it kicks in and make stops. We have seen a few times at Suzuka that a safety car can make a big difference for teams that are marginal on the tyres.
Suzuka has an unusual pit lane and it is easy to lose time in the pit stops. It is downhill, so easy for the driver to overshoot his pit box and there is a rain gulley which sometimes affects the exit from the pit box. The result is that there is generally more variability in the pit stop times than normal.
Chance of a Safety Car
The chance of a Safety Car at Suzuka is quite high: 60% with 0.6 Safety Cars per race. As accidents at Suzuka tend to be at high speed there is often wreckage to be cleared away. There has been at least one Safety Car in five of the last seven races at Suzuka.
Recent start performance
Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.
As far as 2014 starts are concerned here is a table with indications of drivers who have gained or lost places at the start.
Note- This table is intended as an indicator of trends. Where drivers have had first lap incidents, which dropped them to the back of the field, they are not included above, but are detailed in the notes below. This affects other drivers’ gains, but the sample still shows prevailing trends of places won and lost at the start.
Net gained positions
18 Maldonado, Hulkenberg
15 Raikkonen, Kobayashi
4 Button, Lotterer, Perez
Net held position
Net lost positions
Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.
Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1 Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact
China Notes: Sutil lost power at start and dropped 8 places, retiring soon after.
Monaco notes: Maldonado did not start, Ericsson started from pit lane, Perez crashed Lap 1.
Canada Notes: Gutierrez started from pit lane; Bianchi and Chilton crashed lap 1; Ericsson pitted lap 1
Austria Notes: Grosjean started from pit lane
GB Notes: Raikkonen and Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident
Germany notes: Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident, Magnussen and Ricciardo dropped back as a result
Hungary Notes: Hamilton, Magnussen, Kvyat started from pit lane
Belgium Notes: Grosjean and Bianchi collided on lap one, Kobayashi absent and replaced by Lotterer.
Italy Notes: Ericsson started from pit lane.
Singapore notes: Kobayashi did not start; Rosberg started from pit lane
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and consistency is the key - despite the emphasis on eliminating mistakes, we have still seen tyre stops carried out in two seconds this year.
The table below shows the fastest single stop by teams in the recent Singapore Grand Prix from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.
1. McLaren 28.627
2. Red Bull 28.733
3. Ferrari 28.810
4. Williams 28.889
5. Lotus 29.036
6. Mercedes 29.244
7. Force India 29.362
8. Sauber 29.748
9. Marussia 29.752
10. Toro Rosso 29.806
11. Caterham 30.144
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists, from Pirelli and from JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow
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