2012 Formula One Japanese Grand Prix Preview
After the bright lights of the Singapore Grand Prix and a win for Sebastian Vettel that reignites the defending champion’s challenge for the 2012 drivers’ title, Formula One continues its Far-Eastern trek with a visit to one of the sport’s truly classic circuits – Suzuka in Japan.
Designed by John Hugenholtz, the superb figure-8 circuit is the only one of its kind on the calendar and is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary. In that time it has seen some remarkable races and as the battle for both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships hots up, this year is sure to be no exception.
Suzuka sets a stern challenge for both man and machine. Featuring a blend of low, medium and high-speed turns, as well rapid changes of direction, it’s not only a thrilling lap for the drivers but also a huge technical challenge and hooking up a perfect lap here is a feat that often separates the great from the merely good. That challenge extends to the engineers too. Setting up a car to cope with the swift changes of direction through the “Esses”, the long arcs of the Dunlop and Spoon curves, the high-speed blast of the fearsome 130R and the heavy-braking, slow-speed hairpin and Casio Triangle chicane is a complex task and, again, making the right compromises at the right time marks the difference between a good and a great weekend.
Sebastian Vettel experienced one of those great weekends last year. The German may have raced to third from pole but the podium finish handed him a second title. A year on and the Red Bull Racing driver is now firmly back in contention for a third crown after winning in Singapore a fortnight ago. The victory sees him arrive in Japan just 29 points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso who has 194 points. In the Constructors’ Championship Red Bull continue to lead, with 297 points, though their lead over McLaren has been chopped from 53 points after the Hungarian GP to just 36 points as we head into Round 15 of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship
Suzuka Track Facts
Length of lap: 5.807km
Lap record: 1:31.540 (Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren, 2005)
Start line/finish line offset: 0.300km
Total number of race laps: 53
Total race distance: 307.471km
Pitlane speed limits: 60km/h during practice and qualifying, 100km/h during the race
Japanese Grand Prix Fast Facts
► Pirelli will this weekend bring its Silver-banded Hard tyre and the Yellow-striped Soft compound. Both variants offer pace but more importantly they have the durability needed for what is quite an abrasive track surface.
► Of the 27 Japanese Grands Prix held to date, Suzuka has hosted all but four. The first two were held at the Fuji International Speedway, as were the 2007-’08 races, but then Fuji owners Toyota pulled out of hosting the event and the race returned to its spiritual home of Suzuka.
► Michael Schumacher is without doubt the most successful driver here with a staggering six Japanese Grand Prix wins (1995, ’97, 2000-’02 and 2004) to his credit. His nearest rivals are all stuck on two wins apiece. Double winners include Gerhard Berger, Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen. From the current grid Fernando Alonso (2006, ’08) and Sebastian Vettel (2009-’10) have also won twice here.
► The Japanese Grand Prix hasn’t been a particularly happy hunting ground for home-grown drivers, however. Over the course of 27 races, Japanese drivers have scored just 22 points. Satoru Nakajima finished sixth in 1987 and 1989 to bag a total of two points under the scoring rules in effect at the time. Aguri Suzuki became the first Japanese driver on the podium in 1990, taking four points for the third place under the same rules and Kamui Kobayashi grabbed six points under the current scoring rules with seventh place in 2010. Takuma Sato is the country’s most consistently successful racer at this race, finishing fifth in 2002, sixth in 2003 and fourth in 2004 for a total of 10 points.
► The 1989 race is remembered as one of F1’s most controversial. A tumultuous rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost reached boiling point here when the pair collided at the final chicane. Prost was forced to retire, while Senna kept going. He overhauled Alessandro Nannini for the lead and claimed victory. The Brazilian was, however, disqualified afterwards for missing the chicane and Prost won the title, much to Senna’s disgust. It was Nannini’s only F1 win.
► The feud between the pair continued the following year, only this time the collision occurred at turn one. The accident handed the Brazilian his second world title.
► The first Japanese team to take part in its home race wasn’t a big gun such as Honda but the tiny privateer outfit Kojima, which lined up for the inaugural race at Fuji in 1976. The car, the KE007, was driven by Masahiro Hasemi and the team finished 11th. Compatriot outfit Maki had attempted to start grands prix before but had never succeeded in qualifying for a championship round. That pattern continue at Fuji in ’76 when Tony Trimmer failed to qualify its F102A car. It was the team’s final Formula One event.
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