Suzuka is one of the most revered circuits in the world. Its fast corners and undulations are a genuine test of man and machine, which might explain why 18 of the last 19 grands prix at the track have been won by world champions. In short: this is a racetrack at which only the best drivers succeed.
Suzuka facts & stats
Built in 1962 as a test track for Honda, Suzuka’s sweeping figure-of-eight layout has remained largely unchanged for more than 50 years. The track hosted its first Formula 1 race in 1987, since when it has staged the Japanese Grand Prix every year, except on two occasions (2007/’08).
As with most of F1’s classic circuits, drivers and team members know the corners by name, rather than simply by number. The Esses, Degner, Spoon and 130R are some of the most famous corners in motor racing, and each will demand ultimate respect and commitment from the drivers this weekend.
With an average speed of 225km/h (139mph), Suzuka is one of the fastest circuits on the F1 calendar. All three sectors around the lap contain fast corners and a period of full-throttle, and the track is also very narrow and bumpy. It punishes even the smallest of mistakes.
Engine power is important and aerodynamic efficiency is vital, especially through the Esses in sector one. This sequence of five high-speed corners tests the agility of a car and it’s through this section that the drivers have to position their cars with pinpoint accuracy, or risk losing large chunks of time.
Another challenging feature of Suzuka’s 5.807km (3.608-mile) layout is the downhill grid. At the start of the race the slope requires the drivers to hold their cars on the brakes until releasing the clutch; if the task isn’t carried out seamlessly, a poor getaway is inevitable.
Pirelli are making available their two hardest rubber compounds – the Medium (Option) and the Hard (Prime) – as they did in Malaysia, Spain, Great Britain and Italy earlier in the year. The reason for the conservative tyre choice is the number of high-speed corners on the lap, through which up to 800kg of load is placed on the tyres.
McLaren has won the Japanese Grand Prix on nine occasions, the team’s most recent victory coming in 2011 with Jenson Button. As was the case in Singapore last time out, Kevin Magnussen will be tackling the circuit for the first time.
Suzuka – the stats you need
Race distance 53 laps (307.471km/191.054 miles)
Start time 15:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)
Circuit length 5.807km/3.608 miles
2013 winner Sebastian Vettel
2013 pole Mark Webber
Lap record Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren MP4-20) 1m31.540s (228.372km/h)
First race 1987
What makes it special What isn’t special about Suzuka? Fast, flowing corners; unique figure-of-eight layout; hugely enthusiastic fans. We love it!
Wins from pole position 12
Track abrasiveness High. A lot of the asphalt is old and abrasive, which, when combined with the high lateral loads generated in the fast corners, makes it very demanding for tyres
Pirelli tyre choice Medium (Option) / Hard (Prime), a combination that has already been used four times this year (Malaysia, Spain, GB, Italy)
2013 winning strategy 2 pitstops
Fuel consumption Average – just over 65 per cent of the lap is spent at full throttle, but the flowing nature of the track makes it relatively easy on fuel consumption
Brake wear Low. The brakes are used in only 11 of the 18 corners, the equivalent of 10 percent of the lap
Weather Warm and humid. Suzuka’s coastal location means rain can move in fast. Qualifying in 2010 was a washout after a prolonged rainstorm
DRS zones One – on the start-finish straight
Turbo effect Average, owing to the high average speed and minimal levels of acceleration from low speed
Safety Car likelihood There’s a 60 per cent chance of a Safety Car, which is quite high. Accidents are usually high-speed, resulting in debris needing to be cleared away
Grid advantage The racing line is on the left, giving that side of the track a slight advantage
Pitlane time 21s
McLaren at the Japanese Grand Prix
Wins 9 (1977, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2011)
Poles 6 (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2007, 2008)
Fastest laps 8 (1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2000, 2005, 2007, 2011)
2014 drivers’ championship
1 Lewis Hamilton 241
2 Nico Rosberg 238
3 Daniel Ricciardo 181
4 Fernando Alonso 133
5 Sebastian Vettel 124
6 Valtteri Bottas 122
7 Jenson Button 72
8 Nico Hulkenberg 72
9 Felipe Massa 65
10 Sergio Perez 45
11 Kimi Raikkonen 45
12 Kevin Magnussen 39
13 Jean-Eric Vergne 19
14 Romain Grosjean 8
15 Daniil Kvyat 8
16 Jules Bianchi 2
1) Mercedes 479
2) Red Bull Racing 305
3) Williams 187
4) Ferrari 178
5) Force India 117
6) McLaren-Mercedes 111
7) Toro Rosso 27
8) Lotus 8
9) Marussia 2
Age 34 (January 19 1980)
“Coming to Suzuka feels like a second home race for me. Japan is such a special place and my win here in 2011 really stands out as a personal highlight. The fans there really set it apart and there’s an incredible atmosphere about the whole place all weekend.
“It’s also one of the best circuits we come to; a real challenge and incredibly unforgiving, which makes it all the more rewarding when you get it right. For me the Esses are the best section of corners in the world – totally unique to Suzuka, which makes racing here so exciting. Being such a tricky, high-speed track you need good downforce, rhythm and total focus to get the most out of a lap.
“Despite not getting to the finish in Singapore, we’re definitely on an upward curve in terms of developing the car. Suzuka will be a tricky one for us, but I’m still really looking forward to it.”
Age 21 (October 05 1992)
“Suzuka is one of those legendary circuits – I can’t wait to get out there! I’m really looking forward to driving onto the track for the first time and tackling the famous corners you always hear about – the Esses, the Degners, then Spoon and 130R.
“After Singapore, I’m hoping the conditions in Japan won’t be quite so difficult to manage! It was a really tough race and we deserved more than we came home with, but I’m confident that we can begin the weekend in good form and build on the improvements we’ve already seen in the past few races.
“Suzuka looks like a really challenging circuit, very fast with some really tricky corners to get right, which makes overtaking a bit more difficult than at other tracks. I can’t wait to get to the track and start working with my engineers to get the best set-up. After the difficult race we had last time out, I’m going to give it my absolute all to get the best possible result here for the team.”
Racing director, McLaren Mercedes
“Although on paper our results from Singapore were very disappointing, the team has quickly refocused and we’ve taken many positives from the weekend which we aim to carry into Suzuka. More than anything, our performance proved our total determination to succeed and fight right until the last moment. Despite coming home with just one point, our lap times and race pace compared to the front-runners is certainly more promising than earlier in the year, so this is what we must focus on at Suzuka to keep up this momentum.
“For McLaren, Suzuka is a very special race. The Japanese people are so welcoming from the moment we step off the plane, and the whole team enjoys coming back to Japan each year. It’s a circuit that the fans and drivers love, and its traditional slot towards the end of the season means we usually see some incredibly tense on-track battles.
“Suzuka is an interesting challenge in terms of set-up – getting the car’s balance right will be the key to success. Our engineers are working hard to make sure we get the most out of our car this weekend, and our aim is to build on our improvements in Singapore and come away with a result that is more representative of our recent progress.”