"We left Singapore with mixed emotions. Lewis produced a fantastic drive in difficult circumstances with the safety car to take a great victory. Credit must go to the team in terms of the strategy – which was bold but absolutely the right call. It demanded a lot from Lewis in terms of his performance in the final phase of the race – but as always he delivered faultlessly. On the other side of the garage, it was very disappointing to have lost Nico’s car in Singapore. This was down to the failure of a part which we have been running faultlessly since its introduction six years ago and so demonstrates the challenge of ensuring reliability in a modern Formula One car. Clearly, this is an area in which we need to perform a lot better in the future. Reliability is something we have been working on intensively over the past 12 months and we will redouble our efforts moving forwards. Now, we look ahead to Suzuka. It’s a fantastic track – unique in its figure-of-eight configuration with some spectacular corners, and a very well-liked circuit amongst the drivers. It demands the utmost skill from the driver in order to get the right lines – particularly through the ‘S’ Curves – and good all-round performance from the car in terms of power, braking and cornering. We hope that will play to our advantage and that we can bring home another good result. The Japanese fans are some of the very best on the planet – we particularly look forward to seeing what interesting costumes they produce each year. Their enthusiasm for the sport is second to none and we hope to reward them with a good show."
Suzuka: On the Pit Wall
Back to a ‘Normal’ Circuit
Since we were at Hockenheim in July, each of the circuits on the calendar has brought extremes in terms of their characteristics – be that in one direction or the other. Both the Hungaroring and the Marina Bay Street Circuit are tight, twisting tracks with low power sensitivity and precious few overtaking opportunities. Then, there has been Spa and Monza – the polar opposite with their long straights, high power sensitivity and high demands on the Power Units. Suzuka, however, is more what might be termed a ‘normal’ circuit – with a good mix of low, medium and high-speed corners coupled with a fairly average lap length.
The circuit is used fairly regularly throughout the year by a variety of different motorsport categories, placing track evolution around the middle of the scale at around two seconds per lap between Friday practice and qualifying.
Japan is one of the toughest locations of the season for the teams in terms of the offset hours, which are tricky to get to grips with. For those working back at the factories in Brackley and Brixworth in particular, effectively adjusting to a night shift for the week inevitably puts a strain on the body. Suzuka itself is the only circuit on the calendar to run in a figure-of-eight configuration, with the run between Turns 14-15 crossing over that of Turns 9-10. The distribution between left (8) and right (10) turns around the track is well-balanced, leading to relatively equal tyre wear on each side of the car. There are also a lot of elevation changes – the most significant of which begins on the run out of Turn 1 and continues all the way up through the ‘S’ curves towards the Dunlop Curve at Turn 7.
Suzuka regularly sees significant shifts in weather patterns – not necessarily across a race weekend, but certainly from year to year. While ambient temperatures tend to remain between 23-25 degrees, track temperatures have historically varied from 25-38 degrees. This is due to the ever-changing cloud cover above the circuit. Rain is not uncommon, with the muggy conditions regularly leading to quite intense thunderstorms overnight and often into the following day. When it rains in Suzuka, it really rains – demonstrated by the infamous pit lane boat races, as last seen in 2010.
Suzuka sits towards the upper end of the scale in terms of tyre energy. There is a lot of high-speed content around the lap, starting with the ‘S’ curves – which stand as one of the most historic sequences of corners in the world, similar in style to Eau Rouge. Each corner builds on the other through here, putting a lot of energy through the tyres. As per 2013, it is for this reason that the hard and medium compounds are nominated for this race. These compounds have proven to be very predictable this season and, as such, a similar trend in pit stops can be expected. In 2013, a mixture of two and three stop strategies came into play, with the majority of the front-runners opting for the former.
Conversely to the last race in Singapore, Suzuka presents a number of good passing opportunities. The most popular locations tend to be the first corner and then under braking into the final chicane. Although overtaking is possible, it is far from simple – often forcing the drivers to produce some spectacular manoeuvres. Watching two cars run side by side through the opening bend, or lining up a move out of130R and into the final chicane, is highly entertaining to watch.
On the surface, the Suzuka circuit would not seem to lend itself to a high Safety Car probability. However, only the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix has not featured the Safety Car since the race returned to the circuit in 2009. As one of the ‘old school’ circuits on the calendar, run-off areas largely consist of grass, gravel and tyre walls. Coupled with the high-speed track layout, this generally means that any accident which does occur will frequently result in the race being neutralised. The tight first corner is another contributing factor, with contact between cars a regular occurrence on the first lap in particular.