Back
Back
  • 1

    INSIGHT: Suzuka Storylines You May Have Missed From anniversaries to new c...

From anniversaries to new challenges, here's a few bonus storylines from Japan...

Thanks For The Memories

Only 15 different people have ever experienced winning a Grand Prix at Suzuka - but most F1 drivers will tell you that it is their favourite circuit on the calendar.

Designed as a Honda test track by Dutchman John Hugenholtz in 1962, it first hosted the Japanese GP in 1987 and this year's race was the 30th running at F1's only venue to feature a cross-over.

Lewis Hamilton's childhood idol, Ayrton Senna, sealed the first of his three world titles at Suzuka in 1988 and a decade later Mika Häkkinen claimed the first Mercedes-powered Suzuka victory as he clinched the first of two back-to-back championships after a season-long battle with Michael Schumacher.

Häkkinen, who has just turned 50, took part in a special Suzuka 30 years celebration in which a number of iconic cars were demonstrated over the weekend.

"This was always a special place and the memory of winning the championship here still gives me goose bumps," Mika said.

The track is still having the same effect on drivers. "This track is just awesome..." Lewis chuckled on the radio after taking what was just his second pole position at Suzuka in a new record career total of 80.

In terms of outright victories, Lewis's eighth 2018 win drew him level with Sebastian Vettel on four Suzuka wins - he also won the Japanese GP at Fuji in 2007 - and he is only the second Briton to win at Suzuka, after Damon Hill.

Memorably, Nigel Mansell's 1987 championship challenge came to a premature end when he crashed heavily at the Esses and aggravated an old back injury at the very first Suzuka race.

The all-time Suzuka win record is held by Schumacher, with six. Suddenly, though, some of the great German's records don't look quite so unreachable. Lewis's Sunday win brought him to within 20 victories of Schumacher's record 91!

A Toast To Teamwork

At Sochi, when the team asked Valtteri to move over and allow Lewis past, there were those who suggested that it could have a lasting psychological effect on the Finn.

Parallels were drawn between Ferrari very publicly asking Felipe Massa to move over for team mate Fernando Alonso at Hockenheim in 2010, the suggestion being that there are only so many times a driver can deal with that and still maintain self-belief.

"Absolutely," Toto agreed, "It's not an easy situation and it needs more than a hug and a lot of alcohol. It needs a transparent and open discussion among us about what it means for the future."

In Japan, Valtteri said that while everyone obviously wants to win, Russia had actually been a positive rather than a negative, due to the strength of his personal performance - taking pole position and leading the race.

A sense of the togetherness and team spirit was illustrated at the team HQ in Brackley on the Monday after Russia, where Valtteri was toasted in front of more than 900 Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport employees.

On Sunday evening in Japan, Toto emphasised that once more: "He's a tremendous team player. To give an example, after Sochi we had a discussion in the evening. He said, 'I completely understand what you did and where the team is coming from. If I was in your shoes I would do exactly the same. I need to outperform Lewis at the beginning of the season, score more victories and put myself in a position to win the championship, so don't worry about me.'"

Blistering Pace

Suzuka's high-speed turns impose a high degree of lateral load on the tyres, which can lead to blistering. With that in mind, Lewis and Valtteri, along with Haas' Romain Grosjean, were the only drivers to go through Q2 (which dictates your race starting tyre) on the Pirelli Soft compound tyre rather than the SuperSoft.

The thinking was that blistering only gets worse the softer the compound you run, and taking the Soft provided an extra bit of resilience at the start of the race considering the higher temperatures forecast for race day.

Those starting on the SuperSoft may have been quicker off the line and in the early laps - but with an overtaking delta of around 1.3s at Suzuka, were unlikely to be able to pass.

Despite generally suffering more with tyre temperatures than Ferrari earlier in the season, the team's engineering department had noted with interest that Ferrari suffered more blistering issues than they did during Friday practice in Japan.

Sure enough, on race day, Kimi Räikkönen's fourth-placed Ferrari was the first of the SuperSoft starters to pit, just 17 laps into the 53-lap race, necessitating a switch onto the Medium compound Pirelli - the hardest tyre on offer - in order to get to the end.

By contrast, Max Verstappen and Red Bull were able to take the SuperSoft tyre 21 laps into the race, running at a pace strong enough to keep him within 4s of Valtteri's second place.

He was able to overcut Räikkönen despite having to serve a 5s penalty at his stop for opening lap contact with the Finn. As they monitored their opposition, the team strategists were highly impressed by the Red Bull's pace and stint longevity on the SuperSoft.

Verstappen's extended range also allowed him to take the faster Soft compound Pirelli at his pit stop and potentially pose a threat to Valtteri, who was on Mediums for the second stint.

With the threat from Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari extinguished when he spun to the back after Lap 8 contact with Verstappen at Spoon Curve, Daniel Ricciardo then unexpectedly came into play as well. A technical issue for the Australian in Q2 had restricted him to 15th on the grid, which had allowed freedom of tyre choice and, like the two Mercedes, he started on the Soft compound.

An aggressive opening stint plus the Safety Car to clear debris following contact between Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc saw Ricciardo work his way up into the top five by lap 13.

Like Lewis and Valtteri, Ricciardo had to take the Medium tyre at his lap 23 pit stop. Once everyone was back up to speed, Lewis led Valtteri by 4.6s, Verstappen was 10.6s behind Valtteri and Ricciardo was just 1.3s behind his team mate.

Valtteri had more issues looking after his tyres in the second stint than did Lewis, something the team suspected would turn out to be balance-related. After their fourth 1-2 of the season the two drivers could be heard discussing maximum left rear tyre temperatures in the pre-podium room, with Valtteri experiencing a maximum some four degrees more than Lewis.

As Verstappen tried to chase him down in the closing laps, Valtteri survived a lock-up and straight-on moment that cost him 3s, taking the flag 12.9s behind Lewis and 1.3s clear of the Red Bull.

As expected, Ricciardo, on his Mediums, was less competitive than Verstappen on his Softs over the second stint. But, the fact that he lost just 2.9s to Lewis over 28 laps on the same tyre, was an indication of Red Bull's strength in Japan.

What of Ferrari? Well, on the last lap Vettel set the fastest lap of the race (1m 32.318) on 27 lap old Softs - a time almost half a second quicker than Lewis's best lap two from the end.

That, the team's engineers appreciated, was done aboard a Ferrari missing its right barge board after the early-race contact with Verstappen - an affliction they estimated could have been costing Vettel as much as four tenths per lap.

An indication both of what might have been for Maranello and the importance of a big picture strategy and well-executed team performance by the whole crew.

No Time To Relax

The Suzuka 1-2 for Lewis and Valtteri - the fourth of the season and second in succession - has left Lewis within sight of that fifth World Drivers' Championship - a feat accomplished by only two men previously, Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio.

Heading for Austin, a circuit at which he always excels, Lewis has a 67-point advantage over Sebastian Vettel and another 1-2 result would give him that fifth title. In the Constructors' Championship, the team leads Ferrari by 78 points but the title cannot be clinched in the USA.

"We will not talk about them until we have the trophies in our hands!" Toto said on Sunday night in Japan. And, interestingly, looking ahead, he thinks that future challenges could come from unexpected sources.

We have already pointed out strong Red Bull performances in the last two races. In Japan, the latest specification Honda engine, debuted in Sochi, helped both Toro Rosso cars to reach Q3. That engine will be in the back of the Red Bull in 2019.   

"That combination could well be strong," Toto admitted. "We've seen that there's no real pattern anymore, not one team that dominates at one kind of circuit. It has changed and the Honda engine certainly looks very powerful and Red Bull is a good group of racers.

"But, actually, I think the biggest impact will be the completely new 2019 aerodynamic regulations that will change everything up and down. Somebody might find a loophole or an innovation or understand how the car works earlier than others.

"There is a big, big variable in those new regulations next year and we could even have teams right up there which are not on the radar today."

Sorry, es scheint so, als sei die Version deines Browser zu alt!

Bitte aktualisiere deinen Browser oder lade eine aktuelle Version der unten aufgelisteten Browser herunter.

Internet Explorer Internet Explorer Firefox Mozilla Firefox Opera Opera Browserr Chrome Google Chrome