Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Japanese Grand Prix: What You Need To Know

Photo by permission: ©2012 MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team 
As exciting as Monza is, and as glamorous as Monaco is, this weekend all eyes will be on the race, not the scenery, as the Drivers Championship heats up at Suzuka in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Leading the points with a total of 194 is Ferrari's Fernando Alonzo. Because Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel won two weeks ago in Singapore, he finds himself only 29 points behind Alonzo. Kimi Räikkönen of Lotus remains in third with 149 points. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton is close behind him with 142. It is tight!

Suzuka is one of the truly classic Formula One Circuits. Designed by John Hugenhotz, it is the only figure-8 circuit on the calendar. This year Suzuka celebrates its 50th birthday and throughout those years it has seen its share of rivalries and battles. This year is proving to be no exception. Anyone recall Senna and Prost? If not, its another post entirely. Needless to say, the most bitter part of their two year feud was fought at Suzuka.

This circuit is a challenge for both car (engineering) as well as the driver because it runs counter-clockwise and is a series of low, medium and high speed turns with a seven-turn series called "the Esses". With 18 turns at different speeds, the engineers have a huge job setting up the cars to meet the demands of swift changes in direction: the longer arcs of the Dunlop and Spoon curves, the high speed 130R and hairpin that require slow speed and hard breaking. This is a tough race on engines.

The same circuit that demands such engineering feats also takes its toll on the drivers. With 53 laps totaling 191.053 miles, drivers must remain focused and on the money when it comes to the extremely high number of gear changes that take place during this race. Avoiding mistakes is important here - especially in the curves.

For an excellent guide to the circuit and the thinking that goes behind running Suzuka, I refer you to this F1 Japan Grand Prix: interactive circuit guide by Heikki Kovalainen as he explains the circuit in detail to The Guardian. 

Sebastian Vettel seems poised for another title victory even though Ferrari has been discussing wind tunnel troubles and how it will affect their position in the standings going forward. Either way, excitement will reign in Japan this weekend. 

Changes to the circuit since 2011 include: 

  • The whole West Course (from Turn 7 until after the chicane) has been resurfaced and storm water drainage systems have been installed around the newly resurfaced section of the track.
  • The DRS Zone is 20m shorter this year. The detection zone is 50m before Turn 16 and the activation zone is at the Control Line after Turn 18.  
  • Pit lane speed limits are 60 km/h during practice and 100 km/h during race time. 

The length of a lap is 5.807 and Kimi Raikkonen scored the lap record of 1:31.540 in 2005 for McLaren. 

Enjoy the Japanese Grand Prix Sunday Oct 7 at 1:30AM ET on SPEED, then join us on October 14th for the Korean Grand Prix!


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