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Race starts at 1 pm Malaysian time

Just a week after the eventful Grand Prix in Malaysia, the F1 teams are at the Suzuka Circuit this weekend for the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix. This is the 16th round of the championship and four more remain – USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

The Suzuka Circuit was opened in September 1962 and it came into being because of the passion of Sochiro Honda for motorsports. It was the first full-scale international racing track built in Japan. According to the initial plans, a simple recreation facility was to be built over the lot; however, this evolved into a more serious development project to build a racing circuit. At the time, although the Japanese automotive industry rapid growing, motorsport activities were still limited with racing events run on riverbanks and airfields. Thus, efforts to build a proper circuit started without adequate knowledge or any expertise building a racing track.

In August 1960, the first plan was drafted after studying the circuits in other countries. Dutch designer, John Hugenholtz, who designed the Zandvoort Circuit in the Netherlands, was appointed to supervise the work of building the Suzuka Circuit.

The endeavour eventually upscaled and grew into a larger project as a decision was made to create a total mobility park with ‘motorized’ amusement rides, as well as a racing school to developer racers and advance the sport.

After a period of 15 months, the new course was visible. It had a total length of just slightly more than 6 kms and the track width ranged between 9 to 15 metres. There was a main stand large enough to accommodate 10,000 spectators who would watch the cars and motorcycles race around the circuit with 18 bends, 2 straights, even a cross-over section. In November 1962, the first all-Japan road race was held as the inaugural event celebrating the birth of a brand new circuit, and in May 1963, the first Japanese Grand Prix was run.

Suzuka

Appropriately for a circuit also used as a test track, Suzuka tests everything. Its array of high, medium and low-speed corners ensures the circuit defies easy classification. As was the case last week in Malaysia, the medium, soft and supersoft tyres will be available in Japan.

Suzuka, however, has lateral loads much higher than those at Sepang, meaning the successful one-stop strategies of last weekend will not be the automatic choice here. The extra grip on offer in 2017 will, however, be more noticeable at Suzuka with higher speeds in the many famous corners. The start of the lap, through the Esses, Dunlop and Degner One and Two, is likely to be particularly spectacular.

“It’s important to have a good balance here and then you can always try something with the stops. Also, I am confident we should have a good start – and that is important – but after that, there are a lot of laps and strategy is important as well. In terms of pace, hopefully we should be closer to our competitors,” said Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who will take off from second position on the starting grid.

He had qualified third but second-placed Valtteri Bottas was given a penalty for changing his gearbox so he has been dropped to sixth on the grid.

Second place at Sepang on Sunday ended Lewis Hamilton’s run of 3 consecutive victories but it was sufficient for the Mercedes-AMG driver to increase his Drivers’ Championship advantage over Vettel by a further 6 points to the Ferrari driver by 34.

The Mercedes-AMG team also strengthened their grip on the Constructors’ Championship and are now 118 points ahead of Ferrari. The raw statistics perhaps hide the true level of competitiveness among the frontrunners as the final quarter of the 2017 season begins: in recent weeks, it has been attrition rather than raw pace that has strengthened the relative positions of Hamilton and Mercedes. Ferrari looked strong in Singapore and Malaysia but gained only 12 points.

Despite victory and third place in Malaysia, Red Bull Racing is now out of mathematical contention in the Constructors’ Championship but remains a disruptive influence, capable of competing with the teams and drivers fighting for the titles, and perhaps influencing the closing battles.

McLaren is the most successful team at the Japanese Grand Prix with 9 victories although this year has been one which has been very frustrating. Even more embarassing is that Fernando Alonso will start the Honda-powered McLaren from the back, having received a 35-place grid penalty due to a change of the power unit. Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in Japanese Grand Prix history with 6 victories, winning for Benetton in 1995 and Ferrari in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004.

[Chips Yap]

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