The race starts at 1 pm Malaysian time
Following a truly memorable Malaysian Grand Prix, the F1 teams and drivers moved 5,000 kms from Sepang to Suzuka for the 32nd Japanese Grand Prix which is the 17th of the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship. Suzuka has hosted the Japanese GP since 1987 with the exception of 2007 and 2008 when it was held at the Fuji circuit.
Suzuka, owned by a subsidiary of Honda Motor, started off as a test circuit in 1962 and was the first full-fledged racing course in Japan. It is also one of the oldest tracks used in the F1 championship and as the Japanese GP was often among the last rounds in the season, it was where the season’s winners were decided.
Suzuka’s layout is difficult to categorise: the figure-8 track features low, medium and high-speed corners, fast changes of direction, technical sections, a chicane, a hairpin, and the corner with the highest continuous g-loading of the year. It is a high-downforce circuit that allows F1 cars to demonstrate their full range of capability. The track is narrow so passing is difficult but there are many places at which overtaking can be attempted.
The same combination of hard, medium and soft tyres chosen in Malaysia will be used at Suzuka. The Japanese circuit has more high-speed corners than Sepang, however, and thus generates greater lateral loads, with high levels of wear and degradation expected. Because of this, despite two sets of hard compound tyres being mandates for the race, Pirelli does not expect the one-stop strategies seen in Sepang to be attempted in Japan.
Weather conditions have usually been a concern at the Japanese GP with heavy rain affecting races some years. Older fans will remember that in 1976 (when the event was held at the Fuji circuit), Niki Lauda and a few other drivers chose to retire from the race as they felt the conditions were too dangerous although the stewards did not stop it. For the race today, weather forecasters see the strong possibility of rainy conditions during the race, which has been the case for the events in the last 2 years.
Kimi Raikkonen holds the fastest lap time around the 5.8-km circuit which the drivers will circulate for 53 laps to cover a total distance of 307 kms this afternoon.
Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver at the Japanese event with 6 wins – 1995 for Benetton and for Ferrari in 1997, 2000-02, and 2004.
Nico Rosberg arrives in Japan with a 23-point advantage over team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The British driver, however, had the upper hand in Malaysia before an engine fire forced retirement in the final third of the race. With the superior record at Suzuka, the defending champion needs a clean, successful weekend to get his title challenge back on track.
The Mercedes-AMG team, meanwhile, look strongly favoured to confirm the Constructors’ Championship today. Behind them, a one-two finish in Malaysia saw Red Bull Racing extend their advantage over Ferrari to 46 points in the chase for second place, while a double-points finish enabled McLaren to put distance between themselves and non-scoring Toro Rosso in the battle for sixth.
Ferrari was mathematically eliminated from Constructors’ Championship contention at Sepang, though. The tightest fight is that between Williams and Force India for fourth position, in which the latter hold a slender 3-point advantage.
McLaren has been the most successful Japanese Grand Prix team with 9 victories – though McLaren and Ferrari are tied on seven wins each at Suzuka. McLaren’s Fuji victories came in 1977 with James Hunt and 2007 with Lewis Hamilton.
The Japanese GP is also one of the rounds for which Emirates Airlines is the title sponsor. This is part of the 5-year deal the airline signed with the F1 organisation in 2013 to sponsor a maximum of 15 races.