Japan GP Preview: Unpredictability in Asia

By Chris Salmon
For those of you who were able to get across to see the Malaysian Grand Prix last Sunday – you’re so very very lucky!  Capping off what was a huge weekend of sport with the AFL Grand Final and NRL Grand Final stealing the headlines, we had an exciting and theatrical race in Kuala Lumpur where the excessive heat and some messy collisions caused some headaches for the top teams.
I’m still grinning ear to ear over Lewis Hamilton’s engine blowing up.  Blame all the higher powers you want Lewis, you’re now 23 points behind your teammate in the battle for the 2016 driver’s championship.
Lewis Hamilton was on fire in KL!

Lewis Hamilton was on fire in KL!

Full credit to both Red Bull drivers though.  Getting the first non-Mercedes 1-2 finish in the V6 hybrid era is a huge result, and the tough but respectful battle between Ricciardo and Verstappen in the final 15ish laps was great to see.
Figure 8s at Suzuka
Of course, we need to keep looking forward to the next race, and this weekend we’re off to Japan for the legendary Suzuka track.  One of the few tracks in the world with a figure 8 formation, it’s also one of the most enjoyed tracks by drivers.
The names of the major turns are also classically Japanese: elegant, factual and precise.  Turn 1 is known as “First Turn”, the twisty series of corners immediately after are known as the “S Curves”, and turn 15 is known as “130R”, due to the curve of the track having a radius of 130 metres.
Tyre degradation is fairly brutal at Suzuka – the hardest compound tyres will be used and a lot of the Friday practice sessions will be working out if the soft, medium or hard tyres will be used in Sunday’s race.  There won’t be any worries about excessive tyre temperatures unlike in Malaysia or Singapore, but these corners won’t be doing the front tyres any favours on Saturday so drivers will need to be careful here.
Expect a safety car (or two) here: the Japanese Grand Prix is notorious for interruptions.  On a sad note, this race marks two years since Jules Bianchi got into an accident which later ended his life, when he hit a support vehicle during a torrential downpour.  That crash caused the introduction of the Virtual Safety Car, which has been largely regarded as successful this year.
But for this weekend, you’ll need to wake up a little earlier to check out all the fantastic F1 action in Japan.  In Saigon, qualifying is 1PM Saturday, and the race is at midday on Sunday.  Enjoy a thrilling lunch and a thrilling race!

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