Formula 1 returns to the land of the Rising Sun to a venue that has provided many a dramatic race and many a title decider. I’ve written before about the occasions this fast Suzuka circuit has seen – from 1987-1991 (among other times) the title was settled here, including all three of Ayrton Senna’s titles. A track tinged with tragedy too (Forza Jules), Suzuka is famous for being fast. The sequence from turns 3 through 6 is a testing set of snappy left-right curves that drivers enjoy, not least of all because they require the racers to hang on at high speed through them. With the faster cars of 2017 we should expect to see some very quick drives through this section.
Some parts of the track are deceptive – turn 13 for example, is slower than it appears, and turn 14, whilst being pretty high speed, might still prompt a gentle application of the brakes. Another variable here is the weather – it is not uncommon for rain to add a new dimension to the race.
In fact, for 2nd practice for this year’s Grand Prix, it did rain, enough to lead most drivers – whose supplies of wet weather tyres are limited – to not go out. In those circumstances Hamilton’s Mercedes was fastest – but in dry conditions in FP1, it was Sebastian Vettel who was narrowly quicker than Lewis. This was unexpected – the general belief was that Mercedes would be quicker around here.
What this adds up to are the conditions for a fascinating race. Vettel must win to keep his title hopes alive, and ideally he’d want Raikkonen to slot into second and help him out. If Vettel were to win all the remaining races he’d win the title regardless, but it’s bold to assume he’d win them all, therefore he must maximise every opportunity, starting here.