Japanese Grand Prix Preview: Suzuka
Suzuka is one of the most popular circuits on the Formula One calendar, thanks to a thrilling track layout and some of the most passionate fans on earth.
This year, Pirelli will take the two hardest compounds in the range: the P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium. These are well-suited to the challenging demands of this famous track, which is located in the middle of Japan near Nagoya.
Suzuka is best known for fast corners such as 130R and Spoon, which have a notable effect on tyre wear and degradation. Consequently, between two and three pit stops are expected. The other feature of Japan is its extremely variable weather, with heavy rainfall a common feature of the weekend.
In 2010, qualifying even had to be postponed until Sunday morning because of a rainstorm. Last year’s race, however, took place in hot conditions with temperatures that exceeded 30 degrees centigrade – which just goes to illustrate the unpredictable variety of the Japanese Grand Prix.
Paul Hembery: “Suzuka is one of the circuits where we experience the highest rates of wear and degradation all year: because of the relatively abrasive surface and most of all because of the high-energy loadings that are going through the tyres. That’s why we’ve nominated the two hardest compounds in our range to take to Suzuka this year. It’s not all about the fast corners though as there are also some heavy braking areas and tighter corners. So it’s a high-demand circuit when it comes to lateral energy but relatively low-demand in terms of traction, because the layout is very flowing with one corner sequencing into another. Strategy is set to play an important role once more – this was a two-stop race last year, when we nominated the soft and the hard compounds – and Suzuka is a circuit that all the drivers enjoy because of the high speeds. Japan is all about raw speed: and the tyres we have selected for this weekend should enable the drivers to showcase that in front of the amazing Japanese fans.”
Jean Alesi: “Japan is one of my favorite circuits and favorite countries: it has everything. A bit like Spa or Monza, Suzuka is a really thrilling track for any driver to compete on, as it has a fantastic flow and so many high-speed corners. But it’s not just that: there is also a brilliant atmosphere because the Japanese spectators are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable: they are really crazy for Formula One! I’ve got so many good memories of Suzuka but if I had to choose one it would be from 1994, when I was driving for Ferrari. I had a fantastic battle with Nigel Mansell and ended up on the podium in downpour conditions; Damon Hill won the race. This is the sort of rain that you can get in Japan from time to time, and that provides another aspect to the challenge. The choice of the hard and medium tyres is the best one you can make for Suzuka: there is a lot of energy going through the tyres, so you expect a lot of wear. Maybe we’ll have two or three pit stops. My career has taken in many different types of tyre regulations – from qualifying tyres to grooved tyres – and anything up to three pit stops is fine, in my view. Beyond three it might start to get confusing, but that has only happened so far on one or two occasions, which is a pretty good record.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view:
The flowing nature of the 5.807-kilometer Suzuka track means that it actually has the lowest traction demand of any circuit all year. But it also has the highest demand in terms of lateral energy.
The first half of the lap is essentially a non-stop series of corners. This puts plenty of heat through the tyres, as there is no significant straight where they can cool down. As a result, the hottest part of the tyre tread can reach 110 degrees centigrade. The tyre that is worked hardest is the front-left.
Pit stops at Suzuka carry a relatively low time penalty, due to the short 395-meter pit lane. This allows further flexibility with the race strategy.
Technical tyre notes:
Turn 15 is the fastest corner on the championship, taken at 310kph in seventh gear. The cars operate at maximum aerodynamic downforce, combined with a lateral acceleration of 3.1g. This puts the tyre structure through some of the most strenuous operating conditions seen all year.
High levels of stress on the tyres can cause blistering if the car is not set up properly. This phenomenon is the result of localized heat build-up, particularly in the shoulder of the tyre, as it flexes.
The majority of drivers last year used a two-stop strategy. Only three chose to start the race on the harder compound – from a long way down the grid – but this strategy proved to be useful in boosting their track positions. Sebastian Vettel won from pole, at a race that was affected by a safety car on the opening lap.
Meet the Pirelli F1 Team: Sam Green, Tyre Technician
Sam has always been into “building and repairing things,” as he puts it, and in yet another graphic illustration of the variety in the backgrounds of Pirelli’s people, he even worked in the agricultural sector for a while. The Englishman had dreamed of working in motorsport for many years, but it was only when a close friend encouraged him to apply for a job with Pirelli that he finally achieved it. Sam is based in Didcot, and a large part of his job consists of receiving deliveries for all the different motorsport categories that Pirelli is involved in, and making sure that they are despatched to the correct event. He’s also in charge of checking all the various bits of equipment that accompanies Pirelli on its odyssey around the world. In particular, Sam takes responsibility for setting up the radios that are used by all Pirelli staff on-event, erecting the aerials, and adjusting the radio repeaters (which relay the signal). Then of course he has to make sure that each one of the 30 handsets is on the right channel, so that everybody can talk to everybody else. When the cars are on the track, Sam also takes tyre temperatures as soon as the cars return to the garage, to help the engineers build up a picture of how the tyres are performing. Away from work, Sam enjoys fixing up motorbikes and engines, but his other big passion is mountain biking. Occasionally the mountain bike comes with him to races, meaning that he gets the chance to ride in different places all over Europe. “Of course that involves falling off from time to time, but that’s all part of the fun!” he explains.