Just a week later we’ve arrived in Japan, Suzuka where the 17th race of the season will take place. After the eventful Singapore Grand Prix, fans surely are hungry for more such races, but, although tricky and challenging, the Suzuka International Racing Course is a bit more forgiving. Of course, it’s still considered one of the most skilful tracks on the calendar, while also maintaining a historical status. Fight for the championship may be done, but battles for race wins are still very much on, especially after Ferrari showed us, that the mighty Bull can be toppled.
A glimpse into the past
Suzuka International Racing Course is no doubt a legendary track which has hosted multiple motorsport events, including Formula 1 competitions. It is currently the oldest F1 track, with the first Grand Prix taking place in 1987. In the past, the duties of hosting the Japanese Grand Prix have been juggled between Suzuka and Fuji Speedway, which decided the title fight between Niki Lauda and James Hunt in 1976, but for most fans, it’s Suzuka that takes a closer place to the heart. This track also hasn’t lacked legendary title-deciding battles between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, and perhaps most notably, the late great Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Their rivalry and the role of Suzuka can be discussed in great detail.
In the late ’90s, Suzuka was also the playground for Michael Schumacher, where he too fought for the title with Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve. There was a brief period when Fuji Speedway made its reappearance but it was announced that starting from 2010 Suzuka would have exclusive rights to host the Japanese Grand Prix onwards. Many great races have been held here, but, unfortunately, the track is also associated with a tragic moment back in 2014. Heavy rainfalls are quite common in Japan and the race in 2014 was an especially wet one. During the race, Adrian Sutil spun off the track and while his car was recovered by a crane, Jules Bianchi spun off at the same corner, head-on colliding with the crane. After 9 months in a coma, Jules succumbed to his injuries. This is one of the main reasons why F1 cars are now equipped with protective halos.
Max Verstappen has been on the podium here in four instances, although the top step was claimed only once, in last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, when Verstappen claimed his second World Championship title. Currently, Max is comfortably leading the championship by 151 points, while his team Red Bull leads the Constructors Championship by 308 points. Second-place Mercedes and third-place Ferrari are separated by 24 points, so for them, every remaining race of the season is crucial. If they outscore Mercedes by one point and do not let Ferrari outscore them by 24 points, Red Bull could be crowned 2023 Constructors Champions on this very weekend.
Suzuka is a unique track, full of tricky serpentine corners and powerful straights. In many parts, the run-off area is quite short, so any slight error can put you right in the gravel. Besides the straights, the track is also quite narrow, so you’ll see most overtakes at the end of the start straight.
Even with the results in Singapore, Max Verstappen and Red Bull are still the ones to beat, as they comfortably lead both Friday’s practice sessions. Max has said that he is confident, that the team is back on the right track and for now it seems so. Ferrari and McLaren are fighting for the remaining positions, as Sergio Perez can’t really match the same pace as Max. He had a pretty rough showing in Singapore, so a bounce back in Japan is necessary if he wants to remain a part of the Red Bull family. In both Japanese Grand Prix Friday practice sessions he has finished 11th.
In other news, the Mclaren driver Oscar Piastri has signed a new contract with the team, which will see him stay in Mclaren until the end of 2026, which should take off some pressure from the Aussie. Speaking of contracts, Alpha Tauri find themselves in a tricky position, where they have 3 fantastic drivers fighting for 2 available seats. Liam Lawson is still replacing the injured Daniel Ricciardo. Last weekend, Lawson impressively secured his first F1 points of his career, showing the world that he is more than just a reserve driver. Hometown hero Yuki Tsunoda has also been consistent, so replacing him would seem like a foolish decision. From this bunch, Ricciardo is the only race winner, so having him on board in the future would also be monumental. Experience or new talent is the question for the future.
The Japanese Grand Prix race will start on the 23rd of September at 8:00 (EEST), so you still have plenty of time to make your predictions