Suzuka is one of the most technical circuits on the Grand Prix calendar, featuring pretty much every kind of corner that drivers encounter during the year.
The key to a good lap there is the first sector, lasting just over 30 seconds, which requires stable downforce and a strong front end. There is a line through there and when the car gets away from that line, the tenths of a second drop away.
It is crucial to lap time, as a glance as at the sector times from qualifying reveals. The Red Bulls were three tenths faster than their nearest rivals in Sector 1, whereas there were just six hundredths of a second difference between the leading cars in Sector 2 and a similar amount in Sector 3.
There were a few interesting updates to the cars in Japan; Red Bull had a selection of wings to choose from as usual, but the main talking point was McLaren’s update package, which comprised an updated front wing, longer exhausts, a new engine cover and rear wing.
In addition the F-duct was modified, in particular the way the channeled air blows onto the wing. The new version blows onto the main profile, whereas the previous version blew onto the flap. The idea was for the drivers to test the updates out on Friday, Hamilton damaged his in the accident on Friday morning.
Although McLaren scrambled to get a new one sent out in time for qualifying and the race, the team decided not to run it as the Saturday morning practice was washed out. Hamilton managed to qualify third with the old version, before moving back five places on the grid for a gearbox change.
Renault was the surprise performer in Suzuka, Robert Kubica qualifying ahead of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button and starting third on the grid. The race was shaping up to be very interesting when he took second place from Mark Webber at the start. Sadly he retired soon after when one of his wheels fell off.
Renault’s pace was helped by an interesting and extensive aero development of their R30. The team seems to have had a new front wing or something new on the wing at most of the races this year and they seem to have got it very right with this step, with revised endplates, featuring a bending outwards foremost portion, with a rigid link to the inner vertical fence that supports the small additional winglets. The outermost and slightly rear portion of the endplates, now features a rounded lower cut, to reduce aerodynamic blocking in the area close to the front wheels.
As well as working better in channeling air to the rear end of the car, it clearly gave Kubica a front end he could do business with and it was in Sector 1 that he was able to gain the crucial advantage over Alonso and Button.