F1 Insight: What does it take to do well at Suzuka?
Posted By: James Allen  |  05 Oct 2016   |  11:55 am GMT  |  86 comments

The last two races have provided exciting finishes, but they have also been highly strategic which has added layers to the interest. This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is set to follow suit.

Once again the teams will have the same three tyre compounds to choose from as in Malaysia, which means we are likely to see a lot of variation in the way the teams go about their preparation and execution of the race. And once again the hard must be used at some point in the race.

The soft tyre performed very well in Malaysia. This weekend is likely to be much cooler, but the corners at Suzuka put more load on the tyres and that contributes to the degradation. Mercedes and Ferrari weren’t happy with the medium tyre in Malaysia and avoided it, but the cooler conditions of Suzuka are likely to suit it much better and one would expect them to do quite a bit of work on Friday to establish if it is the race tyre of choice.

Japanese Grand Prix 2015

There may even be some strategy in the qualifying session, as we have seen in the last two races; saving new tyre sets or trying to get through Q2 on mediums in order to start the race on them.

Equally the hard is problematic for many teams when the track temperatures are low and only really Mercedes can get it working ideally – we saw that again last weekend when Red Bull and Mercedes went to the hard, Hamilton pulled away – so that could be in their favour if the circumstances come about.

After its unexpected 1-2 finish last weekend, Red Bull travels to Suzuka in a confident mood. The first and second sectors of the lap traditionally suit Red Bull, as its cars are all about aerodynamic efficiency, whereas the final sector is more power oriented. The team is more competitive than it was this time last year and the proof of that is that Daniel Ricciardo has beaten at least one Mercedes in four of the last five races.

Daniel Ricciardo Max Verstappen

Meanwhile Ferrari has slipped back into the position it was in for the latter years of Fernando Alonso’s career there; seemingly always qualifying fifth and not having the pace in the race. While Sebastian Vettel has had a messy time of it lately, with only one podium since Baku in June, Kimi Raikkonen has finished fourth in the last three races.

One area where the strategy battle is proving decisive every week is the McLaren/Force India/Williams battle. Although McLaren is well behind the other two in the championship standings, it is with them on pace and picking the right tyres in the right order is central to that. Alonso is making stunning starts – he’s picked up 29 places in the last five race starts.

Qualifying is critical; it’s rare for a car from outside the front row to win. Although pole position, which is on the outside, has a significant grip advantage compared to the inside line, nevertheless for the last two seasons Lewis Hamilton has won the race from second on the grid, despite losing out on pole to his team mate Nico Rosberg.

Virtual Safety Car board

The other thing to keep the strategists busy is the Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car, which is appearing increasingly frequently, as we saw in Malaysia. This cuts the time needed for a pit stop and can be a game changer, for good or bad; it helped Alonso beat Hulkenberg last weekend, but it cost Button a shot at 5th place.

Suzuka is traditionally a race with quite a high chance of Safety Cars, so expect several interruptions in the race and tactical switches as a result.

Japanese Grand Prix in numbers:

This weekend’s event in Suzuka will be the 32nd world championship F1 race to take place at the famous 3.6mile track, where overtaking is tough and a high grid spot is crucial.

Since 1991, the Japanese race has only been won from lower than the front row on two occasions. Raikkonen won from 17th on the grid for McLaren in a memorable race in 2005, and a year later Alonso took the win for Renault after starting fifth.

Raikkonen has won more races from starting outside the top five on the grid than any other driver in F1 history, a feat he has achieved on six occasions.

Kimi Raikkonen Japanese Grand Prix 2005

The 2007 world champion’s win at Suzuka 11 years ago is arguably his most famous as he stormed through the field from his lowly grid position and passed Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap to take the victory. No driver has won from that low on the grid since that race. This weekend, Raikkonen also passes his former teammate David Coulthard’s 246 F1 career starts, which will put the Finn seventh on the all-time list.

In the championship fight, Hamilton is still looking to take his 50th Grand Prix win and 100th F1 podium finish after he failed to finish last weekend in Malaysia from what looked to be a winning position.

Daniel Ricciardo Max Verstappen

That failure also meant Mercedes did not clinch its third successive constructors’ championship but it can do so this weekend as Red Bull needs its drivers to outscore Hamilton and Rosberg by 23 points to keep it in mathematical contention, while Ferrari lost its faint hopes of the constructors’ crown last time out in Malaysia.

Several drivers have streaks they will either be hoping to break or extended this weekend. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who failed to complete lap one for the third time this season after hitting Rosberg at the first corner in Sepang, is now on his longest-ever run without a front row start, a stretch that goes back 22 races to his pole at the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix.

Malaysia winner Ricciardo has a 12-race scoring streak heading to Suzuka, which is the longest active run of the current drivers, and he also has a 24-race finishing record that is the second longest behind the 25 registered by Force India’s Sergio Perez.

Romain Grosjean

At Haas F1, Romain Grosjean has only completed seven laps in the last two races after brake problems stopped him starting in Singapore and caused him to retire in Malaysia. His teammate Esteban Gutierrez scored the only points of his F1 career at the 213 Japanese Grand Prix, when he finished seventh for Sauber, but he has finished in 11th place five times this season without scoring.

What are you expecting from the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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My expectation is ””’Rain””’ and we all know how good some drivers are in the wet.


I would like to see the fastest drivers in the world drive flat out for the entire race which is mostly what it used to be in the refuelling era. Driving fast cars flat out is a mentally and physically taxing activity and I would like to see the driver that is the best at doing that over a ‘race’ distance. For endurance racing I watch WEC, and for racing I would like to watch F1.


Just a question, how is Rosberg doing with engines? Any chance for him to take a penalty?


Q. What does it take to do well at Suzuka?
A. Dont acuse your entire team of sabotaging your engines. ..


‘Raikkonen has won more races from starting outside the top five on the grid than any other driver in F1 history, a feat he has achieved on six occasions.’

This also confirms what I’ve been saying for many years- He is the best overtaker/ racer Ive seen because most of those incredible passes hes achieved with uncormpromising fairness and accuracy on the limit with the fastest drivers in history– this is the difference between him and every single racer I have ever seen.


Please God… let it rain





Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid


Rain and a driver like Jenson Button!


Kimis 6 wins outside top 5 are :- Mal 03 (P7) ,Spa04 (P10) , Can 05 (P7), Suz05 (P17), spa09 (P6), Mel13 (P7)
Geez no wonder he likes No.7. As my colleague Gaz Boy would suggest Spa 2004 was very special too.

Fisi froze in fear of the Iceman that day for there he was staring in the mirrors with 3 laps to go rather than focusing on holding on to as much ground as possible. Such was the prolific pace Kimi had in that MP4-20- best F1 car Ive ever seen – Goosebumps still looking at that pic .If only the engine was reliable !!!. Maybe the man upstairs owed Kimi something special for all the hard luck he encountered that year. There was an inevitability about it that seemed to defy every logical reason for it not to happen- including Fisi’s last ditch swerve in him – which made that move all the sweeter than anyone elses at 130R- I was very dirty on that move which was so unlike Giancarlo.

Without tech probs – Lewis will win. Cooler temps will suit the Mercs but I expect the Bulls to be very close toward the end of stints. Mclaren might surprise here too if a Ferrari falters!.


Spa 2004 was probably his best win in that he won a race in dry conditions in a car that only finished 4th in the constructors cup. Don’t get me wrong, Jap 2005 was mega, but the combination of MP4-20 and the Iceman was man and machine in total harmony. The 2004 MPR-19B on the other hand – that was an bucking bronco of a chassis! Not many drivers, even Schumi at his peak, could have controlled that 2004 beast. Ask David Coulthard……


that 2005 mclaren was a beast of a f1 car devil horns those crazy edges, monster engine and a driver truly on the limit!…compared to past years machines with that brutal caterham a few years ago…F1 has gone down dramatically


The cars will look much better next. But I’m still pi**ed off that I had to put up with these ugly cars for so long.


Here is a nice video of that memorable race in 2005: https://vimeo.com/94558562

With excellent commentary from MB and JA (?) and an emotional Ron Dennis (very rare moment) at 10m:40secs


Fantastic, thanks for posting that and reminding us who Kimi really is!

Also enjoyed James’s commentary, Crofty should watch this to hear how it’s done.. 🙂


While I initially welcomed the VSC system as a safety measure in the post Bianchi world of F1, I think it is now being overused by the FIA. In my opinion, the VSC is now being used to tempt teams to gamble on bolder race strategies rather than for purely safety reasons. In Malaysia the FIA issued new very strict guidelines for Double Yellows Flags. My understanding was they were intended to emphasize the importance of the “Danger – Prepare to Stop” requirement. Yet during the race I believe we had 3 VSC periods, even though on two of the incidents the cars did not stop on track and the weather was picture perfect. The VSC should only be used in bad weather and on tracks that limit easy movement by the marshals. If a driver ignores the low speed requirement of waved Double Yellows, the FIA can hit them with points on their super-license or even black flags. Safety should not be used to encourage pit stops or strategies.


induced pitstops and changing strategies should not be used as a reason to cut back in safety measures.

Whenever there is a car somewhere near the track, on a position it can be driven into by another car, a VSC situation should always occur.

I don’t want to think about what will happen if a car stops due to an engine failure, the driver climbs out of the car, and another one drives through the oil doing 300+ km/h and runs into the back of that car.


That’s why they wave Double Yellows. At Malaysia the rule clarification was to remind all drivers that Double Yellow means Slow Down and Prepare to STOP. To me that means you should not be any faster than the pit limit speed. So the chance of going at 300 KPH should never happen. Perhaps the better clarification should be the pit is closed for the start of the VSC. Allowing teams to pit only after the VSC has been lifted.


vsc was brought in to take yellow flag rules out of the drivers hands (as fia were not strict or clear enough). pitting under vsc should be banned like gp2 as the race is basicly paused. We all talk about tyres,drs but the safety car is also a gimmic.


Great article!
I have a feeling about McLaren pulling all their goodies, likely saved up, out of the bag for this race, definitely targeting two points positions, maybe more on a track where only one sector is power decisive…
Jenson is a wet-drive specialist, who finds the rythme; it would be so very nice to see him somehow on the podium.
Still hoping for a #7 victory, but anticipating a tight battle between RB and Merc.


@deancassady…and what ‘rhyme’ would that be? “rain, rain go away. come back another day’ ? hahaha


Well if it’s wet to won’t matter to much,………. but I’ve always found that in the dry you want to look after your front tyres so that later in the stint you are good through the twisty stuff.

I started 7th here once, (sacrificed qualy for the race) It was the last race of the championship and won take the championship. The guy I was racing for the championship started on pole. I think he thought with me in 7th he had the champ in the bag, hehe.


@ hello….now that you’ve come out of the closet…what series was that?


It was the last race of the championship and I won to take the championship


Ayrton, is that you?


I’m not sure who you mean. Fill in the blank below.

My online racing name is Ayrton(blank)


If a driver is successful in dodging Vettel and Rosberg, he will very likely to get good result from the Suzuka race.


For me I think this probably the joint best circuit on calendar (along with Spa) and slightly ahead of Silverstone and Monza then Interlagos. There isn’t a single corner I don’t like . Seeing the cars drive this circuit even on TV ( as I will be doing again this weekend) looks spectacular . My favourite corners are probably the ‘S’ Curves and Spoon . If at some point I ever earn enough money ( which I don’t have at the moment) to go and watch a GP abroad this GP at Suzuka would definitely be on the to do list.


My thoughts exactly Stephen, only I’d take a bit of extra cash and bribe the ferris wheel guy to stop the ride when I was at the top.


Question: the weather forecast shows possibility for rain on Sunday. If the track is wet at start, are the cars starting behind the safety car? Or standing-start?

What has been decided?


It would start behind the SC just like MCO and GBR this year. The standing start after an SC-started-wet-race is effective as of next season.


Nothing yet because it isn’t Sunday yet.

It will be depending on how wet the track will be, i figure. If you have many puddles, i would not be surprised to see a start behind the SC, just like it was in Silverstone.

I hope, however, the start will be a regular one, from the grid.

Rob in Victoria BC

Standing start please. No more of the Silverstone or Monaco ‘milk and water’ nonsense please.


Suzuka is all about rhythm. If you can carry good speed out of turn two into the esses it certainly sets you up for a good first sector and inevitably builds the confidence required to be able to attack the final two sectors aggressively.
It’s similar to The Circuit of America’s in the sense many corners rely upon good exits from the previous one’s to maximise fast lap times.
It really is one of the best circuits in the world as it takes a very well balanced car setup and a committed driving effort to succeed here.
Looking forward to this one..


Awesome observation.

I’d always loved Suzuka without really knowing why – and now that you’ve said it, it’s because no circuit catalyses ‘flow’ at F1 speeds the way Suzuka does.

This is the natural habitat of the Grand Prix car.


@ Sars…yes, i agree with that although i like COTA more than suzuka simply because of all the elevation changes. COTA has to be one of the very best tracks globally now and belongs amongst the classics.


This applies to literally every racetrack, ever.


No. No it doesn’t at all.


It doesn’t actually.
May I suggest you listen to some of the posts you can read here and understand why its unique compared to the majority of the “floor it and turn it” tracks on the calendar.


Bingo. I would argue that messing up the exit of two isn’t entirely catastrophic, but after turn three, you are locked into your rhythm until the exit of nine, and from the hairpin you are locked in until you exit 14. Any mistake between three and nine is essentially impossible to recover from. And 13 is a real PITA. In fact, spoon is just a tough nut to crack in general.

In fact I would argue that 130r is the most straightforward corner on the circuit, followed by 18, which demands more finesse with the throttle input than one might assume.


Agree. Although 130R has the challenge of when/if to lift which can lose tons of time before the hairpin.


The exit of Spoon curve is extremely difficult in the sense the track falls away from the apex and is also slightly off-camber making it easy to run wide and requiring that sensitive touch on the throttle to minimise wheel-spin.
130r seems to have lost some of its aura since being modified circa 2002-2003 (unfortunately) and turn 18, as you alluded to, is deceiving in the sense as the entry onto the straight pinches deceivingly and a wide arch line is imperative to to conserve those left sided tyres.
Suzuka is indeed a drivers track and one of the reasons many of the drivers hold it in such high esteem.


Some Suzuka stats:

Been racing since 1987:

a) Schumi 6 wins, Vettel 4 wins,
Berger + Senna + Damon + Mika + Lewis = 2 wins

b) Mclaren + Ferrari = 7 wins,
Red Bull 4 wins, Benetton + Williams 3 wins

c) The back to back winners are
Schumi, Vettel, Mika and Lewis >>>
Schumi being the only one with 3
back to back wins whilst Ferrari
has the record of 5 back to back

d) Only drivers to have won with
different teams are Berger and
Schumi >>> however, Berger’s
1991 win was a thank you gift
from Senna for his support during
the season.

e) The track has seen 7 one time
winners and since 2000, Vettel, Schumi and Lewis are the only ones with more than 1 win

f) 12 out of 27 winners have
emerged from pole.

g) With the exception of Schumi in
1994, any driver that hasn’t
converted their first pole in Japan has gone on to never win the race e.g.
Mansell, Prost, Jacques, Ralf, Massa,
Webber, Rosberg

h) The only drivers to have
converted their first Suzuka pole to a win are Berger, Senna, Rubens, Vettel.

i) No British pilot has won the race from pole.

j) Senna has the record of having gone 5 seasons before his next win


“Raikkonen has won more races from starting outside the top five on the grid than any other driver in F1 history, a feat he has achieved on six occasions” Quite surprised by that! Is it true?


Here’s the list of Kimi Raikkonen’s wins when he started the race below P5.

1. 2003 Malaysia GP, won from P7

2. 2004 Belgian GP, won from P10

3. 2005 Japanese GP, Incredibly won from P17 !!!

4. 2005 Canadian GP, won from P7

5. 2009 Belgian GP, won from P6

6. 2013 Australian GP, won from P7

Funny enough, I had to google his latest win from outside P5, but could easily recall the other five.
If, you notice 4 out of those 6 wins came when Kimi Raikkonen was at McLaren.

And in my humble opinion, Kimi Raikkonen’s was at his best at McLaren and some of his mind boggling performances had come at his tenure at McLaren and I say all this despite the fact, Kimi won his only championship at Ferrari.

It’s not just about the wins from below P5. Kimi has produced quite a few podium finishes by starting from below P10 or even back of the grid.
The likes of 2005 French and German GP come to mind, or his incredible drive from P22 to finish on the podium in Bahrain 2006 and that too in MP4-21 (what a let down that car was !!!)

Not to mention, Raikkonen had to endure an absolute horror nightmarish run of reliability throughout his McLaren career.

He is an ENIGMA, one of his kind. Leave him alone, he knows what he’s doing.


Yep. Not Schumacher, not Senna, not Prost, not Clark, not Fangio.


None of the others ever started outside the top 5 in order to achieve the feat 😉


and then people say he’s not motivated enough!


Kimi is a different man since he signed up for another year in red. He’s really putting the pressure on Seb who doesn’t seem to like it when his teammates out perform him.


He is a true racer!


At McLaren he often wasn’t on pole as they’d either fill the car with fuel / or he’d have a grid penalty for changing engines. He converted quite a few of those into wins.

I can remember some of Vettel’s and Ham’s drives through the field to get on the podium but not many of them being wins.

What are Vettel and Ham’s lowest grid slot wins?


3rd for Vettel; 6th for Hamilton.


Vettel has never won from outside the top 3


In deed, the virtual safety car has changed the sport for this means people will always take advantage of it to try and change their strategy and the thing about the virtual safety car is it can appear at anytime unlike the safety car

Red Bull’s win in Malaysia will have given it confidence for the remaining rounds but like all Red Bull wins in the V6 era, they will need a slice of luck to go their way.

As for Mercedes, interestingly they won the constructor’s in 2015 at the 5 last race and in 2014, it was the 4 last race.

By some coincidence, in both cases, Mercedes won the constructor’s with a Lewis win and I think wrapping up the constructor’s with a 50th career win would be the best way to celebrate


Lately a lot people raised questions about VSC changing the sport. I must say I don’t quite get it.

A full fledged SC changes a lot more, and most of the situations when VSC is deployed would be a SC anyway. People always tried to maximize the SC periods because it can give you a full pitstop advantage if you are lucky enough to be on the right part of the track when it happens. It can dramatically change the outcome of a race, whereas VSC gives everyone the opportunity to pit and react, because it usually takes at least 2 laps. Moreover gaps are more or less preserved, if you were leading by 20s that will not be erased, yes someone might gain 5-10s but that’s it, and you can react to that as well.

Not sure why VSC is suddenly a talking point, I find it a really good change from race strategies thrown out of the window when a normal SC appeared.


Not sure if all the VSC’s we’ve seen would’ve all been SC’s under the old system rathern than waved yellows or double waved yellows or whatever … I think it’s convenient that they can use a VSC’ more frequently for safety reasons and not mess up the race as much as a SC does.
Eitherway: a request for an in depth article on the VSC system … how delta times are determined … how they are shown to the drivers … how much margin is there … who’s looking in to see wrong doings … are there “corners” you can cut during start VSC or towards its end … how pitstop under VSC is handled by the system … etc etc etc. Got so much questions about VSC and haven’t found answers online yet. So James … how about it ? 🙂


We had the same idea. I’m working on it this weekend. Sepang was traditionally a low SC risk track, but there were 3 VSCs last Sunday and we are seeing more of them, they do mix up the race and the strategy

So yes I’m working on it


Am I wrong in saying that the SC delta’s that drivers need to drive to, are only for the piece of track between the two SC lines (SC1 to SC2)? Then they’re allowed to drive full out on the pit straight in between that? I recall that being the primary reason that Hamilton was jumped by Vettel and Webber at Monaco in 2013.

But for the VSC, there are delta’s for the entire track. Maybe it shouldn’t apply along the pit straight? I know the concept is that no one should benefit based on their particular track position.

Other ideas would be that the pits are closed during a VSC, or that teams must observe a 5 sec wait before working on a stopped car. To gain 10 secs through the VSC is a lot. It put Max into a race he wasn’t really in after his avoiding action on lap one, and helped Alonso jump Button late on by pure luck.


Hi James – while your doing that – one specific question – can a driver that has decided to pit push at full speed to get to the pits (from wherever the previous section ends) as he knows that he will be stationary for a while so delta will still be OK


You say you don’t get it, but then explain why you get it!


@ Johnomanolo

Oh yes I too agree that the virtual safety car has been a good addition in that it has made the sport safer and also it shakes up pre-planned strategies

I don’t think a full safety car changes the race strategy as much as the virtual safety car because a full safety car bunches up everybody and if it happens in the pit window then everybody pits

As for the virtual safety car, we have seen some people pit and others not e.g. In Malaysia, with Max pitting during virtual safety car, this means he would have lead the race at some point after Lewis pitted and then would have probably won it ahead of Ricciardo

Also a virtual safety car isn’t deployed in safety car worthy incidents, because the virtual safety car is deployed in double yellow flagged incidents which means it can be deployed a lot more


So much info on Raikkonen….. could this mean a reappraisal by JA?


Smile must be really smiling 🙂

Well…either that or he’s scanning the article closely to find some other nonsense to complain about…


I bet he got it from Redit😉


I am expecting another RBR 1-2 and more Mercedes engines blowing up.!!


@ andrew F…i’m not expecting it but it would be great to see as it’s high time that someone else got a look in even if it is at the expense of mercedes reliability.


That’s a strange logic, is it not Kenneth? If Merc F1 have done a better job than their rivals, then isn’t it incumbent on their rivals to come upto the standards of Merc, not for Merc to lower their standards so the opposition can compete with them???

If you want an analogy, should Usain Bolt deliberately slow down towards the end of the 200 Metres just so his rivals have a hope of beating him?????


I have no idea of the frequency of athletic contests, but are you watching Usain win the 200m every other weekend ?
True it’s strange logic … but if it’s boring .. it’s boring .. and thàt is not strange logic ;o)
Not that we’ve got much to complain lately ’bout boring things in F1 tho …


I get the comparison, but it’s not like Usain’s opposition is only allowed to use X amount of tokens. Also no winter testing for those runners. How would that change?


Fair point Gaz but if Usain blows a sandshoe, he blows a sandshoe. No ones going to stop and carry him over the line mate.
Think Steve Bradbury (sp?).


@ gaz boy…what on earth are you going on about? I do sometimes wonder. My comment was in relation to Andrew F and simply put, it said that it was great to see a decent race for a while as the sepang event showed us. No one is suggesting that mercedes do anything other than continue to break when put under stress. If that is what happens then we get to see some real competition and not a two horse race as we have in the past. I guess that you’re still smarting at the failure of your ‘british’ driver to make the podium!


Kenneth, how I am partisan? I’ve consistently criticised Joylon Palmer on this enjoyable forum and have said if I was running Renault F1 I would not retain him for next year and offer a 2017 contract for Ocon. In other words, I would sign a Frenchman and say goodbye to an Englishman. That’s hardly partisan!

My point is and still stands – racing is about engineering excellence 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧 𝐚𝐧 𝐚𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐝 𝐟𝐫𝐚𝐦𝐞𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤 𝐨𝐟 𝐫𝐮𝐥𝐞𝐬 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐲 𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐦𝐬 .Why should that engineering excellence be penalised because one team in particular [in this case Merc F1] has managed to exploit those rules for its own advantage?

It’s called the Lottery paradox – if you won 20 million on the Australian Lottery Kenneth, would you CHOOSE to retain much of your winnings (excluding your nearest and dearest) and or would you CHOOSE to give most of them away (excluding your nearest and dearest?) Very, very few people would in a competitive capitalist society such as Australia, North America, Japan or Europe would willingly give away an advantage – whether it’s financial or sporting because we all know in a capitalist society how incredibly difficult is to try and get an advantage. Whether from a lottery win or clever reading of the rules – human beings are self interested mammals, always putting their needs first!


Weather can change everything. One can expect no running on dry tyres on Friday.

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