Only several days after the bizarre and frenetic 55-lap Korean Grand Prix, the Formula 1 paddock will this weekend reconvene around the legendary Suzuka circuit for the 29th running of the Japanese Grand Prix. With Sebastian Vettel sat a proud 77 points ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Drivers’ Championship, he is this weekend poised to join the greats of Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
After yet another dominant display of driving from the German around the Korea International Circuit, he managed to clinch his fourth successive victory in a season which has become dominated by the 26-year-old. With only five races now remaining, Vettel could well clinch his fourth Championship at Suzuka this weekend, a venue the Heppenheim-born ace has already secured such successes in the past. For this to occur, Vettel would require yet another victory with Championship rival Fernando Alonso only managing a finish worse than 8th.
The iconic Suzuka circuit was designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz in 1962 as a Honda test circuit, and only hosted its first Formula 1 event back in 1987. The first ever Japanese Grand Prix was held at the Fuji International Speedway at the foot of Mount Fuji in 1976, and featured one of the most enthralling conclusions to a Formula 1 season when James Hunt and Niki Lauda went head-to-head in the appalling conditions. The sport returned to Fuji a year later, however a horrific incident between Gilles Villeneuve and Ronnie Peterson which killed two spectators assisted in momentarily ending F1’s involvement in Japan.
It wasn’t until 1987 that Japan returned to the Formula 1 calendar, this time around the former Honda test circuit at Suzuka. The circuit instantly garnered intrigue within the F1 paddock, as it was one of the few tracks in the history of motor racing to feature a figure-of-eight layout. The inaugural race at Suzuka immediately featured a title decider, as Nigel Mansell injured himself after a hefty practice shunt to hand Championship glory to team-mate Nelson Piquet. This tradition of Suzuka playing host to Championship deciders continued throughout the many years F1 returned to Suzuka, with legendary battles between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher enthralling the spectators around the world for many years.
Formula 1 returned to the Fuji International Speedway for two years in 2007 and 2008, after the circuit was redesigned by renowned architect Hermann Tilke. Although it was planned that the race would then alternate between Fuji and Suzuka from 2009 onwards, Toyota decided to both pull the plug on Fuji’s involvement in the sport. This saw Formula 1 return to Suzuka on a full-time basis, much to the pleasure of the fans and drivers alike.
This year’s 29th running of the Japanese Grand Prix is poised to once again feature the crowning of a new World Champion in the form of Sebastian Vettel, who has managed to fully assert his authority over the pack in recent races. Should the German win and Fernando Alonso finish worse than 8th, then Vettel will join Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in the elite group of drivers who have won four successive Championships, with the Red Bull ace the youngest of the trio to do so.
For the first time since the Italian Grand Prix, Pirelli’s P Zero hard compound will make a return to action alongside the P Zero medium compound for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. This will see a slight alteration in comparison to last season, when Pirelli offered the drivers the P Zero soft and hard compound instead of the medium. These compounds have most likely been elected due to the relatively high-speed nature of the Suzuka circuit, with the ‘S’ Curves, Spoon Curve and notorious 130R all iconic names associated with the Japanese circuit.
Once again former Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro will take on the role of Driver Representative Steward for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. The 51-year-old assumed the same role last weekend at Korea, and will this weekend work alongside fellow stewards Jose Abed and Garry Connelly. Emanuele Pirro competed in Formula 1 between 1989 and 1991 with Benetton and Scuderia Italia, before then progressing to a much more successful career in Sportscar Racing which has included five Le Mans and one Daytona 24 Hours victories. Unlike the previous few races, only one DRS zone will be present at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. This will feature down the start/finish straight, with a detection zone 50m before Turn 16 and the activation zone 100m before the control line which will therefore provide the drivers with a fantastic overtaking opportunity into Turn 1.
Although Sebastian Vettel’s recent return to dominance at the front of the Formula 1 field has been met with widespread negativity, it is unquestionably clear that the likable 26-year-old is currently at one with his fearsomely competitive RB9. Regardless of whether he succeeds in clinching the Championship this weekend at Japan, it’s almost universally agreed between the fans and members of the paddock alike that he will without-a-doubt be a contender for victory. However, with both Mercedes, Ferrari and even Lotus clearly reluctant to give up in their quest for glory in the wake of the Red Bulls, the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix will undoubtedly provide us with yet another enthralling weekend of F1 action.
Picture(s) Copyright © Lotus F1 Team & Pirelli