Round sixteen of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team to Fuji Speedway for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The track is located 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Tokyo in the Shizuoka region, close to where Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motor Company, was born in 1906.
As its name suggests, Fuji Speedway was designed as a super speedway. The original plans included two banked corners at either end of the pit straight, however a lack of funds resulted in the circuit being redesigned and completed as a road course in the 1960s. This layout staged two Formula One races in 1976 and 1977. Grand Prix racing returned to the venue in 2007 following a facelift by renowned track designer Hermann Tilke. The current layout is 4.563km (2.835 miles) in length and features a unique pit straight of almost 1.5km.
Honda has won its home Grand Prix twice, in 1988 and 1991, and the team's drivers have achieved good results in the Japanese Grand Prix in previous years. Rubens Barrichello rates his 2003 victory at Suzuka among his best, while Jenson Button finished on the podium in 2004 and started on the front row of the grid in 2005.
Prior to the race weekend, Jenson Button took part in the annual Tokyo Motorsports Festival in Odaiba today to demonstrate the thrills of Formula One to thousands of fans as he drove the team's RA108 car.
Car set-up at Fuji Speedway is a compromise between straightline speed and slow-corner grip. The need for a high top speed along the circuit's 1.5km (0.9 mile) pit straight forces the engineers to be mindful of drag level at a track that is otherwise tight and twisty, with an abundance of first and second gear corners.
As a consequence, the cars slide around more at Fuji Speedway than at the higher downforce tracks on the Formula One calendar and the drivers rely on achieving a good car balance to improve performance. A car that behaves predictably through the numerous direction and camber changes around the lap is the fastest.
From a driver's perspective, many of the corners are interlinked, so a mistake in one will often affect the next one as well. There are several key bends around the lap. Turn 5, a double-apex right-hander, is immediately followed by a hairpin and the drivers need to be wary of their track positioning at the exit or risk losing time, and it is similar at the end of the lap. The drivers need to find a good rhythm through the final two corners to ensure that they make clean exits onto the pit straight.
What are your thoughts ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend?
Ross Brawn, Team Principal: For Honda, the Japanese Grand Prix is one of the highlights of the year, and we all take great pride in racing in front of our home fans. This will be my first Japanese Grand Prix with Honda and also my first visit to the Fuji Speedway, so I am very much looking forward to the race weekend. The track had a major facelift before the race returned there last year and by all accounts the facilities and track layout are very impressive. The first two-thirds of the lap are very fast before a complex series of corners through sector three. The weather was the major talking point at Fuji last year, with fog and monsoon-like conditions greatly affecting qualifying and the race. The location of the track in the mountainous region of Mount Fuji ensures that it is susceptible to weather fronts, so we look forward to seeing what challenges will be thrown our way on this occasion."
Are you looking forward to returning to Japan for the team's home race?
Jenson Button: "The Japanese Grand Prix is always a special weekend for the team as our second home race of the season. Racing for a Japanese team, we always have fantastic support and the fans are so enthusiastic that it makes for a great atmosphere. For me, the true home of the Japanese Grand Prix is Suzuka, which is just one of the best circuits in the world, and I can't wait to return there next year. However I did enjoy driving at the Fuji Speedway last year and the circuit has a nice mix of twisty corners and the high-speed pit straight. A lot of the corners have a very late apex, which is quite unusual. It will be a busy week for me as I took part in the annual Tokyo Motorsports Festival in Odaiba today which is a great event that really allows our fans to get close to the action. From here, we will attend the Honda Press Conference on Tuesday before heading to Fuji on Thursday to prepare for the race weekend."
What did you think of the Fuji Speedway after your first visit last year?
Rubens Barrichello: "I was very impressed with the Fuji Speedway. The track is a lot more interesting than we originally thought with a nice flow and some tight challenging corners towards the end of the lap. We had limited dry running last year, and then of course the very wet race, so we don't have a comparison of how the track would be over a normal race weekend. There are a couple of potential overtaking places though, which is always good to see in a new circuit. I always enjoy visiting Japan and you want to do your best at your home race. As Honda drivers, we enjoy some really good support over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. The fans are such good fun and crazy about Formula One."