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Japanese GP: Preview - McLaren


Suzuka is owned by the Honda Motor Company. It was built in 1962 and its unique figure-of-eight layout came from the pen of renowned designer, Dutchman John Hugenholtz. The track is narrow and the layout is fast and flowing, making it one of the most revered challenges on the Formula 1 calendar.

The best drivers and cars usually excel at Suzuka because it's a very unforgiving racetrack. It's undulating and bumpy, and to be fast a driver needs to demonstrate commitment and great precision. Even the smallest of mistakes can be punished severely when the average lap speed is in excess of 230kph (143mph).

There's a predominance of fast corners all around the lap, but no section is more challenging or exciting than the sequence of fast corners in Sector One known as the Esses. All five of these bends is inter-linked and all are taken at a minimum speed of 130mph/210kph. In fact, only one corner around the 5.807km/3.608-mile lap is taken at less than 100kph (62mph).

The high cornering forces place a lot of stress on the tyres, which is why Pirelli are taking their two hardest compounds to the race: the Medium (Option) and the Hard (Prime). This combination has already been used on three occasions this year, most recently at the British Grand Prix, and it should throw up some interesting strategic options during the race.

McLaren has enjoyed many successes at the Japanese Grand Prix. The team has won the race on nine occasions, with two of those wins being achieved with Honda power. The team's most recent victory came in 2011, with Jenson Button.

It's all about the race

Start time: 1400 (local) / 0600 (BST)
Race distance: 53 laps (full world championship points awarded after 75 per cent distance/40 laps)
2014 winner: Lewis Hamilton 44 laps in 1h:51m43.021s
2014 pole position: Nico Rosberg 1m32.506s 225.987km/h (140.422mph)
2014 fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton lap 39 1:51.600 187.322km/h (116.396mph)
Safety Car likelihood: High. There's a 60 per cent chance of a Safety Car because accidents are usually high speed at Suzuka and result in a lot of debris
Don't put the kettle on: On laps 14 and 37. Last year's winner made three pitstops, but the race was wet and it was stopped early. A more accurate example of strategy came in 2013, when Sebastian Vettel took the spoils with a two-stop strategy.
Weather forecast: Warm and humid, although the chances of rain are increasing as we get closer to the race. The latest forecasts predict a 40 per cent chance of rain on Sunday

It's all about the track

First race: 1987
Circuit length: 5.807km/3.608 miles
Run to Turn One: 350 metres/0.217 miles
Longest straight: 900 metres/0.559 miles, on the approach to the Chicane, Turn 16
Top speed: 324km/h/201mph on the approach to the Chicane
DRS zones: One - on the approach to Turn One
Key corner: Turn Nine, called Degner Two. A bump at the apex makes it difficult to get the power down and there's very little run-off at the exit if the driver makes a mistake. There have been many red flags over the years as a result of drivers crashing here
Pitlane length: 413 metres (0.26 miles), which is average. A pitstop takes about 22s
Major changes for 2015: None

It's all about the car

Fuel consumption: 1.8kg per lap, which is average
Full throttle: 65 per cent. There are several long straights and lots of fast corners, but very few sharp accelerations from low speed
Brake wear: Light. There are only nine braking zones and just 10 per cent of the lap is spent braking
Gear changes: 42 per lap/2,226 per race

Matt Morris, director of engineering: "Suzuka is one of the circuits that the drivers and engineers really enjoy. The whole lap is a high-speed rollercoaster, which is both exhilarating and challenging.

"To be fast, a car needs to have high-speed stability, both in terms of mechanical stiffness and the aerodynamic balance, and a good power unit. You also need a strong front-end because understeer through the Esses in Sector One can really hurt your lap time."

Fernando Alonso: "I'm full of anticipation about going to Suzuka. It's a really tough circuit, and a huge test for the drivers, as a lot of it is really narrow and bumpy so you need absolute commitment into every corner. It has almost the opposite characteristics to Singapore in terms of set-up, so it's a very different challenge that we'll face next weekend.

"Like Jenson, I have a strong affinity with Japan, I love the country and I've always been fascinated by its culture. I've also loved racing there and I've won both at Suzuka and Fuji, so it holds a lot of special memories for me. The fans are one-of-a-kind and the circuit absolutely deserves its legendary status - it's one of the most exciting on the calendar.

"Singapore is now behind us, but Suzuka will surely be a challenge. Our car is well balanced and feels good to drive, but on a circuit with such a high average speed it will be difficult to beat our competitors. We'll take the samurai spirit with us to Suzuka, and as usual we won't give up."

Jenson Button: "Suzuka is my favourite track on the calendar without a doubt. The thrill of the Esses, the Degners, Spoon, 130R - they are a combination of corners like no other in Formula 1 and for a driver it's a mega challenge.

"Japan is like a second home for me. My wife is half-Japanese, I spend a lot of time there, the country is beautiful and the people are so warm and enthusiastic, you can't fail to love it. I still regard my win at Suzuka in 2011 as one of my best - it's such a challenge to get right as the circuit is narrow, twisty, and technical, so it's one of the victories of which I'm most proud.

"Suzuka is the home grand prix for Honda too, so it will be an important weekend for the whole team. It's not going to be an easy race, as the track is so quick and reliant on top speed, but we'll be giving it our absolute all for the fans."

Eric Boullier, Racing director: "Suzuka is a place that every Formula 1 fan regards as special - it's a circuit that has hosted those classic races that have gone down in history, and produced some incredible racing and on-track battles that are talked about for years after.

"For McLaren, it's extra-special, since it's also the home of Honda, so returning there this year will be even more emotional than normal. First and foremost, to give ourselves any kind of fighting chance next weekend we must focus on our reliability after the disappointment in Singapore. From Marina Bay, one of the lowest-speed tracks on the calendar, we go to Suzuka, one of the fastest, so preparation will be key.

"It'll be interesting to see how the drivers and cars cope with the challenge of the downhill grid, and the famous figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit is always a fantastic spectacle in front of the most enthusiastic fans we see anywhere in the world. All of us at McLaren-Honda are working hard to continue to show our improving pace, and we hope we can put on a good show for our fans, partners and guests next weekend."

Yasuhisa Arai, Honda R&D senior managing officer - chief officer of motorsport: "It is a wonderful feeling to be back home and to be racing in front of our fans. The fans are incredibly passionate and loyal to F1 and to Honda, so as the McLaren-Honda team, we will do our best this weekend.

"That said, Suzuka is a notoriously technical and difficult circuit for all cars and drivers. We have to be realistic that the race will be a big challenge for the team this weekend. Our engineers have started their preparations for the task ahead for what will hopefully be a good race."


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