The double-header, that has taken Formula 1 back to the Far East after a two year Covid-19 imposed break, concludes this weekend with the Japanese Grand Prix, the 33rd to count towards the World Championship. It takes place at Suzuka circuit, a favourite with all the drivers, featuring its famous figure-of-eight layout.
Since it first appeared on the calendar in 1987, Suzuka carved out a reputation as one of the most formidable but also exhilarating tracks. Many of its corners are the stuff of legend, contributing to some of the most exciting moments in this sport. The track was designed in 1962, by Dutchman Johannes "Hans" Hugenholtz (known in the racing world as John Hugenholtz), its key feature being a figure-of-eight layout. From a technical viewpoint, it is definitely one of the tracks that calls for a high level of aerodynamic efficiency. It has significant elevation changes and high speed sections mixed in with trickier parts such as the chicane that leads onto the main straight. The other key areas are the first part with a succession of rapid esses and Spoon Curve, a semi-circular constant radius hairpin with negative camber. The final sector is very quick, featuring the famous 130R, a very quick corner leading onto the final chicane, where an overtake is risky and only possible if everything is done perfectly.
When it comes to setting up the car, a compromise is required to achieve the right level of aero downforce to deliver a car that is quick, stable and driveable. Suzuka is a medium downforce circuit, with car balance critical for the fastest corners. The moveable rear wing (DRS) is particularly useful on the one part of the track where it can be used, the relatively short main straight. There are four hard braking points, the most demanding being at the entry to the final chicane.
Engine and fuel consumption. As for the power unit, the Japanese track is pretty demanding for the internal combustion engine, which is run at maximum for over 70% of the lap, while the hybrid part also plays a very important role. While the downforce level is medium, fuel consumption can also be rather critical.
Three questions to Carlos Galbally, Head of Tyre Science
How did your journey with Ferrari begin? Where does your passion for motorsport come from?
CG: "My journey with Ferrari started back in 2016, although I guess you could say it's been in the making for a lot longer than that. I've always been passionate about engineering and cars, so after finishing my Mechanical Engineering degree in Spain I moved to Germany where there is a bigger tradition in car manufacturing and therefore more engineering opportunities. After some years in the road car industry, I was fortunate enough to be able to take the step into Formula 1 with Sauber. After an intense period in Switzerland, I was given the option to move to Italy to work for the biggest name in the business, and the decision was more than clear".
What is the Suzuka track like from a tyre point of view?
CG: "It's a very high energy track, characterised by its high speed sections with frequent changes of direction. It is an anomaly in the season in terms of left-to-right energy distribution, being the most symmetric track of the year (with as much energy turning left as you have turning right). Due to the high energy content, Pirelli brings the three hardest compounds available (C1/C2/C3), which is actually the least common combination, only used at five races, with Japan being the last of them. Tyre wear rates are on the high side, because of the long combined corners, while the track abrasion level is typically on the medium to high side. The combination of all these factors, along with the unpredictable weather, makes Suzuka an intense test for every aspect of tyre management".
How do you approach the Japanese GP in terms of tyre management?
CG: "As with other high energy tracks, such as Spain, Silverstone or Holland, it will be important to get the right balance between warm-up over one lap and avoiding overstressing the tyres on the long runs, which always requires some compromises between Qualifying and the race. The FP2 long runs will also be of critical importance, as they provide the best chance to collect data needed for tyre race management. This helps us give indications to the drivers and always plays a critical role in deciding on the best target strategy. On this topic, the reduced amount of free practice time introduced this year poses some challenges, which we are overcoming through ever more accurate pre-event simulation preparation".
Ferrari at the Japanese GP
GP contested 32
Debut 1976 (C. Regazzoni 5th; N. Lauda ret.)
Wins 7 (21.87%)
Pole positions 10 (31.25%)
Fastest race laps 7 (21.87%)
Total podiums 23 (23.96%)
Japanese GP: facts & figures
17. The furthest back on the grid from which the Japanese Grand Prix has been won. It happened in 2005 courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen in his McLaren at Suzuka. The Finn's race is also the best climb up the order to end with a podium finish.
23. The average number of people per vending machine (predominantly for drinks). There are five million of them in Japan, operating 24 hours per day, well lit with items competitively priced.
24. The average number of overtakes in the Japanese Grand Prix. The race has nearly always been exciting with a lot of overtaking, with no fewer than 65 passes in 1988 for example: 14 of those were down to Ayrton Senna who nearly stalled at the start from pole position, but then clawed his way up the order to take an amazing win. There have also been some dull races, such as the 2001 edition, when Michael Schumacher won for Ferrari, when there was only one change of position. In 2000 there were three, when the German won his first Drivers' title with the Scuderia.
2500. The number of people who, at the same time during the rush hour, use the world's most famous pedestrian crossing at Shibuya in Tokyo. Pedestrians are given 55 seconds to cross.
6582. The number of islands that make up Japan of which 260 are uninhabited. It is the largest country in the Far East made up of islands, the fourth largest in the world. The biggest islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyoshu.
Ferrari 75 years ago
Ferrari is still coming to terms with the terrible crash at Modena: in the Maranello marque's home race, a dangerous move from Franco Cortese in the 159 S, sent Giovanni Bracco's Delage ploughing through the crowd leaving several dead. So it is a last minute decision to take part in the Gran Premio di Torino, entering a 159 S for Raymond Sommer, who already drove for the team before the war. Ferrari is up against a strong field in Turin, starting with French constructors, Delage, Delahaye and Talbot, with engines ranging in size from 3600cc to 4500cc. Ferrari runs a two litre Tipo 159 S Competizione engine and only arrives at the event at the last moment, setting the seventh fastest time in pouring rain. However the car is well set up and the results are not long in coming. On race day, the Maseratis are out after just ten laps and after 30, Sommer has lapped the entire field and is heading for a certain win. The race last four and a half hours and Enzo Ferrari is thrilled with the Frenchman, who finishes ahead of Eugene Chaboud in a Delahaye and Charles Pozzi in a Talbot, the latter later becoming the Ferrari importer in France. Sommer, known as the "Boar of the Ardennes" because of his aggression at the wheel and his cantankerous nature, is so enthusiastic about the technical qualities of his Ferrari that, after the win in Turin, he comes to Maranello and buys himself a road car.