2014: Japanese Grand Prix Preview

In Singapore two weeks ago the championship was turned on its head. Lewis Hamilton was trailing team-mate Nico Rosberg by 27 points after Belgium and now he leads by three points after Rosberg’s car was compromised by a “substance contamination” forcing him to retire.

Now teams have travelled to Japan for the 15th round of the 2014 Formula One World Championship. The race weekend is under threat from Typhoon Phanfone, with Saturday and Sunday in particular set to be interrupted by heavy rain. Apart from the weather threat the main focus is the inter-team battle between Hamilton and Rosberg. Neither driver has won around Suzuka before with Hamilton’s 2007 Japanese Grand Prix victory coming in Fuji. The circuit is iconic and in the past has played host to the end of the championship. It is one that most drivers will have on their ‘bucket-list’ to win. Of the current field four drivers have won in Suzuka: Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 with his famous last lap move on Giancarlo Fisichella; Fernando Alonso in 2006 when Michael Schumacher’s engine gave up and tilted the title firmly in Alonso’s favour; Sebastian Vettel in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013; and Jenson Button in 2011.

Circuit: Suzuka
Number of Laps: 53
Circuit Length: 5.807km
Number of Corners: 18
Lap Record: 1:31.540 – Kimi Raikkonen (2005)
Previous Japanese Grand Prix winners still on the grid: 5
Most Successful Team: McLaren (9 wins)
DRS Zones: 1   
Pirelli Tyres: Hard and Medium

The Suzuka circuit is a unique figure of 8 and features some of the toughest corners on the calendar – including the Esses, Spoon and 130R – but also requires good straight line speed leading to a compromise from teams on downforce. It is a circuit which can also be tough on tyres but that may be negated this weekend if the promised rain arrives, leaving drivers to use their limited number of intermediate and wet tyres.

As mentioned above the championship is finely poised with only three points separating the top two. Both drivers – who have had their fair share of reliaibilty issues during the season – will be hoping nothing else goes wrong. Mercedes may be dominating both championships but in terms of reliability they’re only the fourth best team of 2014. Ferrari have 26 race finishes from 28 starts, McLaren have 25, Red Bull have 24 and Mercedes have 23. Mercedes’ saving grace is that all 23 finishes have been in the points and at the upper end. There hasn’t been a race in 2014 without one of the Mercedes drivers on the podium.

Elsewhere the battle is heating up between Williams and Ferrari. Williams are currently third in the constructors championship but just nine points clear of the Scuderia. McLaren and Force India are locked in battle for fifth place – Force India moved ahead again following Singapore and currently lead McLaren by 6 points.

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