The key strategic moment in Suzuka was the move by MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS to hold on until Lap 13 to pit Lewis Hamilton, who was fighting back from 9th place on the opening lap. Hamilton rejoined ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Sergio Perez, who were battling for track position. Hamilton’s second stint on the hard tires was very strong as he passed three cars on his first lap out of the pits. This set him up for a podium finish, but he could not get past Max Verstappen for second place.
Home advantage for McLaren?
How much progress have they made?
This week we look at what a winning strategy might look like at Suzuka for McLaren Honda. This time last year Fernando Alonso complained that his engine was comparable to that of a GP2 car, but Honda has made huge progress since then. McLaren is now in the fight for the top ten and the sweeping track layout will also suit their chassis which is the strong point of their car. Last year it was a two-stop race with hard tires widely used, but expect to see the soft and medium compounds this week, which will give the strategists plenty to think about.
How did they perform at Suzuka?
We looked at McLaren Honda this week on “home” soil, but it was a disappointing race weekend from start to finish. The McLaren chassis didn’t perform well on the high speed corners of Suzuka and the drivers could not get the right balance to unlock the speed. Jenson Button started at the back of the grid after an engine change and struggled on the hard tires, while Fernando Alonso fared little better finishing 16th on a two-stop strategy without the pace to make up places.
Race Strategy Briefing
A real drivers favorite
Suzuka is an old fashioned circuit in that it has fast, sweeping bend and little margin for error. It is also the only F1 track in a figure 8 configuration.
The same choice as Barcelona, Silverstone and Malaysia. Suzuka has several fast corners that put high loads through the tires.
Strong chance of Safety Car
Strategies at Suzuka are often upset by Safety Cars. There is a 75% chance of a Safety Car as incidents tend to be at high speed with limited run off areas.
Getting the set up right
Although it’s a fast track, the top speeds are not high, as the cars run maximum downforce for better performance in the challenging corners.
A challenge for tires
Managing tire wear is critical to a strong result at Suzuka. With more variation this year on tire choice we will see a mixture of strategies.
October 09 | 14:00 local time, 7:00 CET
Regarded as one of the best drivers circuits in the world, Suzuka first hosted a Grand Prix in 1987 and the iconic figure-of-eight circuit presents the drivers and engineers with a real challenge; a series of fast sweeping corners with few braking zones. Like Barcelona, it is a track where a good well-balanced car really stands out. It is often a dramatic race and the chances of a safety car are relatively high at 75%. Among many highlights here over the years are the duels between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in 1989 and 1990, where the pair collided to decide the outcome of both year’s championships. Kimi Raikkonen’s victory in 2005, starting from 17th place on the grid, is another classic, with his last lap pass on Giancarlo Fisichella. Sebastian Vettel has won this race four times, with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button all victorious here in the last decade.
Circuit length 5.807 km
Race distance 307.471 km
Race winner 2015 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Pirelli allocation Soft/Medium/Hard
Doing well in Japan is all about cool heads and good race strategy. Tire degradation is high at Suzuka so Pirelli usually brings its harder compounds of tires. Using these well is crucial to a team‘s success. A classic two-stop strategy involves pitting for the first time around lap 14 and then a second time around lap 35, with an opening stint on medium then two equal stints on the hards. However, there is a pace benefit to teams that can make it with two of the three stints on medium tires. Look out for these two approaches. In Suzuka there will once again be plenty of attention on the mandatory tire pressures from Pirelli, as this is a circuit like Spa, where the cornering loads are significant.
In collaboration with James Allen