Japanese Grand Prix Preview

Back-to-back race weekends in the East see’s Formula One travel to Suzuka for the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix.

One year on from Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash, Formula One makes an emotional return to Suzuka. In light of last year’s events, the race has been brought forward by one hour, but early forecasts have seen a tropical cyclone formation alert being enforced that could affect this year’s race.

This year’s Japanese Grand Prix is vital for Rosberg and Vettel’s championship hopes after Hamilton failed to finish the race last time out. Now the pair sit 44 and 49-points off of Lewis respectively as Formula One travels to a circuit which has brought Vettel great rewards in the past.

The Japanese Grand Prix was first held at Suzuka in 1987 after the race was dropped from the calendar for a decade following Formula One’s departure from the Fuji Speedway. But in 1987, F1 returned to Japan at the Honda owned circuit and went on to become a fan and driver favourite as well as the host of many title dramas over the years.

Suzuka is also famous for being the only figure of eight circuit in Formula One with the track bridging over itself on one of its long straights. But apart from the unique design and long straights, Suzuka has tight, technical turns that require a strong chassis and good downforce to carry as much speed through the corners as possible.

Suzuka GP Circuit track layout - copyright: Formula1.Com

Last year’s race in the pouring rain saw Lewis Hamilton take the win and strengthen his championship lead, and after failing to finish for the first time this season, at the Singapore Grand Prix, Lewis will be looking to bounce back strongly with another win this season.

If Lewis is to win at Suzuka this time around, he may need to master the elements again should the tropical cyclone affect the race. But other than the elements, he will need to defend from Rosberg and Vettel as the pair look to claw their way back at Hamilton’s lead.

And clawing away at leads at Suzuka is something Vettel has found himself doing in previous years as he looked to close in on Jenson Button in 2009, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in 2010 and Fernando Alonso again in 2012. 2011 and 2013 were the only title years in which Vettel was not playing the catch up game as he dominated the seasons in style, and out of all those races, Vettel only failed to finish in first place on two occasions, with Button winning in 2011 as the country rebuilt after the Tōhoku earthquake and Tsunami. The other time being 2014 when Vettel was in a uncompetitive Red Bull and Hamilton was battling Rosberg in an all-out Mercedes war.

With all of Vettel’s wins at Suzuka, he has led more than double the amount of laps as Hamilton with 186 laps led compared to Lewis’ 73. Out of the current drivers, Lewis is actually second with Alonso on 51, Button 50, while Grosjean and Rosberg both have 26.

If Vettel can master a win at Suzuka once more and capture Ferrari’s fourth win of the season, Seb will be bringing his name right into the title fight and could set up a strong momentum swing that sees him continue his challenge until the final race. Like in 2010 when he won the title at the final race and at the first time he led the standings.

Jules Bianchi at the 2014 Silverstone F1 test for Ferrari - Photo copyright: FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO

Outside of the title fight comes a tail of sorry rather than joy as Manor-Marussia, and the paddock, return to the track which saw Jules Bianchi‘s fatal crash. The young French driver had a promising future ahead of him but that was all taken away when he crashed under the safety car, causing him to live in a coma for the rest of his days.

The return of F1 to Suzuka will be extremely emotional for everyone involved with Manor-Marussia and the ones who knew Jules best. Manor particularly wish to mark their return in a very private way.

“We were Jules’ team, and with that in mind I would ask everyone to understand and respect that, this weekend, we wish to deal with the experience of returning to Suzuka in a very private way,” said John Booth, team principal of the Manor Formula One team, ahead of this weekend’s Japanese race.

“Our commitments will reflect this.

“It is my job to provide the team with the right environment in which to be able to do their job in spite of very difficult circumstances.”

Japanese F1 Fans - Japanese GP 2013 - Copyright-Rachel Clarke

For this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix in front of Japan’s dedicated, and slightly bizarre, crowd, live coverage in the UK will be provided by both the BBC and Sky Sports F1.

Thursday 24 September
07:00 – Driver Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
20:45 – Paddock Uncut: Japan (Sky Sports F1)

Friday 25 September
01:45 – Japanese GP Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
01:55 – Japanese GP Practice 1 (BBC2)
01:55 – Japanese GP Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
05:45 – Japanese GP Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
05:55 – Japanese GP Practice 2 (BBC2)
05:55 – Japanese GP Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08:00 – Team Principals Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
10:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)
18:45 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Saturday 26 September
03:45 – Japanese GP Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
03:55 – Japanese GP Practice 3 (BBC 2)
03:55 – Japanese GP Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06:00 – Japanese GP Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
06:00 – Japanese GP Qualifying (BBC 1)
06:55 – Japanese GP Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11:00 – Japanese GP Qualifying Replay (Sky Sports F1)
12:10 – Japanese GP Qualifying – Ted’s Notebook (Sky Sports F1)
13:00 – Japanese GP Qualifying Replay (BBC 1)

Sunday 27 September
04:30 – Japanese GP – Track Parade (Sky Sports F1)
05:00 – Japanese GP – Pit Lane Live (Sky Sports F1)
05:00 – Japanese GP (BBC One)
05:30 – Japanese GP (Sky Sports F1)
05:30 – Japanese GP (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08:30 – Japanese GP – Paddock Live (Sky Sports F1)
11:45 – Japanese GP – Ted’s Notebook (Sky Sports F1)
13:00 – Japanese GP – Race Replay (Sky Sports F1)
13:15 – Japanese GP – Race Replay (BBC 1)