Start, Suzuka, 2011

Vettel aims to make amends for 2011 Suzuka defeat

2012 Japanese Grand Prix preview

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Start, Suzuka, 2011F1 begins the decisive final phase of the 2012 season. Over the next eight weeks the teams will get just two weekends off in the busiest ever end to the season.

This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix marks the 25th anniversary of Suzuka’s first world championship race. Since then almost every Japanese Grand Prix has been held on the flowing figure-of-eight course which has consistently been among the drivers’ favourites.

Although Japanese interest in the shape of Honda, Toyota and Bridgestone are gone, Japan currently has one of its most exciting F1 prospects ever in Kamui Kobayashi.

“Suzuka is a very special place,” he said. “I?m sure a lot of drivers would agree it is a really great circuit.

“It is a very technical track, really exciting to drive and challenging, especially because it is so difficult to put a perfect lap together there. I would say at most of the circuits it takes no more than 20-30 laps to really learn them. Some are getting boring even before that, but in Suzuka you are still learning and improving after you have done hundreds of laps.”

Suzuka circuit information

Lap length5.807km (3.608 miles)
Distance53 laps (307.5km/191.1 miles)
Lap record*1’31.540 (Kimi Raikkonen, 2005)
Fastest lap1’28.954 (Michael Schumacher, 2006)
TyresHard and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Suzuka track data in full

Suzuka’s many high-speed corners make it a punishing track for tyres. Pirelli will bring its hard and soft compounds for this race, where the medium and soft were used last year.

“While it might at first seem from the names of the compounds that we are bringing harder tyres to Japan this year, in fact they are softer,” explained Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery.

“Despite the increased demands that this places on the compound and structure, they are still more than capable of withstanding the immense forces to which they are subjected lap after lap. With a full step between the compounds as well, we hope this will bring extra performance and excitement to what is already a classic race.”

Japanese Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

In his three appearances at this track, Sebastian Vettel has never failed to start from pole position. Nine thousandths of a second was the slender margin between him and Jenson Button last year, and the McLarens will surely give Red Bull considerable opposition again this weekend.

Last year Vettel stayed his hand in the fight for victory as he sought to guarantee his second world championship. This year a win would put him within striking distance of Fernando Alonso in the points standings.

On his return to Suzuka Vettel intends to take the win that eluded him last time: “I wish I had won in 2011, it was my third Formula One race on my favourite track and it still bothers me a bit that I took my world title with a third place,” he said.

Team mate Mark Webber, however, is looking for a way back into contention after a string of results which just seem to get worse. He has failed to score in the last two races.


Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Suzuka, 2011Lewis Hamilton begins his final half-dozen races for McLaren at a track which he, like most drivers, relishes.

He has vowed it’s “gloves off” in the championship contest and any thought of driving conservatively will banished as he stares at a 52-point deficit to Alonso. He needs to make serious inroads on that lead here to keep the Ferrari driver within reach.

Button’s victory in last year’s race was an emotional achievement for him in a country he is especially fond of, coming so soon after the devastation wrought by last year’s tsunami and earthquake. But facing a five-place penalty due to a gearbox change, his chances of a repeat win have already taken a knock.


The team’s decision to discard the high-downforce wing they brought for the Singapore Grand Prix was a reminder of the difficulties they faced at the start of the season getting the F2012’s aerodynamics right.

The subsequent news that they have taken their wind tunnel off-line, in a bid to get to the bottom of problems correlating the data it produces with what they observe in the real world, shows that all is still not right at the Ferrari factory.

But Alonso keeps plugging away and bringing home the solid points scores which look increasingly like adding up to a world championship. Singapore was his eighth podium finish of the year, two more than anyone else has managed.

Question marks remain over who will be his team mate in 2013. It’s rare for the season to reach this late stage without Ferrari having confirmed their line-up for next year, which indicates the difficulty they’re having trying to choose between keeping Felipe Massa for one more year or appointing a replacement.


Six-times Suzuka race winner Michael Schumacher will start this year’s race outside the top ten following his penalty at Singapore.

Nico Rosberg’s fifth place in the race showed the team had made progress with the upgrades they tested at Magny-Cours. Their performance in the final races will be under even greater scrutiny as they await the arrival of Hamilton next year.


Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Monza, 2012Kimi Raikkonen remains in championship contention, 45 points behind Alonso having finished in the top ten in each of the last 11 races.

Suzuka was the scene of what was surely his greatest win as he burst past Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap in 2005. A repeat win here would be a shot in the arm for his championship prospects.

Force India

Force India have looked increasingly strong since the summer break – a well-timed resurgence with their home race coming up soon.

Beating Sauber, who are 26 points ahead, still looks like a stretch. But fourth places for their drivers in Belgium (Nico Hulkenberg) and Singapore (Paul di Resta) have strengthened their advantage over Williams.

“Suzuka has never been our best track,” admitted owner Vijay Mallya, “but hopefully this time the team has something up its sleeve.”

“I think we have been pretty consistent on most tracks this season so we are quietly confident that we can perform well this weekend.”


Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, Spa-Francorchamps, 2012Kobayashi will be looking forward to his home race more than usual as Suzuka is exactly the sort of track where the Sauber C31 has gone well this year.

A repeat of his front row start at Spa – minus the unfortunate lap one assault from an airborne Romain Grosjean – would certainly go down well here.

Team mate Sergio Perez had an excellent run to eighth here last year despite being unwell, and even wound up his team by telling them his car had died as he drove towards the finishing line. Hopefully his next team will also appreciate his sense of humour.

Toro Rosso

Suzuka is a tough challenge for any rookie and Daniel Ricciardo’s prior experienced at the track should give him a useful advantage over Jean-Eric Vergne this weekend.


While the FW34 is clearly a much more competitive car than the one it replaced, Williams find themselves just one place higher in the constructors’ championship than they were at the end of last year.

A double retirement in Singapore didn’t help matters and the team say they have focused on improving reliability since then. “Given the excellent pace shown at Singapore in both qualifying and the race, we expect to be strong in Suzuka and will bring further updates as part of our continuous improvement process,” said chief operations engineer Mark Gillan.


Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham, Monza, 2012Singapore was a blow to the team who lost their grip on tenth place in the constructors’ championship to Marussia. They now need a 12th place of their own to take it back.


Pedro de la Rosa has never scored at Suzuka and that is unlikely to change this weekend. Nonetheless he has positive recollections of his time at the track:

“I?ve got great memories of it because my first victories in Formula Three and Formula 3000 came there and it?s one of the tracks which has brought me most luck in my career because by winning there the doors to Formula One opened.”


Having scored the team’s best-ever result in Singapore, Timo Glock is hoping for more progress this weekend:

“For this race we again have a couple of new developments on the car suited to this track, and I am hoping we will see another step forward and an even better chance of fighting with our immediate competitors and further closing the gap to the front of the field.”

2012 driver form

Q avgR avgR bestR worstClassifiedForm guide
Sebastian Vettel4.865.3812213/14Form guide
Mark Webber7.436.6412014/14Form guide
Jenson Button6.218.0811813/14Form guide
Lewis Hamilton4.795.4511911/14Form guide
Fernando Alonso6.213.621913/14Form guide
Felipe Massa10.799.6941613/14Form guide
Michael Schumacher8.217.143107/14Form guide
Nico Rosberg8.797.8611514/14Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen8.145.2921414/14Form guide
Romain Grosjean6.926.132188/13Form guide
Paul di Resta10.939.1541413/14Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg12.2910.9242113/14Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi1110.0941811/14Form guide
Sergio Perez12.937.9121411/14Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo13.9312.4691713/14Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne16.5712.7381611/14Form guide
Pastor Maldonado10.9312.111910/14Form guide
Bruno Senna14.5712.3862213/14Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen18.1416.77132313/14Form guide
Vitaly Petrov18.6416.55131911/14Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa21.7719.45172211/13Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan23.0820.1315238/13Form guide
Timo Glock20.6217.17122212/13Form guide
Charles Pic21.2917.91152011/14Form guide
Jerome D’Ambrosio151313131/1Form guide

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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13 comments on “Vettel aims to make amends for 2011 Suzuka defeat”

  1. A Raikkonen win here would certainly be a shot in the arm for Lotus and for all the Kimi fans. Keith could also add that his overtake in 2005 was on the last turn of the last lap, just where it most treacherous to go off the racing line.
    Sadly his Lotus does not have the pace for these kinds of heroics, but the McLaren does, and maybe Lewis is now in a mood for on track heroics

    1. First turn. He passed Fisichell on the outside into turn 1.

  2. “While it might at first seem from the names of the compounds that we are bringing harder tyres to Japan this year, in fact they are softer,” explained Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery.

    It seems to me that Pirelli have succumbed to the pressure of the teams. At first, they wanted to implement harder tyres and, after it was not possible to test them due to rain, they simply made the allocations more conservative. Hembery can tell that ‘they are softer’ than last year but the fact is that, for the first races of this season, the allocations were almost always the same as in 2011, the same compounds just had become trickier. Since Hungaroring, we see the allocations becoming more conservative, compared to the last year. This has already resulted in less pit stops. I expect that the 2013 tyres will me even more conservative and it’s possible that it won’t be long before Pirelli end up where Bridgestone did.

  3. It will be interesting (though unfair, imo) to see how far Button can move to the front on Sunday. I predict he will qualify 3rd and start eighth. If he is on his Spa form, a podium is still possible.

    Although it’s a little hard to envisage Alonso finishing off the podium, the two teams that might get between him and Red Bull and McLaren (who I think will be in front this weekend) are Lotus and Sauber, with the former finally running (probably) their much-talked-about DRS device. The championship could use them to be on form, as well as Mark Webber, who should remind us why Ferrari were after him for replacing Felipe Massa, instead of turning into ‘one’ himself.

    Personally, I hope Hamilton extends him win-DNF-win-DNF streak this weekend in Japan, but breaks it with another win in Korea :-) I hope he can still win the title this year, for some possibly-needed peace of mind in case next year’s Mercedes is just another midfield runner. Paraphrased from a different topic (on which Kamui seems to be the odoriferous expert): stock up on the good vibrations for those inevitable dry spells.

    1. Hear, Hear!! Adrian …. I fully concur to your allusions :) …… except this phrase: “….in case next year’s Mercedes is just another midfield runner.” You forgot one very important factor there …. The ability of Mr. Hamilton to race a “midfield runner”. Do you think now that JB has less motivation (a top racer is no more) the MP4-28 will not be a “midfield runner”? Then, if JB is only interest to beat a driver who drives like him, then the prospects of the McLaren being a top car are really less, tbh.

    2. I am optimistic for Button’s chances this weekend despite his grid penalty.

      Overtaking is possible at Suzuka and the Mclarens tend to run reasonably long final gear compared to other teams in races so hopefully they won’t be short of straight line speed.

      Race strategy and tyre management was decisive last year and I think it will be more of the same this year despite the more conservative tyre allocation. Thermal degradation will be the biggest factor in tyre performance according to JAonF1 and weather forecast points towards near 30 degree ambient temperature. Hopefully this will play into Button’s hands, especially in the first stint on the soft compound tyres allowing him to eek out a few more laps and benefit later in the race.

      Finally I think he will be bullish following his result here last year and the news of Hamilton’s imminent departure, keen to put in a very strong performance and demonstrate that he is worthy of leading the Mclaren team next season.

  4. From last year’s Japanese review for Sauber:

    His strategy was the opposite to Kamui’s, and it seems that this was the right way to go

    This is quite a permanent theme with them, isn’t it.

  5. F1 at Suzuka is as old a concept as Sebastian Vettel is.

  6. Red Bull vs McLaren again me thinks, with Alonso picking up the scraps. Sebastian Vettel for P1!

  7. Good luck to Fernando! As a Ferrari fan I really hope Alonso can wrap up the championship in USA. I don’t think my heart can take another title-deciding season finale after what happened in Brazil 2008 and Abu Dhabi 2010.

    1. Fernando needs to win another race, period. If he can manage one, and keep getting on the podium, I think he will take the title. However, the fact that Ferrari have scrapped their new rear wing, coupled with them shutting down their wind tunnel, doesnt give me much optimism…we have to rely on luck from here on in, unless Ferrari can conjure up some performance enhancing part.

      I really hope I can end my cursed life as an F1 fan. No driver I have supported has ever won a WDC! When I started in 98-2000 it was Eddie Irvine and Jean Alesi, then 2001 to 06 it was Montoya, 2007 to present, Alonso….so the barren spell continues, lets hope 2012 will be the year it ends!!!

  8. Never could forget the qualifying last year with so many cars bunched against each other and LH failing to do his fast lap.

  9. It really does look like severe damage limitation mode for Ferrari and Alonso now. Their car can’t be any worse than at the beginning of this season so I reckon Alonso is still going to bag this championship. I think Hamilton and co. will be too busy taking points off each other for Fernando to be really threatened.

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