The Suzuka International Racing Course with its famous figure-of-eight has hosted the Japanese Grand Prix in all-but two years since 1987.
Suzuka has been the setting of many classic title deciders, such as Prost and Senna’s epic battles and Schumacher’s and Hakkinen’s titanic scraps. Racing around it in F1 2019 is a testing thrill for all.
Overtaking is difficult and keeping the car pointed in the right direction around the circuit is even harder, as one slightly miscalculated corner can send you into the barriers. Aside from Monaco, I believe this is the hardest track on the calendar and requires a lot of practice to master.
Turns 1 & 2
You’ll be hurtling towards the first corners at around 205 mph (328 kph) and as this follows a DRS zone, this is one of the main overtaking spots on the track. The only way to pass is down the inside, taking the outside line will result in you flying off the circuit, thanks to Turn 2’s heavily cambered surface.
Due to the incredible downforce of the cars, you don’t have to brake until you’re entering T2, Turn 1 can be taken flat. I usually brake at the point where the kerbs on the right disappear from view in T-cam. Decelerate down to fourth gear and hug the inside kerbs of Turn 2, being sure to wait before getting back on the throttle for the run towards the S curves.
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S Curves & Dunlop
This is arguably the hardest complex to perfect in Formula 1, as at no point between Turns 3 and the Dunlop curve (Turn 7) does the steering wheel stay level for more than a split second.
For Turn 3, you need to lift while remaining in sixth gear and avoiding the kerbs, something you’ll need to do throughout this complex until the very end. Brake down to fifth gear for Turn 4 and don’t worry if you run a little wide of the apex, it’s good for momentum. Turns 3 and 4 are effectively like a high-speed chicane, but you have to be ready for Turn 5, which follows immediately after.
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Lift and stay in fifth gear for Turn 5, before squirting the throttle and going into Turn 6 where you stay in the same gear throughout. Dunlop follows, it’s a long gradual uphill left-hander where you should be able to go full throttle through. Stick as close to the inside as possible, as this corner tightens the further you go up, it’s very easy to clip the grass and spin around.
You’ll have to do dozens of laps to get these turns all right, but when in doubt, go slowly, as you will only realise you’ve made a mistake when it’s too late.
Degner is a two-part corner complex, the first corner of which tempts you to go flat out through but attempting to do so almost always ends badly. You’ll have to dab on the brakes just before the 50m board and stay in seventh gear to get through the corner. Clip the inside kerbing, but no more, as track limits are strictly enforced here.
Use a little kerb on exit also, but no more than half a wheel’s width, or you’ll be taking a trip across the gravel. Turn 9 is where you slow it all down, brake into fourth gear starting at the point where the kerbs on the left stop. Clump the inside kerb, but don’t use any of the exit’s, as there isn’t much grip out there.
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The hairpin is a great overtaking opportunity, as the AI are really slow through here, so you’ve always got a chance with a dive up the inside. In qualifying, though, you need to take the wider outside line, so that the car gets as much straight line running as possible down to Spoon.
Brake just after the Turn 10 kink down into second gear and hug the inside, the corner is like a bowl which helps you turn. Traction is limited on exit, so be careful when reapplying the throttle. Turn 12 is a long and gradual right-hand turn which can be taken easy-flat, but be sure to take a smooth flowing line for maximum speed.
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Named after the shape of the two corners, the Spoon is another challenging complex that takes a lot of practice to nail. You’ll be touching eighth gear going into Turn 13 and need to brake down to sixth at the 50m board. Crank on as much left lock as you dare and make sure you don’t run wide, it’s slower and will earn you a penalty.
Squirt the throttle before Turn 14 and brake down to fourth gear to take it. Running wide of the apex isn’t a huge issue here, but make sure you don’t on exit, as the sand dunes are waiting to welcome you. A good exit from the Spoon is essential, as it’s a very long flat out zone on the run to the chicane.
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Long gone are the days when you had to brake for the 130R, but that doesn’t mean you can underestimate the corner. Getting the line wrong will force you to take to the run-off, which will cost you time and earn you a track extension warning.
You’ll be going at almost 200 mph (320 kph) for this one, but you just need to ease the wheel left, while avoiding the inside kerbing. Be vigilant too, as the final few corners come up really fast on you after this corner.
Because of the slip-stream you can gain down to this corner, it’s become a popular overtaking spot, as Fernando Alonso spectacularly showed us in 2005.
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Casio Triangle Chicane
Known as the Senna/Prost chicane to some, this is the chicane which slows the cars before going to the start/finish straight. The direction which the circuit travels and the one which you need to go are different, so you actually have to be more towards the right side of the track when you squeeze the brakes.
Brake at 75m down into second gear and clump the inside kerbing of Turn 16. Squirt the throttle between the corners and remain in second, grazing the inside kerbs of Turn 17. Stay to the left of the exit kerbs, as getting too much on these will kill your traction through the final corner. The DRS activation line isn’t until after Turn 18, so once you’ve rounded it, your lap is all but completed.
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Because of the base levels of downforce these 2019 F1 cars have, you don’t need the wing angles to be high, despite the frequency of high-speed corners around Suzuka. I went with 3 on the front and 8 on the rear, as this gives you enough rear stability through the S curves.
The on-throttle differential is in the middle of the park here, as you don’t need too much traction in some zones but need all you can get in others. I went with 75% for on-throttle and 100% for off. Tyre wear isn’t an issue around here, you can easily do a 1 stop using softs and mediums with a stock car, so you can make the camber and toe angles almost as low as they can go.
You won’t use the kerbs much around here, but they are harsh, so if you make a mistake, you have to be able to keep the car pointing forward, 1/1 for the suspension. There are a lot of high-speed direction changes thanks to the S curves, so the anti-roll bar has to be stuff at around 10/8. The ride height is the usual 3/4 to help straight-line speed.
There are some big stops around this track, so you need high brake pressure, I went with 89% pressure and 53% bias towards the front, despite the former hurting the momentum through the S curves somewhat.
Tyre pressures can be a tad higher than usual thanks to the grip you’ll need on the front axle, 23.8 psi on the front and 21.1 on the rear is the highest you can get away with without causing overheating.
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