The Japanese Grand Prix returns to our TV screens this weekend as Formula 1 races around one of the world’s most challenging and sensational circuits.
The Suzuka International Racing Circuit has been a part of the F1 calendar for all but two years since 1987 and has remained almost unchanged in over 30 years.
With the incredible downforce levels available to today’s F1 cars, a lap of Suzuka is faster than ever before and, as a result, mistakes are punished here more than most tracks. Despite the high average speeds, overtaking is difficult around this circuit, as there aren’t many long straights or heavy braking zones around Suzuka.
Passing may be difficult, but it’s far from impossible, and if you’ve got a run on the car ahead, these are the five spots you’re most likely to make a move!
Turns 1 & 2
The first corners on the circuit are also the first overtaking opportunities on your lap of Suzuka. With DRS, Max fuel mode and hot lap ERS enabled, you’ll be hurtling towards Turn 1 at around 205 mph (328 kph).
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. With the high wing angles required to be fast around the Japanese circuit, the slipstream is very powerful down into this corner, so use the tow effectively, just like Kimi Raikkonen did to win the race in 2005.
How to master the corner: Due to the incredible downforce of the cars, you don’t have to brake until you’re entering Turn 2, Turn 1 can be taken flat. Brake at the point where the kerbs on the right disappear from view in T-cam and decelerate down to fourth gear. Be sure to hug the inside kerbs of T2, being sure to wait before getting back on the throttle for the run towards the S curves.
The rest of the first sector is very difficult to overtake in, so the hairpin is your next best shot as getting past. The AI are really slow through here, so you’ve always got a chance with a dive up the inside. Be careful not to throw the car in too much, though, as you can damage the front wing when the corner bites at the apex.
How to master the corner: 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 towards Turn 12.
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Named after the shape of the two corners, the Spoon curve is another challenging complex that takes a lot of practice to nail. While this corner isn’t a normal overtaking opportunity, you’ll be touching eighth gear going into Turn 13 and if you can get down the inside, you can overtake the car ahead. However, like Turns 1 & 2, you can only go down the inside here, the outside route never works out well.
How to master the corner: 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.
One of Formula 1’s most spectacular corners is the mighty 130R and 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. Passing is becoming more and more popular here, partly because the driver ahead can’t properly defend, as you can get a move down the inside or outside.
How to master the corner: 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.
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 before fading to the left.
You can get down the inside or outside, just like 130R, and if you’ve been passed in 130R, you can make an immediate comeback into here. If you’re still side-by-side in the second part of the chicane, it’s very easy to cut the inside kerb, which is usually punished with an illegal overtake warning.
How to master the corner: 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.
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