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Five reasons why Suzuka could serve up a classic

The fans also go the extra mile to show their colours in Japan
By Ben Edwards,
C4F1 commentator


Ben Edwards picks five reasons why the Suzuka Circuit is set to stage another classic Japanese Grand Prix this weekend. 

1. It's Old School 

This is a track of its era, the 1960s, and has remained remarkably true to its original scope. From a flat-out blast dropping downhill past the pits to the meandering “S” curves that climb back up the other side, this circuit is narrow, fast, twisty, and unforgiving. A few inches off line and the car will be clipping the grass to one side, and from there it's often a short distance to the barrier. 

Mistakes have real consequences, but then the best drivers respond to that with millimetre accuracy and utter commitment. Mind you, one of the strangest statistics here is that Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen with six world titles between them have never taken pole position. 

2. Variable weather 

While the prospects of a typhoon appear to be slim this year, the variety of weather in autumnal Honshu can still throw a spanner in the works. Temperatures can vary enormously; carry a raincoat, a fleece and plenty of suncream. 

Even over the course of this weekend the temperatures are set to change considerably from a cool and damp Friday to a warm and dry Sunday and that will have a key influence on outcomes. Mercedes will be looking for cooler temperatures where their package works best, but Ferrari will want the opposite, and look set to be given that on race day.

3. Lessons from history 

Nico Rosberg won this race last year from pole for Mercedes while Hamilton spent the afternoon recovering from a poor start from his front row slot, but failed to find a way past Max Verstappen at the end and settled for third. Ferrari were the second fastest team but both drivers carried penalties into the race that set them back on the grid, while Red Bull were only a fraction behind on sheer pace. 

Judging by performance levels in Malaysia it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see pole position going to either Ferrari or Red Bull, even though Mercedes have annexed the front row for the last three years. Red Bull dominated this event when Vettel was winning his four world titles; now they are in separate camps it is difficult to predict which will emerge ahead. 

4. Double Dutch 

Verstappen's superb drive in Malaysia just reconfirmed his potential. We know what he's capable of, but it was encouraging to see fortunes favour him for once. As David Coulthard mentioned on our C4 programme, the Suzuka circuit was designed by a Dutchman, John Hugenholtz, who was also responsible for the original layout at Zandvoort and another twisty, narrow delight, Jarama in Spain. He used the natural rolling terrain here in Japan to create the only figure of eight circuit on the current calendar. 

His fellow countryman has excelled on the 3.6 mile layout since making his Friday morning practice debut for Toro Rosso in 2014 and if his luck has truly changed, I reckon his chances of back-to-back wins are pretty high. But if Ferrari can recover quickly from the setbacks in Sepang and if Mercedes can get the tyres in the right working range, it will still be a mighty tough contest.

5. A warm welcome to Japan 

Passionate fans bedecked in handmade regalia wait for hours on end on the approach to the circuit, hoping for the briefest glimpse of their heroes yet always happy, smiling, enthusiastic. You’ll also see spectators in the grandstand opposite the pits, sitting in their seats well into the night on Saturday just to watch from a distance the work that's going on in the garages, giving the mechanics a real sense that their efforts are appreciated. 

Despite the fact that there's no Japanese driver in the field and that Honda are not exactly at their best right now, there is still a wonderful atmosphere at this place created by people who simply love the sport, and what could be better than that?

Highlights of the Japanese Grand Prix are on Sunday at 3pm with Qualifying at 1pm on Saturday. 

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