Suzuka International Racing Course will be a welcome site for Max Verstappen and the Red Bull Racing crew. It was here last year, in a rain-shortened affair, that the Dutchman won the second of his Formula 1 titles on the trot to go with the Constructors’ Cup for the team. Having had their dreams of running the table and winning everything on offer in 2023 dashed at Singapore, Verstappen and Red Bull will be excited to return to this happy hunting ground.
Suzuka is a track where a car needs good aerodynamics at the front half of the circuit and horsepower at the straights. It will quickly bring any weakness a car has to the forefront and point it out. For Red Bull Racing, good aero and high horsepower just happen to be what they do best.
So, it should be a return to business as usual, right? Well, pardon the expression, but not so fast.
“Before I was a bit less optimistic,” Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. told formula1.com. “Now I want to remain optimistic.”
And he has reason to be, coming off the race win at the tight confines of the Singapore Grand Prix that ended Max Verstappen’s consecutive run of GP wins at 10.
“I know that if we do a good lap in qualifying, and defend the race like we have done the last three weekends, it can still be a decent result,” Sainz said.
But if anyone has the idea that Red Bull is scrambling for solutions, hold that thought.
“Singapore is so different to what we will experience [at Suzuka] in terms of the way you set up the car, so I’m also not worried that a weekend like that [at Singapore] will upset our weekend here,” said Verstappen, who will likely not be able to clinch a third consecutive title at Suzuka and will have to wait till Qatar. However, a return to form by Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez would likely result in the team clinching the Constructors’ Cup.
“I would think that if they’re not 30 seconds ahead like they have done in the past then something’s up,” Lewis Hamilton said. “It was obviously a difficult weekend, their last one, but their car should be phenomenal here.”
How to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Japan
- Date: Sunday, Sept. 24
- Location: 3.608-mile (5.807 km), 18-turn Suzuka International Racing Course, Suzuka, Mid Prefecture, Japan
- Time: 12.55 a.m. ET
- TV: ESPN2
- Stream: fubo (try for free)
What to watch for
The seven-turn esses at the start. The Dunlop Curve. Degner 1 and 2. The hairpin that makes up Turn 11. Spoon. Casio Triangle and the 130R. Those lovely, long straights. A figure-8 layout that crisscrosses itself, necessitating a tunnel and bridge. Take your pick of the many classic, signature features, but all together they give Suzuka International Racing Course its unique character, from tight left-rights to heavy breaking off camber turns that require a high-downforce setup that then climbs to high-speed straights where low downforce is key. There’s a reason why many call this the “Driver’s playground.”
With such high lateral stresses over the course of the 53 laps it is not surprising that Pirelli will be bringing the three hardest compounds available: The C1 Hard (white sidewall), C2 Medium (yellow) and C3 Soft (red). Tire pressures will be key, too, and the Italian manufacturer is recommending a minimum 25 psi for the fronts and 23 at the rears. Weather, as in rain, has been a sore spot at Suzuka, as the race falls in the start of the rainy season for the area, but this year it is expected to be hot and humid. Which will bring up track temps. And that will lead to high tire degradation.
As for pitstops, a one-stopper can win at this track, but the general strategy most teams will follow goes with a two-stop strategy with the drivers starting on the softs, switching to mediums between laps 19-26 and then back to softs for the final charge to the finish.