2014 Japanese Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

It is often claimed that the British fans are the best Formula 1 fans in the world, yet the Japanese contingent certainly challenge this suggestion. Add incredibly respectful and enthusiastic fans to one of the world’s greatest Motorsport theatres and the result is a spectacle which is almost universally loved. Those of us in Europe may have to go to war with out biological clock for a weekend, but it is most certainly worth the early mornings. The Japanese Grand Prix rarely disappoints and in a season where few events have been anything short of enthralling, why should this weekend be any different?

2012 Japan GP At Start” by Michael Elleray
CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Facts

  • The first Japanese Grand Prix was held in 1976, at Fuji, in a race won by Mario Andretti.
  • While Suzuka is the home of the Japanese Grand Prix, having hosted the event on 25 occasions, the Fuji Speedway has been the venue for four races, the last of which, being held in 2008. 
  • Michael Schumacher holds the record for the most victories in Japan, with a total of six, while his fellow countryman Sebastian Vettel has already amassed four wins at Suzuka. 
  • Kimi Raikkonen hosts the lap record at Suzuka with a time of 1:31.540, set in 2005 as the Finn was en route to one of his most impressive victories.
  • Despite winning at Fuji in 2007, Lewis Hamilton has never won the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, with his best finish being a third place in 2009. 

Rewind 12 Months…

Sebastian Vettel’s relentless march to the 2013 title continued in Japan, as the German claimed his fifth consecutive win in what was a highly tactical affair. After Mark Webber had taken an emphatic pole position on Saturday, Romain Grosjean was the stand-out performer on Sunday, with the Frenchman taking the fight to both Red Bull’s. It was the closest he has come to a race win, yet ultimately, he could not hold off the duo, who had an evident pace advantage. Vettel jumped Grosjean in the final phase of pit-stops and Webber soon followed on track. A Red Bull 1-2 – for now, a relic of the past.

Max’s Moment

After several successful tests in the STR7, (and a less successful demo), Max Verstappen is now set to make his Formula 1 debut this weekend, in what will be a high profile FP1 appearance. The Dutchman joins a long list of débutantes this season, featuring Felipe Nasr, Andre Lotterer and the similarly headline making appearance of Susie Wolff at Silverstone and Hockenheim.
Verstappen, who enjoyed his 17th birthday yesterday, will become the youngest driver to take part in a Formula 1 weekend and after recent comments from Sir Jackie Stewart and Trevor Carlin, the youngster has great expectations to live up to. However, he seems ready for the challenge. “I am very much looking forward to taking part in a Free Practice session at a Grand Prix for the first time,” he said. “It is good preparation for next year, even if it’s not something I could have imagined a few months ago. To already be participating in a practice session is of course a dream come true”
I for one, cannot wait to see Verstappen in action. While many analysts have lamented a 17 year-old making a début after just one year in single-seaters, the age is not an issue if he is talented enough to warrant his place.

Breaking The Duck

Lewis Hamilton heads to Japan with the championship lead and despite his titanic season long battle with Nico Rosberg, being out front is a feeling which Lewis is not accustomed to. In fact, Monaco is the only race so far this season in which he has entered with the advantage over the German on the opposite side of the garage, and we all know how that weekend panned out.  
However, Lewis has not enjoyed much success at Suzuka in the past and the formbook suggests that Fuji would be a better venue for those yearning for a Hamilton victory this weekend – The Brit notched won of his greatest ever triumphs in 2007, in what was one of the wettest races in recent memory. While double champion Fernando Alonso faltered, the rookie sensation delivered once again. Since F1 returned to Suzuka, Japan has been far from a happy hunting ground for Lewis.
“I’ve never won at this circuit and have only made the podium once, on my first visit way back in 2009,” he admitted. “I’ve had a couple of chances and last season was probably the best of those. This year, though, we have an exceptional car and I’m really hoping I’ll finally have my shot at the top step.” 

Prediction Corner

Despite the formbook highlighting that Lewis Hamilton has never won at Suzuka, the same can also be said of Nico Rosberg and in a 2014 season where previous results are becoming more and more insignificant, history can almost be disregarded when it comes to making predictions. With momentum, popular support and a points advantage on his side, I predict another Hamilton victory this weekend, yet Rosberg should mount a significant challenge as usual, (wiring looms permitting, of course.) In truth, this is a must win race for the German, as momentum is a huge factor in any sport, let alone a title race in which their are only two contenders.
Red Bull should be fast this weekend, but I cannot see anything other than a Mercedes show at the head of the field and lets hope that the duo have a Bahrain-esque duel to keep us all intrigued while we eat out cornflakes on Sunday morning…

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