Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Simran Kanthi
We are very much at the business end of the 2022 Formula 1 season and what better place for Max Verstappen to potentially seal his second F1 Championship than in the testing turns of Suzuka? 53 laps around this magnificent circuit will ensue on Sunday, early in the morning for those used to watching the race after lunch, as the drivers battle it out to claim every last point available. Despite the early start, this race will be well worth watching.
Opened in 1962, the Suzuka International Racing Course has been an almost ever-present feature in the F1 calendar since 1987. It is renowned for its figure-of-eight layout, as well as the harrowing 130R corner (named after its metric radius), which is approached by modern F1 cars at close to 320 kmph (199 mph) in eighth gear. The circuit has played host to numerous dramatic championship deciders due to its traditional place as the last race of the year, including the fierce contests between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost from 1988-91.
In terms of the track itself, it is 5.807km (3.608 mi) of pure speed, and the non-stop acceleration is one of the key features of this iconic racetrack. Although there is only one DRS (Drag Reduction System) zone in the lap, overtaking is very possible for those drivers daring enough to send it down the inside or harder still round the outside. The race lap record was set in 2019 by Lewis Hamilton, a rapid 1:30.983 that occurred in the most recent F1 race to be held at the circuit before the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
The aforementioned 2019 Japanese Grand Prix was an absolute classic, with drama and carnage throughout the field. A first-lap collision between future title rivals Verstappen and Charles Leclerc ruined both of their races before Valtteri Bottas executed a perfect strategy to get the better of the squabbling pair of Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton, the former coming out on top by a matter of milliseconds. That race also saw Mercedes take their sixth straight constructors' championship, a stark contrast to the lows of this year.
Last weekend in Singapore, we saw an eventful race filled with incidents, such as the collision between Nicholas Latifi and Zhou Guanyu bringing out the Safety Car, as is traditional on the Marina Bay Street Circuit, followed by Fernando Alonso's on-track stoppage to cause a Virtual Safety Car and Yuki Tsunoda's race ended by the wall after a risky tyre change. A poor grid slot for Verstappen was enough to keep him out of the top six, while a disastrous mistake from Hamilton knocked him off the podium and eventually down to ninth to cap off a poor weekend for Mercedes. McLaren capitalised on others' flawed strategies, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo claiming fourth and fifth respectively. Ferrari were quick, but neither one of them could top the brilliant Sergio Perez, who took the victory despite a post-race penalty for a Safety Car infringement. This result means that to confirm his dominance in the 2022 F1 season, Verstappen needs to either win with the fastest lap regardless of where others finish or just outscore Leclerc by eight points and Perez by six. Then, we would know that the Dutchman is a two-time F1 World Champion.
All in all, things are hotting up for the Japanese Grand Prix, with storylines swirling around and all to play for in the midfield. The delay of the release of the FIA's certifications of compliance with the 2021 Financial Regulations is also bound to be a major talking point over the weekend, with rumours being tossed around about possible breaches by Aston Martin and Red Bull. In any case, every team has something to prove and they will look to do so around the stunning Suzuka Circuit.