The Grand Prix of Japan, always so hard
This circuit is well-known for being one of the biggest challenges for tyres on the calendar, thanks to its high-energy loads, yet for the first time Pirelli isn’t bringing the hardest tyre: instead the nominated compounds are P Zero White medium, P Zero Yellow soft, and P Zero Red supersoft. These will have to cope with long and fast corners such as 130R – providing the longest continuous g-force loading of the year – and Spoon, which put the tyres under constant stress throughout the lap. With fastest race laps that have been up to five seconds faster than 2016 so far, another significant improvement is expected in Suzuka. A wide range of strategy options are available to find the best compromise between performance and durability.
There are no hard tyres in GP of Japan for the first time.
McLaren has made the most aggressive tyre selection at Honda’s home race, choosing more supersoft tyres than any other team.
The circuit from a tyre point of view
Lateral forces through corners are the main feature, rather than traction and braking.
Weather, and therefore track temperatures, are quite unpredictable at this time of year.
Generally, there are high levels of wear and degradation: two stops was the winning strategy last year, with varied tactics.
Teams normally run high downforce: pushing down on the tyres to help cornering.
Track is quite narrow, making overtaking tricky, so strategy can make the difference.
Track evolution is often hard to predict and safety cars can provide another variable.
The analysis of…
Mario Isola – Pirelli Motorsport – Head of Car Racing
“The Japanese Grand Prix continues the trend we’ve seen so far this year of bringing softer, and therefore faster, tyres to several grands prix compared to last season. In the case of Suzuka, this is particularly pertinent as it’s one of the most challenging tracks for tyres of the entire year, with a very big emphasis on lateral loads that can cause thermal degradation if the tyres are not properly managed. This is also one of the reasons why the drivers enjoy Suzuka so much; with the cars travelling a lot faster through the corners this year under the new regulations with wider tyres, it’s very possible that we will see another lap record fall and some truly impressive maximum g-force loadings”.
The track and the race
Located in the Mie Prefecture city of the same name, the Suzuka International Racing Course has modified its configuration four times, most recently in 2003. That year it changed the layout of the 130R corner, which the drivers take at full throttle, and the chicane where the brakes are essential.
Like all tracks that are very drivable, Suzuka is full of fast corners that require almost insignificant use of the brakes. On Turn 8, the brakes aren't used at all (like on Dunlop) and on another five corners, the braking distance doesn't exceed 15 meters.
There are just a couple of hard braking sections where the cars drop more than 200 km/h. The victory could be up for grabs right at these points and to stay in the game, some drivers might extend beyond the braking limits and risk flying off the track.
According to Brembo technicians, who classified the 20 tracks in the World Championship on a scale of 1 to 10, the Suzuka International Racing Course is one of the least demanding on the brakes. The Japanese racetrack earned a difficulty index of 4, on par with Silverstone and Interlagos.
The demand on the brakes during the GP
The 18 corners on the track require drivers to use their brakes 10 times per lap, for a total of just over 13 seconds. Braking on Turn 5 lasts less than one second. From the starting line to the checkered flag, each driver uses his brakes for a total of 11.5 minutes.
The almost complete absence of thrilling braking sections means the average peak deceleration per lap is 3.3 G, the lowest in the championship. In Mexico City this figure is 3.4 G and in Shanghai it reaches 3.5 G. The similarity of these three numbers may be misleading however, because the Mexican track is a lot more challenging on the brakes and the Chinese circuit earned six points out of ten on the difficulty index.
Since there are few corners that require heavy deceleration, the energy dissipated in braking by a single-seater over the course of the entire GP is fairly contained: 109 kWh, which is less than half that of the Singapore GP. The load applied by each driver on the brake pedal throughout the race is also moderate: 44 metric tons, but this is still equivalent to more than three times the weight of all the Superbikes that competed in the last Suzuka 8 Hours.
The most demanding braking sections
Of the 10 braking pointsat Suzuka International Racing Course, none are classified as highly demanding on the brakes by Brembo technicians, but four are of medium difficulty and six are light.
The most challenging by far is Turn 16, where the cars go from 323 km/h to about 95 km/h in just 65 meters. During the 2.71 seconds when the brakes are operating, the drivers apply a load of 119 kg on the pedal and are subject to a peak deceleration of 4.4 G.
The load on the brake pedal is even heavier at the Degner Curve (Turn 9): 123 kg, but braking happens in less space (34 meters) and less time (1.45 seconds) because the single-seaters can take the corner going 147 km/h and so they drop only 114 km/h.
At the Hairpin (Turn 11), the gap in speed is back up to more than 200 km/h (from 282 km/h to 78 km/h) thanks to the brakes being used for 2.56 seconds and the cars traveling about 58 meters. However, there is less physical stress placed on the drivers: 3.6 G in deceleration and a 105 kg load on the brake pedal.
Info and curiosities
22.5 psi(1.55 bar) minimum starting pressures (front slick)
20.5 psi(1.41 bar) minimum starting pressures (rear slicks)
–3.00° camber limit (front)
–1.75° camber limit (rear)
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