When a driver talks about his favourite Grand Prix circuit it is usually Japan's
Suzuka circuit that is mentioned in the same sentence as the Spa-Francorchamps
track in Belgium, the Japanese Grand Prix now the traditional and popular end to
the season's 17- race championship. Like Spa, it is a thrilling combination of
high, medium and low-speed corners that make it satisfying to drive and
challenging from a technical standpoint where a good overall balance from the
car is of special importance for good lap times.
"The secret is to run enough downforce to be able to live in the T2 section of the circuit, even if it means being slower in T1 and T3," explains Scuderia Ferrari-Marlboro's Technical Director, Ross Brawn.
Because of the flowing, technical nature of the circuit in the T2 section, particularly the fast Esses behind the pits, it is essential not to have any oversteer or understeer in order not to lift off and be able to hold the right line for the next corner as it comes up.
"Last year, we were slower in the other two sections but made up a full second in T2," points out Ross. Although there are some long fast straights with fast corners like R130 and slow, long hairpins like Spoon, it is considered aerodynamically to be a medium downforce configuration. The ability to keep up with the opposition in the fast section back to the start- line is essential, because the braking area for the recently added chicane before the pit straight is one of the few overtaking opportunities around the track.
The chicane is also one of the hardest braking points on what is otherwise a fairly easy circuit on braking for the cars. The fast first corner at the end of the pit straight is another overtaking point with its wide entry, but the driver has to be virtually alongside the other if he has a chance to take the place, and that opportunity usually comes in a close fought battle with from some kind of a mistake at the previous chicane.
For a fast track, the tyre situation at Suzuka is not a difficult one. The surface affords good grip, but at the same time does not produce high temperatures or wear rates, similar to those characteristics of the Barcelona track. Because of this, the team can run a much softer compound than they would normally be able to at other tracks of a similar nature, so Bridgestone have once again developed a new tyre for their home race. With the hardness similar to that used in Indianapolis, the Bridgestone engineers have come up with a revised compound composition to make the most of their performance.