TEN FACTS: The Japanese Grand Prix

800px-Suzuka_Circuit_2006The Japanese Grand Prix has been a place of controversy and non-stop action since its début on the F1 calendar back in 1976 at Fuji. As the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix weekend gets under way, the sixteenth in the country, here are ten facts you need to know about the historic race, Fuji, Suzuka and the nation’s drivers…

  1. Suzuka was built by Japanese manufacturers Honda in 1962 and worked closely with John Hugenholtz to design the 17 corner track in the heart of Mie Prefecture, Japan. It is the only circuit on the F1 calendar to boast a ‘figure of eight’ layout with a lengthy straight, thought to be around 1.2km, connecting the two sections.
  2. Due to its unique layout and lack of straights, the circuit has just one DRS zone. Fears for safety and the unusual bends ensure that the drivers can only benefit from the DRS function on the pit straight. Only one other track, Monaco, is restricted to one zone for similar reasons.
  3. The lap record is held by Kimi Raikkonen and was set before his first incarnation as a Ferrari driver in 2005, during his days as a McLaren driver. The record, held for the amended 2003 circuit, is a competitive 1:31.540. The fastest full circulation during last year’s race was set by Mark Webber at 1:34.587 on lap 44.
  4. 11 champions have been crowned in Japan, the most recent being Sebastian Vettel in 2011 after his third place secured title number two in style. Nelson Piquet (1987), Ayrton Senna (1988, 1990, 1991), Alain Prost (1989), Damon Hill (1994) Mika Hakkinen (1998, 1999) and Michael Schumacher (2000, 2003) have also clinched championship success.
  5. Mercedes could win their first constructors’ title in Japan if both their drivers greet the chequered flag before the Red Bull pairing of Vettel and Ricciardo at Suzuka this weekend. Brawn GP won the constructors championship in 2009 but under the Mercedes name, the German outfit is yet to secure this accolade as the constructors’ title was not in existence during their time at the top in the 1950s.
  6. McLaren has won more races than any other constructors with nine victories. The first came in 1977 with James Hunt at the helm. The 1977 Japanese Grand Prix was the last of the season and saw Hunt win comfortably with Ford engine power. You can find out more about the success of the McLaren-Honda partnership in my latest F1Plus column here.
  7. Their driver, Jenson Button, has made more appearances in Japan than any other driver with fourteen previous attempts. The Briton has one victory to his credit from 2011. Lewis Hamilton (2007) and Kimi Raikkonen (2005) are the only current drivers to have won for the British team in Japan.
  8. Speaking of Raikkonen, the enigmatic Finn holds another record in Japan. During his victorious 2005 Japanese Grand Prix, the then-McLaren racer stormed to victory from seventeenth place, overtaking pole-sitter Ralf Schumacher on the final lap in dry conditions. This is widely considered one of the 2007 champion’s best drives.
  9. Max Vertsappen became the youngest person to drive in an official F1 season when he took part in FP1 this weekend, shortly after his seventeenth birthday. Verstappen, who will partner Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso in 2015, is the sixteenth Dutchman to contest a Formula 1 event in any capacity.
  10. The best finish for a Japanese driver is jointly held by Aguri Suzuki (in 1990) and Kamui Kobayashi (2012) who both finished third. Kobayashi will race in front of his home crowd for the ailing Caterham team this weekend, two years after his emotionally-charged podium finish with Sauber. This remains the 28-year-old’s only top three finish to date.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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