Of all the Grands Prix that Formula One hasn't raced at over the past few disrupted seasons, the Japanese GP is perhaps the one most missed by fans and drivers, who adore the annual trip to Suzuka.
There's little wonder why there is so much love for the Mie Prefecture circuit, with its undulations, swooping corner sequences, and, of course, the rare race track crossover.
So, as we return to Suzuka, here's everything you need to know about the Japanese Grand Prix.
Suzuka may be an 'old school' track in its design style, but it's a relatively recent addition compared to its peers like Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, and Silverstone, having only joined the F1 calendar in 1987.
The figure-of-eight nature of the 5.807km circuit sees the cars weave under a bridge at the exit of the second Degner (Turn 9) and back over it just before 130R (Turn 15). Because of the layout, there's an unusual situation where there's almost no disparity between how many left-hand (8) and right-hand corners (10) the drivers tackle on any given lap.
The core design of the track has remained mostly the same since F1's first Word Championship race in 1987, but the high-speed 130R corner at the start of the third sector and the final Casio chicane underwent some safety improvements in the early 2000s.
Soichiro Honda, Honda's founder, originally commissioned Suzuka as a test track in the late 50s for his company's growth into the international brand it is now. A 6.004km course materialised in 1962 before evolving into Japan's premier home of motor racing today.
What are the drivers saying?
Thanks to the pandemic, our 2022 visit to Japan marks the first time Nicky will tackle Suzuka, and it's an opportunity he is understandably relishing:
“Japan is one of the tracks I’m most looking forward to driving on the calendar. Besides Singapore it’s now the last one that I’m still yet to experience as a Formula 1 driver and I haven’t driven it in any other category.
“It’s always very exciting to learn new tracks and especially coming to a track like Suzuka which is a hardcore old school circuit. It definitely looks like a layout I will enjoy with it being fast and flowing in certain sections with little margin for error.
“I’m looking forward to getting on track and experiencing the unique and passionate atmosphere that the Japanese fans bring.”
Alex's 2019 trip to Japan represented the best finish of his rookie season, with P4 in the race after equalling Max Verstappen's qualifying time.
It's no surprise, then, that Albono is looking forward to returning to Suzuka:
“Japan is one of my favourite circuits on the calendar and I really enjoy Suzuka as a place.
“I think this track will suit our car a lot more than Singapore however, I think with the weather looking a bit up and down, it should make for an interesting weekend.
“I’m very excited to be heading back to Japan as it’s one of my favourite places for racing as well as to visit, so let’s see what we can do.”
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From the Pit Wall
Dave Robson, our Head of Vehicle Performance, is as happy as our drivers to get back racing, especially after our curtailed Singapore Grand Prix, and can't wait to see how the FW44 handles the challenging Suzuka circuit:
“Following a challenging weekend in Singapore, we are looking forward to moving on to Suzuka, which should offer a much better opportunity for the FW44.
“It has been a few years since we last raced here but the circuit won’t have changed too much and will still present a great technical challenge for both the drivers and the engineers.
“Overtaking is not easy in Suzuka but it is possible and the racing is always good here. The drivers will need to quickly find a rhythm, especially through the Esses, but once they have that, the laptime can improve very quickly.
“The tyre compounds are from the very stiffest end of the Pirelli range, which we last used in Zandvoort. These tyres should work quite well in Suzuka, but if it is cold and damp then they will become more difficult.
“As part of the 2023 tyre development programme, all teams will take part in an extended FP2 session this weekend and will test candidate tyres for Pirelli. This will complicate our preparations for the race weekend a little but is important work for 2023.
“Everyone is looking forward to once again taking on the challenge of Suzuka and enjoying the amazing atmosphere in Japan.”
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Did you know?
Suzuka held the first Japanese Grand Prix in 1963, but it was a sports car race rather than single-seaters. Instead, Fuji Speedway held the first Japanese Grand Prix that formed part of the F1 World Championship in 1976.
Williams won the Drivers' World Championship at Suzuka's maiden Japanese Grand Prix in 1987, despite a Nigel Mansell crash ending his weekend on Friday, handing Nelson Piquet his third and final title without the Brazilian needing to turn a wheel.
The venue has had many title showdowns over the years, including Damon Hill's championship triumph over Jacques Villeneuve in the all-Williams 1996 battle, not to mention those dramatic collisions between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Until the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix, Japan was the only country with Formula One presence in Asia. Before then, Suzuka and Fuji had hosted the Japanese Grand Prix, and the south Japanese circuit of Okayama was home to two Pacific Grands Prix.
We've celebrated three race wins at Suzuka, with Riccardo Patrese's 1992 to go with Damon Hill's 1994 and 1996 victories. And the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix brought us success in the Constructors' Championship when Heinz-Harold Frentzen took home a P2 that left Williams with an unassailable lead going into the season finale.
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