Formula 1 Racing

Why there will be no place to hide for F1 teams in Suzuka

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Honda’s famed Suzuka circuit presents an iconic mix of high-, medium- and low-speed corners, punctuated by a long straight, with its first sector’s relentless Esses the ultimate challenge for drivers and their machinery.

Following the singularly abrasive tarmac of Bahrain and the unique layouts of Jeddah and Melbourne, many engineers expect Suzuka to be the best test yet of where their cars stack up in the pecking order.

“The way the calendar is this year, I think four races in we will have a pretty good idea [of where we are],” said Ferrari veteran Jock Clear.

“Japan is a hell of a circuit to measure a car. At that kind of circuit, you’re going to find out a lot.”

Mercedes technical director James Allison agreed, saying: “It is a track with plenty of fast corners and also some slow-ish hairpins, so a real test of the car.”

This year the Japanese Grand Prix has shifted forward from its usual autumn date. That means that teams can more accurately gauge how their level of competitiveness has shifted compared to the end of last year and evaluate their progress across the winter.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It is also the first return track for Pirelli’s latest tyre construction, which was introduced last July in Silverstone to help the tyre manufacturer keep up with the increased downforce levels since the start of 2023, taking away one more variable compared to the opening races.

The calendar switch appears to be good news for Mercedes, with Alisson explaining that the main factor the team has uncovered for its struggles this year is that its W15’s performance dips the hotter it gets.

“If we were trying to draw that pattern together, then probably the strongest correlation that we can make at the moment is that our competitiveness drops when the track is warm, when the day is at its warmest and therefore the tyre temperatures rise with those of the track,” Allison said.

Weather forecasts predict temperatures between 16 and 21 degrees Celsius, which is a full 10 degrees cooler than last year.

Suzuka’s new date is also relevant for Mercedes’ rival McLaren, which started 2023 on the back foot but had already massively overhauled its car by the time it travelled to Japan, taking a double podium with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

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