2015 Japanese Grand Prix Practice Review

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Sebastian Vettel wins the Singapore Grand Prix ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in second place and Kimi Raikkonen in third place. Force India, Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber managed to score some much needed points for their teams from the event as well.

Heading into this weekend, there have been rumours circulating the paddock that McLaren-Honda driver Jenson Button could be hinting at retirement in F1 and could announce it this weekend at his second home race. If you want to read more about this, then please my article here:- https://jonesonf1.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/button-hints-at-retiring-from-formula-one/.

Also, the F1 community and Family will be remembering and honouring Jules Bianchi this weekend as we return to the scene of his accident last year. As I have stated already, we are thinking of Jules and his family every day and he is still very much loved and missed.

The Suzuka International Racing Course (or the Suzuka Circuit for short); in Japan is one of the most difficult racing tracks in the world. It is a technically, physically and mentally challenging race circuit. Nevertheless, the track is one of the favourites among Formula One drivers, and the spectators like it as well.

It is one of few circuits in the world to have a figure-of-eight layout, meaning the circuit runs both clockwise and anti-clockwise. The track does not actually intersect with itself, instead the back straight passes over the front section by means of an overpass.

Suzuka is a high-speed circuit with a top speed of 315 km/h and an average speed of about 230 km/h. The circuit length is 5.81 kilometers and it has a varied mix of high and low speed corners. A total of 18 corners with 10 right turns and 8 left turns.

The best possibility for overtaking is the tight Casio Triangle chicane at the end of the lap, even though the course is very narrow at this point. There are very small margins for driver error in Suzuka because there are almost no tarmac run-off areas, which mean that it is easy to get stuck in the gravel.

The nature of the track with its figure-of-eight configuration tests the cars all round handling characteristics and Suzuka is also, due to its high number of corners, one of the toughest rounds on the Formula One calendar for tyres.

The best set-up is the one which allows the best traction, grip and enable quick change of direction from the tyres. The weather is sometimes quite unpredictable in this region and rain is seldom far away, waiting to play a role in the Japanese Grand Prix as we all found out when tragically Manor driver Jules Bianchi lost his life in July as a result of his injuries he sustained in the race last year. Thoughts and prayers are with him, his friends and family as we head into this weekend.

Practices 1, 2 and 3

The main headline from the Practice sessions is Mercedes look to have the driver-car package to beat this weekend as weather conditions and tyre management which will test the drivers, teams and the cars throughout Friday and Saturday practice sessions.

Carlos Sainz Jr tops the timesheets in FP1.

Carlos Sainz Jr tops the timesheets in FP1.

Practice 1 saw Carlos Sainz Jr tops the timesheet with a time of 1.49.434 followed closely by Daniil Kvyat with a gap of 0.504 seconds behind, Nico Rosberg was in third with a gap of 0.643 seconds behind, Sebastian Vettel was in fourth 1.085 seconds behind and Lewis Hamilton was in fifth place 1.288 seconds behind Sainz Jr.

Max Verstappen was in sixth 1.506 seconds behind, Kimi Raikkonen was in seventh 1.778 seconds behind, Felipe Massa was eighth  with a gap of 2.854 seconds behind, Marcus Ericsson was ninth 4.530 seconds behind and Valtteri Bottas was in tenth 4.530 seconds behind Sainz Jr.

During FP1, several cars went off track during the session, but none found the barriers. Valtteri Bottas went wide at 130R, the two Saubers ran off the track at Spoon and Felipe Massa took a trip through the gravel at the second Degner. The Williams drivers appeared to me that they was working on their car’s wet set-up, which has been a weakness for them and the team this year; but complaints from both drivers and times over two seconds off the pace suggest that little progress was made from them as a result.

Daniil Kvyat tops the timesheets in FP2.

Daniil Kvyat tops the timesheets in FP2.

Practice 2 saw Kvyat tops the timesheet with a time of 1.48.277 followed closely by Rosberg with a gap of 0.023 seconds behind, Hamilton was in third with a gap of 0.576 seconds behind, Ricciardo was in fourth 0.820 seconds behind and Vettel was in fifth place 1.991 seconds behind Kvyat.

Raikkonen was in sixth 2.042 seconds behind, Sainz Jr was in seventh 2.141 seconds behind, Verstappen was eighth  with a gap of 2.265 seconds behind, Nasr was ninth 2.691 seconds behind and Pastor Maldonado was in tenth 3.280 seconds behind Kvyat.

During FP2, a number of drivers ran wide in the wet but none suffered major damage to the car. The most bizarre incident came early in the session when Pastor Maldonado drove clean off the track as he appeared to take his eye off the road on the exit of Turn 2.

The conditions worsened in the final 30 minutes as the rain returned, resulting in a number of drivers reporting aquaplaning over the radio. Sebastian Vettel recorded the most laps from the session but the majority decided to stay in the garage.

Nico Rosberg tops the timesheets in FP3.

Nico Rosberg tops the timesheets in FP3.

Practice 3 saw Rosberg tops the timesheet with a time of 1.33.995 followed closely by Hamilton with a gap of 0.297 seconds behind, Ricciardo was in third with a gap of 0.502 seconds behind, Bottas was in fourth 0.820 seconds behind and Massa was in fifth place 0.939 seconds behind Rosberg.

Raikkonen was in sixth 1.087 seconds behind, Verstappen was in seventh 1.165 seconds behind, Vettel was eighth with a gap of 1.227 seconds behind, Grosjean was ninth 1.607 seconds behind and Sainz Jr was in tenth 1.968 seconds behind Rosberg.

You would be stupid not to bet against the Mercedes drivers of Hamilton and Rosberg to gain pole position again this weekend. As the Mercedes drivers seem to be performing brilliantly at the moment and the momentum is with them from all the track mileage and their strong form from the last race.

But Vettel is looking strong this weekend and could snatch pole from them. However, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Raikkonen, Bottas and even Verstappen also cannot be discounted for the pole also as they are consistently within the top ten places at the moment.

However, I think that Lotus, Toro Rosso, Sauber or Force India have shown that they could throw themselves into the mix and could qualify well here to be in the hunt for some decent points this weekend. We all look forward to the qualifying session of the Grand Prix with excitement…

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