Daniel Ricciardo on why Suzuka shines
© Clive Mason/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
The hardest thing about picking out Suzuka's best bits for the F1 star? Knowing what to leave out.
Nailing a lap of Suzuka in a Formula One car is no joke, but it’s an easy task compared to the one we’ve given Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull Racing star has been asked to name his four favourite corners of the rollicking rollercoaster of a layout that hosts this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, and he’s struggling to narrow it down. Don’t worry Dan, we get it.
Since it first debuted on the F1 calendar in 1987, the old-school figure-of-eight track has regularly featured in any conversations about the best circuits in the sport, and it’s easy to see why. Massive speeds, challenging corners, undulation and lurking gravel traps ready to punish the errant make Suzuka a monstrous challenge, even if time and safety considerations have blunted some of the sharp edges of certain corners over time.
The track itself is one thing, but Ricciardo loves Formula One’s annual visit to Japan.
"The circuit itself is great, but the fans … they're nuts for Formula One, and that's very cool to be a part of," he says.
"It's one of those tracks that when you roll out of pit lane for the first time for the weekend and know you have three more days of driving it to come, it puts you in a pretty good mood. It's not too wide, the kerbs are old-school – it's a proper drivers' track."
So Daniel, the best bits? There’s more than four …
The Esses (Turns 3-7)
"I'll say the whole of the first sector. Does that count as more than four corners?" Ricciardo laughs.
"You can't isolate one part of the zig-zag up the hill from another because they're all linked. You miss one apex, you'll miss another, and then another … It’s like a pinball because you're being bounced around, and if you get one wrong, all the rhythm is gone. If you hit the first apex, nail the second … it just flows so nicely, and the feeling of getting that right is super, super cool."
Degner 1 and 2 (Turns 8-9)
Ricciardo says this pair of turns, named after German motorcycle racer Ernst Degner, who crashed at the corner the year the circuit first opened in 1962, always catch the drivers out.
"It's really narrow there and the first Degner has a big bump on the apex, so it always throws you a little bit wider than you want. It's super-narrow but in qualifying, it's sixth or seventh gear into there - pretty ballsy," he says.
"The outside kerb, you obviously want to use it because it because it opens up the line, but if you get half a wheel too much on it, it sucks you away from where you want to be. There's a very small window to getting that corner right when you're on the limit.
"The second part of the corner, it's so easy to lock a brake into there and run wide – there's banking coming into the corner, but if you get out wide, you get thrown off the apex.
"They’re two corners where you always feel you could have gone quicker, but when you do, you end up in the gravel if you're lucky – or the tyre barrier if you aren't."
Spoon (Turns 13-14)
This seemingly never-ending left-hander tests a driver's patience as they wait to get on the gas at the right time to set up the long run uphill on the back straight. It doesn't offer the sheer adrenaline rush of the first sector, but Ricciardo describes Spoon as "absolutely critical".
"It's kind of off-camber as it drops down the hill on the exit, so it's easy to get oversteer on the exit," he says.
"Even if you keep your foot in, you scrub off so much speed … it's a technical corner where finding the right time to get on the throttle is the hardest part."
130R (Turn 15)
This was Suzuka’s most fearsome corner, but some of the challenge has been tempered by increased run-off on the outside. It’s a turn that can produce a career-defining overtake – think Fernando Alonso around the outside of Michael Schumacher in 2005 – and can be very messy if you get it wrong, as Allan McNish discovered in his Toyota in 2002. Ricciardo never got to drive 130R at its scariest, but still enjoys the sensation.
"I would have loved to have given it a go when there wasn't so much run-off on the outside, I was there too late for that,” he says.
"But it still does give you a rush – I'm sure that rush used to be even bigger. On low fuel now, it's easy flat, but on high fuel at the start of the race, you're full throttle, but only just."