Suzuka Circuit Guide

Don't get tied in knots over Suzuka. We guide you through F1's only figure-of-eight circuit.
Written by Justin Hynes
5 min readPublished on
Fernando Alonso en route to his 2006 win
Fernando Alonso en route to his 2006 win
Circuit: Suzuka Circuit
Location: Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, Jaopan
Known for: Formula One, WTCC, Formula Nippon, GT Racing, motorcycle racing
Type: Permanent Circuit
Circuits don’t get much better or more iconic than Suzuka. When Honda wanted to build a test track, Dutchman John Hugenholtz, who had run Zandvoort for some years, was given the task of penning the layout. Hugenholtz would go on to design Zolder, Jarama and Nivelles, but none of them hold a candle to his first major design – Suzuka. Like Spa, it’s got the lot. There’s the roller coaster ride “esses” section from turns three to six that requires total focus and a perfectly set-up car. Get the entry or exit of the first turn wrong and you’ll be shedding lap time by the truckload for the next five corners.
The Esses are followed by the high-speed, sixth-gear Degner 1 and the slower third gear Degner 2 corners. There are long, sweeping quick sections like those through the first turn, Dunlop and the double-apex Spoon and there’s also the flat-out, heart-in-the-mouth blast of 130R.
Finally, Suzuka’s also got slow-speed bits, such as the hairpin and the Casio Triangle chicane, the latter being the circuit’s best overtaking point.
A bit of everything then, which makes set-up here pretty taxing for the engineers. The Esses require a stiffer set-up than at many tracks, because of the need for stability through the quick changes of direction. That means handling is compromised somewhat in the slower stuff but there’s more time to be gained through the opening corners.
Engines gets a bit of a pounding here as the cars are either in high-speed corners or gearing up for long, fast sections out of slower stuff so powerplants get stressed here. Tyres too take a battering from a pretty abrasive circuit and the compounds on offer usually come from the harder end of a supplier’s spectrum.
If all that sounds a little like a Far Eastern Spa , then Suzuka can even match the Belgian circuit for unpredictable weather and although we haven’t had a wet race for some time (the most recent wet Japanese GP was at Fuji in 2007), sessions at Suzuka have frequently been washed out.
So what does all that mean for the racing? Well, pole is not crucial but being at the sharp end is critical. Over the last decade the man on pole has won six times, the exceptions being Kimi Raikkonen’s amazing win from 17th in 2005, Fernando Alonso’s victories in 2006 and 2008 (from fifth and fourth respectively), and Jenson Button’s 2011 win from second. Raikkonen and Alonso’s wins though are the only ones to come from further back than the front row since 1990, when Nelson Piquet won from sixth.
Vitaly Petrov going into 130R in 2011
Vitaly Petrov going into 130R in 2011
In short, bonkers. Suzuka Circuit is the centrepiece of Motopia, a motoring and engineering-themed amusement park, so the track is surrounded by rides that while mostly aimed at the very young also features roller coasters, go-karts, a racing theatre in which you can feel what it’s like to drive a race car at the circuit, and of course the trackside ferris wheel. The race also attracts some of the best fans in all of Formula One, a fanatically passionate bunch of nutters who’ll happily sit in the main grandstand through the night to watch the teams at work.
Beyond the circuit, Suzuka City is something of an identikit Japanese industrial coastal town. There isn’t much in the way of culture on offer, in that there are no real sights to see, but it doesn’t matter one jot as the real culture is all around you. In short, in our humble opinion, it’s right up with Melbourne and Montreal for top honours in the ‘best grand prix category’.
Suzuka is a proper temple of speed and like the Nurburgring and Spa there’s something happening here pretty much every weekend, with a vast array of minor series and track days filling up the bulk of the calendar. The big events though are the F1 Grand Prix, the famous Suzuka 8-Hour motorcycle endurance race, the Suzuka 1000km GT race, and rounds of the WTCC and Formula Nippon Championship. While nowhere as big as it was in the early to mid 1990s (when drivers such as Eddie Irvine, Mika Salo, Ralf Schumacher and Pedro de la Rosa all cut their teeth in it) Formula Nippon is still a big draw and recent champions include Le Mans winners Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer.
Suzuka Japanese Grand Prix Robert Kubica
Robert Kubica at Suzuka 2010
Qualifying at Suzuka has twice been run on Sundays in the past decade. In 2004, Typhoon Ma-On – named for a mountain in Hong Kong – clattered onto the Japanese coast on the weekend of the grand prix. The worst such storm for 10 years, the typhoon caused havoc across the country and nowhere more so than at Suzuka, where it forced qualifying to be delayed until Sunday morning. The following day was fine, however, and Michael Schumacher duly won the race – taking his 13th win of the year. Yawn.
Qualifying was also move to Sunday in 2010. There was no typhoon this time, just torrential rain that prevented almost all running on Saturday. Third practice was so wet that only Jaime Alguersuari and Timo Glock set times. The rest of the day’s programme was abandoned and qualifying took place the following morning. Sebastian Vettel claimed pole and then won the race to reignite his championship challenge. He famously went on to win the title at the final round in Abu Dhabi.
Schumacher driving through Typhoon Ma-On in 2004
Schumacher driving through Typhoon Ma-On in 2004
Race distance: 53 laps (307.471 km)
Start time: 15:00 local (08:00n CET).
Circuit length: 5.807 km
2011 winner: Jenson Button (McLaren); 53 laps in 1hr 30m 53.427s (202.972 km/h)
2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 1m 30.466s (231.083 km/h)