Round sixteen of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the HondaRacing F1 Team to Fuji Speedway for the Japanese Grand Prix. The track islocated 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Tokyo in the Shizuoka region, closeto where Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motor Company, was born in1906.
As its name suggests, Fuji Speedway was designed as a super speedway.The original plans included two banked corners at either end of the pitstraight, however a lack of funds resulted in the circuit being redesignedand completed as a road course in the 1960s. This layout staged two FormulaOne races in 1976 and 1977. Grand Prix racing returned to the venue in 2007following a facelift by renowned track designer Hermann Tilke. The currentlayout is 4.563km (2.835 miles) in length and features a unique pit straightof almost 1.5km.
Honda has won its home Grand Prix twice, in 1988 and 1991, and the team'sdrivers have achieved good results in the Japanese Grand Prix in previousyears. Rubens Barrichello rates his 2003 victory at Suzuka among his best,while Jenson Button finished on the podium in 2004 and started on the frontrow of the grid in 2005.
Prior to the race weekend, Jenson Button took part in the annual TokyoMotorsports Festival in Odaiba today to demonstrate the thrills of FormulaOne to thousands of fans as he drove the team's RA108 car.
FUJI SPEEDWAY - THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE
Car set-up at Fuji Speedway is a compromise between straightline speed andslow-corner grip. The need for a high top speed along the circuit's 1.5km(0.9 mile) pit straight forces the engineers to be mindful of drag level ata track that is otherwise tight and twisty, with an abundance of first andsecond gear corners.
As a consequence, the cars slide around more at Fuji Speedway than at thehigher downforce tracks on the Formula One calendar and the drivers rely onachieving a good car balance to improve performance. A car that behavespredictably through the numerous direction and camber changes around the lapis the fastest.
From a driver's perspective, many of the corners are interlinked, so amistake in one will often affect the next one as well. There are several keybends around the lap. Turn 5, a double-apex right-hander, is immediatelyfollowed by a hairpin and the drivers need to be wary of their trackpositioning at the exit or risk losing time, and it is similar at the end ofthe lap. The drivers need to find a good rhythm through the final twocorners to ensure that they make clean exits onto the pit straight.
Full throttle: 57% Brake wear: LowDownforce level: Medium/High - 7/10 Tyre compounds: Soft / Medium Tyre usage: MediumAverage speed: 202kph
HONDA TEAM TALK
Ross Brawn, Team Principal
Q. What are your thoughts ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend?For Honda, the Japanese Grand Prix is one of the highlights of the year, andwe all take great pride in racing in front of our home fans. This will be myfirst Japanese Grand Prix with Honda and also my first visit to the FujiSpeedway, so I am very much looking forward to the race weekend. The trackhad a major facelift before the race returned there last year and by allaccounts the facilities and track layout are very impressive. The firsttwo-thirds of the lap are very fast before a complex series of cornersthrough sector three. The weather was the major talking point at Fuji lastyear, with fog and monsoon-like conditions greatly affecting qualifying andthe race. The location of the track in the mountainous region of Mount Fujiensures that it is susceptible to weather fronts, so we look forward toseeing what challenges will be thrown our way on this occasion."
Q. Are you looking forward to returning to Japan for the team's home race?"The Japanese Grand Prix is always a special weekend for the team as oursecond home race of the season. Racing for a Japanese team, we always havefantastic support and the fans are so enthusiastic that it makes for a greatatmosphere. For me, the true home of the Japanese Grand Prix is Suzuka,which is just one of the best circuits in the world, and I can't wait toreturn there next year. However I did enjoy driving at the Fuji Speedwaylast year and the circuit has a nice mix of twisty corners and thehigh-speed pit straight. A lot of the corners have a very late apex, whichis quite unusual. It will be a busy week for me as I took part in the annualTokyo Motorsports Festival in Odaiba today which is a great event thatreally allows our fans to get close to the action. From here, we will attendthe Honda Press Conference on Tuesday before heading to Fuji on Thursday toprepare for the race weekend."
Q. What did you think of the Fuji Speedway after your first visit last year?"I was very impressed with the Fuji Speedway. The track is a lot moreinteresting than we originally thought with a nice flow and some tightchallenging corners towards the end of the lap. We had limited dry runninglast year, and then of course the very wet race, so we don't have acomparison of how the track would be over a normal race weekend.There are a couple of potential overtaking places though, which is alwaysgood to see in a new circuit. I always enjoy visiting Japan and you want todo your best at your home race. As Honda drivers, we enjoy some really goodsupport over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. The fans are such good fun andcrazy about Formula One."
LAP OF THE TRACK with Alex Wurz
"Fuji Speedway is a big challenge for a driver. It's probably more difficultto achieve a good lap time there than it is at Suzuka, which is more of ahigh-speed and ballsy track. You need to be very gentle with the car at Fujias a little mistake through the twisty final sector can cost you 0.5s.
"The reason why errors get punished so hard at Fuji is due to the lack ofdownforce on the cars. It's a twisty track, but you can't run Monaco winglevels because you'd be far too slow along the 1.5km pit straight.When you add the very slippery asphalt to this aerodynamic compromise,you're presented with a very tricky circuit.
"You arrive at Turn 1 at more than 306kph (190mph). The braking point isjust before the 100-metre board and you change down from seventh to firstgear. The corner has a slightly downhill approach, so it's easy to lock upand miss the apex. You then floor the throttle at the exit and go through aslight kink in the road before coming to Turn 3, which is a really trickyleft-hander. It's a blind corner and you have to smash the car over the kerbon the inside to be quick. If you miss your apex by as little as 10cms, youare on the grass at the exit.
"Then you come to the best corner on the lap, the long right-hander at Turns4 and 5. It's a double-apex bend, which, depending on what you want toachieve, is flat in fifth. Sometimes a slight lift mid-corner can make lifeeasier on the left-front tyre and it helps keep the car on the inside, whichgives you a better line into the next corner. Whatever you do through here,it's high speed and you're pulling high Gs, so it's good fun.
"Turn 6 is a left-hander which is third-gear and you approach it over acrest that makes it blind. If you've lifted through Turn 5 and have the carfar over to the right side of the track on the approach, you can be a lotfaster. A couple of kinks follow, before you brake hard for the first-gearchicane at Turn 10. Grip levels are better on the inside, so you want tokeep a very tight line. You then have a little burst of acceleration beforeturning into the left-hander, where it's very slippery on the exit. Youmight change up to second gear to ease the wheelspin under acceleration.Another kink follows, which is enough of a corner to pose a problem withouttraction control this year.
"Now you're into the final section of the lap, where four corners are allinterlinked. If you make a mistake through the first one, you'll carry thatspeed deficit all the way to the final corner, so it's important to be veryprecise with your line. The first of these corners is Turn 13, which youapproach over a crest. The rear goes very light and although it's only athird-gear right-hander, you have to be very gentle with the car. Thenyou're into the left turns before heading up hill into Turn 16, which is thelast corner. You need to find a good rhythm through here to ensure you get aclean exit for the long pit straight.
"The weather can play a huge part in the weekend at Fuji. Last year itrained all weekend and it's sure to rain again this year at some point.I hope it's not too cloudy because I love the mountains and it's great tosee Mount Fuji. I've seen it a few times in the past and it's one of themost stunning mountains on the planet. Every morning I wake up feelingexcited to open the curtains, wanting to see if the mountain is there orwhether it's hidden in the clouds."