Will Gray

Tech Talk: Suzuka’s crucial curves

Will Gray

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This weekend's
Japanese Grand Prix will be crucial for Ferrari with Red Bull expected to reign
supreme - but can the new title contenders avoid losing out in Suzuka's
challenging curves?

This fast
but curvy figure-of-eight track is expected to be a banker for Red Bull as they
aim to fend off Ferrari's recent challenge - but the Italian giants are fast
turning their car into one that works on all circuits and that could lead to a
different story at Suzuka.

The once
classic 130R corner is now a tamer beast but Suzuka still retains some
extremely fast flowing sections and the 1.2km part between Spoon Curve and 130R
is an area where Ferrari could actually enjoy a bit of an advantage - a
16-second section of the lap that is taken a pretty much full throttle.

This kind of
section, however, is not where the most benefit can be gained as the difference
between cars that can handle it and cars that struggle is less significant than
it is in sections where there are more twists and turns to cope with.

Which is
why the most important section for this weekend's race is likely to be the
twisty 'S' curves between turns three and seven.

This fast
section of just 850m in length has constant direction changes that make it
vital for the car to be well balanced and predictable - because if a driver
gets it wrong early on he will be fighting the car through the entire section
and it could cost him heavily.

Engineers
claim it is possible to lose half a second if a driver makes just one small
mistake in this section - even though it lasts for just 14 seconds. The same
can be said if a team struggles with finding the right car set-up (something
extremely challenging at Suzuka) because if it is not quite suited to this
section the result can be critical not only on the lap time but, if a driver is
under pressure in the race, it can be easier to make a mistake that would hurt
his exit speed and create a possible overtaking opportunity.

On top of
that, the Suzuka track has the highest number of fourth gear or higher corners
on the calendar and, coupled with an abrasive surface, the high cornering loads
through this section and the other fast corners will cause more significant
tyre wear than normal.

Alonso
believes that by winning on two dramatically different types of circuit in the
last two races (the fast low downforce circuit of Monza and the slower high
downforce Singapore track) shows that Ferrari can now cope with whatever is
thrown at them.

But neither
of these circuits offers the mid-speed direction changes that are offered
between T3-T7 at Suzuka - the sort of corners seen at Silverstone or Barcelona,
where Red Bull were impressive.

Times have
certainly changed since those earlier races, and Ferrari have promised further
upgrades as the title battle heats up. But they still need to prove they have a
handle on this kind of section too if they are to stop Red Bull pulling away
again in the title race.

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