F1 2014 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton battles for Suzuka pole position
PUBLISHED: 18:28 03 October 2014 | UPDATED: 18:28 03 October 2014
Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton battles for pole position at Suzuka on Saturday in qualifying for the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
Suzuka – the stats you need
* Race distance: 53 laps (307.471km/191.054 miles)
* Start time: 15:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)
* Circuit length: 5.807km/3.608 miles
* 2013 winner: Sebastian Vettel
* 2013 pole: Mark Webber
* Lap record: Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren MP4-20) 1m31.540s (228.372km/h)
The 29-year-old Mercedes AMG Petronas racer from Hertfordshire topped the Friday practice timesheets in Japan ahead of Saturday’s all-important qualifying session.
He clocked a lap of 1m 35.078s around the famous Suzuka circuit to finish P1 in second practice, with Silver Arrows rivals Nico Rosberg second fastest overall.
With its figure-of-eight configuration, Suzuka is one of the most revered circuits in the world. Its fast corners and undulations are a genuine test of man and machine, which might explain why 18 of the last 19 grands prix at the track have been won by world champions.
Qualifying on the front row is vital at Suzuka, where the start is downhill. Hamilton said: “Qualifying is going to be very important as it’s quite difficult to overtake here.”
With an average speed of 225km/h (139mph), Suzuka is one of the fastest circuits on the F1 calendar.
All three sectors around the lap contain fast corners and a period of full-throttle, and the track is also very narrow and bumpy.
It punishes even the smallest of mistakes – as world championship leader Hamilton is all too aware.
On nailing the perfect hot lap, the 2008 F1 world champion from Hertfordshire said: “It’s downhill on the way into Turn 1, which is incredibly fast and taken flat out.
“You’ve then got to brake briefly into Turn 2 – shifting down to third gear, or maybe fourth in these new cars, using all of the track on exit.
“Next it’s the legendary ‘S’ Curves. It’s really important to hit every apex just right through here to carry the momentum.
“You actually run quite wide out of Turn 5 and then really hug the apex through Turn 6, bringing you out to the right-hand side of the track for a good line through Turn 7.
“You have to get the car hooked up through here to hit full throttle as early as possible for the flat-out run up the hill.”
Hamilton continued: “Next, you’re into the Degner curves, which always seem to catch people out.
“You don’t want to brake too late into the first part, Turn 8, or you’ll find yourself straight into gravel.
“Then, for the second part at Turn 9, the car can get really out of shape at the apex and it’s so easy to make a mistake.
“There’s no room for error through this section as there’s very little run-off area.
“After a short, slightly curved straight, it’s into the Turn 10 hairpin, which is really difficult to attack.
“There’s so little grip through here, partly because the circuit is so dependent on high-speed performance that your setup is not as optimised for low-speed corners as you’d like.
“It’s important to get a good exit here, as you’re flat-out all the way through Turn 12 on the long run down to Turn 13.
“The Spoon Curve, made up of Turns 13 and 14, is really tricky to get right. It’s very fast on the way in and, once you’re there, it’s all about keeping the minimum speed up all the way through the corner.
“You really do have to use all of the circuit on exit and get on the throttle as early as you can for the back straight.”
Completing the lap, Hamilton added: “Turn 15, the spectacular 130R, is so fast. Today, we easily take it flat-out but it must have been so tough years ago.
“After a short run down to the final chicane, Casio Triangle at Turns 17 and 18, you’re braking hard for the crucial finale to the lap.
“You use all of the kerbs through here and, once again, hitting full throttle early is key as the following start / finish straight provides one of the best overtaking opportunities around the lap.”
Hamilton’s title rival Rosberg said of the circuit: “It’s unique in that it’s the only track we go to which features a figure-of-eight configuration – crossing over itself around the mid-point of the circuit.
“This means you have almost the same amount of left turns as right turns, which is quite unusual as there are normally more in one direction than the other.
“For me, the most exciting part of the track is the opening sector of the lap. It’s just a relentless, never-ending sequence of left, right, left, right, left turns running all the way up the hill.
“They’re all really high-speed corners which really flow into each other. If you get just one wrong all of the others after it will be wrong so it’s very, very challenging.”
Hamilton is just three points ahead of Rosberg in the title race and will be looking to start higher up the grid than his Mercedes team-mate on Sunday.