The gentle touch - Hondas Alex Wurz on mastering Fuji 06 Oct 2008
This weekends Japanese Grand Prix, round 16 of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship, is a special race for Honda - not only is it their home event, but located 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Tokyo in the Shizuoka region, Fuji Speedway is close to where company founder Soichiro Honda was born in 1906.
Fuji staged two Formula One races in 1976 and 1977, before the sport returned last year following a facelift by renowned track designer Hermann Tilke. Its a circuit where small errors can cost you huge chunks of time, as Honda tester Alex Wurz explains as he guides us around a flying lap
"Fuji Speedway is a big challenge for a driver. It's probably more difficult to achieve a good lap time there than it is at Suzuka, which is more of a high-speed and ballsy track. You need to be very gentle with the car at Fuji as 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 of downforce on the cars. It's a twisty track, but you can't run Monaco wing levels because you'd be far too slow along the 1.5-kilometre 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 306km/h (190mph). The braking point is just before the 100-metre board and you change down from seventh to first gear. The corner has a slightly downhill approach, so it's easy to lock up and miss the apex. You then floor the throttle at the exit and go through a slight kink in the road before coming to Turn 3, which is a really tricky left-hander. It's a blind corner and you have to smash the car over the kerb on the inside to be quick. If you miss your apex by as little as 10 centimetres, you are on the grass at the exit.
"Then you come to the best corner on the lap, the long right-hander at Turns 4 and 5. It's a double-apex bend, which, depending on what you want to achieve, is flat in fifth. Sometimes a slight lift mid-corner can make life easier on the left-front tyre and it helps keep the car on the inside, which gives 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 a crest that makes it blind. If you've lifted through Turn 5 and have the car far over to the right side of the track on the approach, you can be a lot faster. A couple of kinks follow, before you brake hard for the first-gear chicane at Turn 10. Grip levels are better on the inside, so you want to keep a very tight line. You then have a little burst of acceleration before turning into the left-hander, where it's very slippery on the exit. You might change up to second gear to ease the wheelspin under acceleration. Another kink follows, which is enough of a corner to pose a problem without traction control this year.
"Now you're into the final section of the lap, where four corners are all interlinked. If you make a mistake through the first one, you'll carry that speed deficit all the way to the final corner, so it's important to be very precise with your line. The first of these corners is Turn 13, which you approach over a crest. The rear goes very light and although it's only a third-gear right-hander, you have to be very gentle with the car. Then you're into the left turns before heading up hill into Turn 16, which is the last corner. You need to find a good rhythm through here to ensure you get a clean exit for the long pit straight.
"The weather can play a huge part in the weekend at Fuji. Last year it rained 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 to see Mount Fuji. I've seen it a few times in the past and it's one of the most stunning mountains on the planet. Every morning I wake up feeling excited to open the curtains, wanting to see if the mountain is there or whether it's hidden in the clouds."