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NEED TO KNOW: The most important facts, stats and trivia ahead of the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

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Another week means another Grand Prix and this time it’s the Japanese Grand Prix. Need to Know is your all-in-one guide for the week ahead with statistics, driving pointers, strategy tips and plenty more. You can also keep track of how fans have voted using our popular F1 Play predictor game.

With the event moved forward from its usual September/October slot, the first two practice sessions at the historic Suzuka circuit will take place on Friday, April 5, followed by final practice and qualifying on Saturday, April 6 and the Grand Prix itself on Sunday, April 7.

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Vital statistics

  • First Grand Prix – 1987
  • Track Length – 5.807km
  • Lap record – 1m 30.983s, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2019
  • Most pole positions – Michael Schumacher (8)
  • Most wins – Michael Schumacher (6)
  • Trivia – Suzuka is the only figure-of-eight track on the F1 calendar
  • Pole run to Turn 1 braking point – 277 metres
  • Overtakes completed in 2023 – 81
  • Safety Car probability – 67%
  • Virtual Safety Car probability – 50%
  • Pit stop time loss – 22.2 seconds (including 2.5s stationary)

FAN VIEW: Four races into the 2024 season, and a one-horse race has been transformed into a battle. Max Verstappen still leads the way with around a third of F1 Play votes so far, but the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz come next with 25% and 20% respectively after their Melbourne exploits.

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The driver’s verdict

Jolyon Palmer, former Renault F1 driver: Suzuka is another drivers’ favourite and another one that’s a lot about flow. Across the first sector in particular there’s no real reference points after you ping it into Turn 1.

It’s all based on feel from Turns 2 to 7, just gauging the grip and balancing the car right on the edge through all the ‘S’ bends which culminate at Turn 7.

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After that it’s the Degners, which are mistake inducing. If you carry too much speed into Degner 1 you will struggle to stop for Degner 2. The hairpin that follows is not so bad; you’re braking a bit for the right hander, so you’ve got to be careful on peak brake pressure.

The second part of Spoon I found tricky, as you’re desperate to get on the throttle, and if you go too early it can draw you out onto the kerbing or beyond, and you have to back out and lose time.

130R is easy peasy, and then the chicane is a bit like Spa, maybe a little less dramatic, but you have to round out the lap with a tight sequence, lump a bit of kerb, and it’s all about the braking.

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ONBOARD: Max Verstappen’s 2023 Pirelli Pole Position Award lap at the Japanese Grand Prix

Last five Japanese GP pole-sitters

  • 2023 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
  • 2022 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
  • 2019 – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
  • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

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Last five Japanese GP winners

  • 2023 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
  • 2022 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
  • 2019 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
  • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

FAN VIEW: Again, the days of Verstappen polling more than 95% of votes are gone for now. Max does still lead, though, with 40% of F1 Play gamers believing he will bounce back with a win in Suzuka. Then it is the Ferraris again with around 20% each, followed closely by Verstappen’s Red-Bull, team mate, Sergio Perez.

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Michael Schumacher has the most pole positions and race wins in Japan

Strategy and set-up keys

Bernie Collins, former Aston Martin F1 strategist: Suzuka is an all-round test for F1 cars with a figure-of-eight track layout – the only one of its kind on the calendar – that offers up a mixture of high, medium and low-speed corners, and plenty of lengthy straights.

The particularly high-speed first sector is often difficult for drivers to get right, with changes in wind direction having a big impact on performance, especially through the technical, snaking ‘S’ Curves that push cars and drivers to the limit.

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In general, the frequency of high-speed corners leads to high-downforce set-ups being adopted by the teams, which in turn leads to high tyre demands and degradation – often pushing the race towards multiple pit stop strategies.

While the event is one of the toughest when it comes to jet lag, the amazing support from the fans creates a buzz around the track – they even stay after the race to watch the teams pack up!

FAN VIEW: Verstappen and the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz are strong favourites on F1 Play to fill the podium, but can anybody crash the party? Perez is coming in for support, with the RB20 still a formidable car – assuming no reliability issues. There are also nibbles for Lando Norris and McLaren team mate Oscar Piastri.

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Current form

Verstappen and Red Bull started the 2024 campaign in fine style with back-to-back victories in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but that run came to a sudden halt in Australia when brake problems struck the Dutchman’s RB20.

Rather than his team mate, Sergio Perez, stepping up to claim victory, the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were there to take full advantage and give the Scuderia their first one-two finish since the 2022 season opener.

READ MORE: Vasseur feels Ferrari’s success in Australia shows Red Bull can make mistakes under pressure

While Ferrari have been strong on the streets of Melbourne in recent years, partly explaining the smaller gap to Red Bull compared to the first two rounds, it’s a result that has given them plenty of confidence for the races ahead.

Suzuka and its high-speed sweeps pose a much different challenge, and will likely see the advantage swing back in Red Bull’s favour, but their DNF last time out – Verstappen’s first in two years – shows that the reigning world champions are not invincible.

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Race Highlights: 2024 Australian Grand Prix

Alongside the intrigue over the front-running battle between Red Bull and Ferrari, who are now separated by just four points in the constructors’ standings, there will also be eyes on McLaren after their performance in Japan last year and a stronger showing from the two papaya cars at Albert Park.

That’s not to mention Mercedes, who will be fired up to recover from their first double DNF since the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix, and Aston Martin, who are pushing to convince Fernando Alonso that he should stay for another year.

FAN VIEW: Japanese star Yuki Tsunoda has been in terrific form so far in 2024, with Red Bull mastermind Helmut Marko praising his speed on track. He is tipped by F1 Play gamers to go well at what is his home circuit, while Alex Albon (Williams) and the Haas pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen are also fancied.

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Verstappen has claimed pole and won at Suzuka for the last two seasons

Iconic moment

F1’s visit to Japan in 1989 yielded one of the most dramatic moments the sport has ever seen, with title rivals and McLaren team mates Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna banging wheels as they fought over the lead.

Reigning world champion Senna entered the weekend knowing he needed to win at Suzuka and the season finale at Adelaide to have any chance of retaining his world title, with Prost leading the way by 16 points.

READ MORE: From backmarker brilliance to stand-in stars – 10 times F1 drivers put themselves in the shop window with stunning performances

Starting from pole position, Senna fell behind Prost as the lights went out and spent the early exchanges trailing by several seconds, but the balance of power shifted as the race developed and a tense battle brewed.

Senna eventually got close enough to attempt a move on Prost, hugging the sister McLaren through the high-speed 130R left-hander and lunging down the inside into the chicane, only for the two cars to make contact.

While Prost was out on the spot, Senna managed to continue, pit for a new front wing and regain the lead. However, after crossing the line to take victory, the stewards disqualified him for missing the chicane as he rejoined the track.

Relive the drama, and the fallout from the infamous incident, in the video player below...

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Prost vs Senna: How the infamous Suzuka 89 clash unfolded

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