Round 17 of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship, the Japanese Grand Prix, takes place at the iconic Suzuka Circuit.
Ask any driver to list their three favourite tracks, and 99 percent of them will include this one. It was designed in 1962 by Dutch car and racetrack designer John Hugenholz, originally as a test track for Honda, and it is notorious for its high speeds and limited runoff areas.
It's a circuit of two halves, stretching 3.6 miles in length and featuring virtually every possible type of corner, from high speed kinks to flowing linked turns and profiled curved bends and chicanes and hairpins. As such, it’s a tough challenge for power units which need to deliver across the entire power spectrum without sacrificing drivability and responsiveness.
Equally, drivers can never stop working as there isn't much heavy braking and as mentioned above there are limited runoff areas. It’s a track where finding a good rhythm and having good aero balance are the keys to success. The track is also quite narrow, making overtaking difficult, so strategy is also vital.
Mercedes-AMG at the 2018 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix
The track surface is relatively abrasive at Suzuka, which means tire wear and degradation is on the high side. Pirelli has nominated its medium, soft and supersoft compounds for the weekend.
Concerns about the recent typhoon Trami, which unfortunately has caused serious damage in Japan, have now passed. The days leading up to this weekend's grand prix have been beautifully sunny, with temperatures reminiscent of late summer. But the forecast says more rain is on the way, in bursts that could last until just before Saturday's qualifying. Fortunately Sunday's race is expected to see clear skies.
After practice on Friday, Mercedes-AMG's Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheets. His teammate Valtteri Bottas was the second fastest followed by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
Going into the weekend, Hamilton leads the 2018 Drivers' Championship with 306 points versus the 256 of Vettel in second and 189 of Bottas in third. In the Constructors' Championship, Mercedes sits on 495 points versus the 442 of Ferrari and 292 of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. Last year's winner in Japan was Hamilton driving for Mercedes.