Race Blog
Japan 2011

The unimproveable circuit

As a photographer specialising in shooting Formula 1 I’m acutely aware of just what a privilege it is to work in the sport I love.

There is a plethora of fantastic elements in this job, many obvious, some not so, but right at the top is the opportunity to stand trackside as the subjects of my photographic efforts careen around the race tracks of the world.

Suzuka – possibly the greatest circuit on the F1 calendar – is a special treat every year.

Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in 2012, Dutch designer John Hugenholtz's wonderful sinewy ribbon of Tarmac winds its way up, down and along its 5.8km path, presenting the grand prix driver with a feast of challenges.

Charging downhill, the lap begins with a mighty high-speed braking chute as Turn 1 becomes Turn 2, quickly followed by a fantastic and unique series of five 'S' bends. Perhaps more than any other complex in motor sport, this section illustrates the difference between those who have ultimate feel for a race car and those who don't.

Last Saturday afternoon it was a treat for both the eyes and ears to witness the masterly way Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button superintended their cars serenely from one apex to the next, feathering the throttle with never a hint of full lift, left foot braking in perfect unison with the right foot’s dance. The engine note would rise, fall and rise again in seamless waves of sound before the cars climbed hard left through Dunlop Curve, the last of the Esses.

Next up, the double rights of Degner 1 and 2.

Upon first sight these two seemingly unimpressive corners fail to excite. But once you've seen thoroughbred F1 machines teeter on the edge of adhesion on Tarmac that (through a lens at least) looks like glass, you'll change your mind for sure.

The first Degner is a 60-degree, slightly banked affair taken at 260km/h in sixth gear. The trick is to maximise speed by using a little kerb at the apex to straighten the curve. Bite off too much kerb and you risk upsetting the car, running wide, riding the exit kerbing and being pulled into the old-school sea of gravel that lines both corners' extremeties.

Braking hard into the banked 90-degree Degner 2, the cars always seem to me to coast for an age before picking up the pace and shooting out of the corner, running high and wide on the red and white kerbs, but never straying on to the livid green astroturf which is to be avoided at all costs.

Sebastian Vettel was in a class of his own on Saturday here, scything through Degner 1 then drifting at an awesome pace into and out of Degner 2 before plunging into the darkness cast by the flyover above.

A tight left hairpin is next, followed by a tree-lined right-hand sweep down then up a hill. Two furrows like freight truck grooves on a motorway guide the cars from left to right into the double-apex, long, long left of Spoon Curve.

Accelerating hard, the cars power straight towards the famous 130R corner. Not quite as awe inspiring as in years past owing to a recent safety-minded reprofiling, it's still an impressive sight as drivers weigh up their ability (both their own and their car’s) to take the corner with no throttle lift at all.

The tight right-left chicane is next, followed by a steeper-than-it-looks-on-TV downhill right, and with that the lap is run.

In any poll of top tracks Spa-Francorchamps usually comes top, but for me (and many others) Suzuka has something more.

Add to the mix the fantastic atmosphere, the uniquely fanatical fans and the warm early Autumnal sunshine, and you have a cocktail that's hard to beat. The journey here might be a long and arduous one, but the destination always makes the effort utterly worthwhile.


Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix by clicking here.

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