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Three excellent reasons to watch the Japanese Grand Prix

For the first time this season, F1 rocks up at a ‘proper’ track

Published: 04 Apr 2024

Alright, I’ve clicked. Impress me...

No pressure then. Reason one: it’s Suzuka, a track admired by drivers and fans alike that’s sure to provide a spectacle, even if the race turns out to be a bit pants.

The sequence of high g-force corners at the start of the lap is up there with Silverstone’s Maggotts and Becketts and Spa’s Eau Rouge, so if like us you get a kick out of very fast cars breaking physics to change direction very quickly, you should 100 per cent tune in.

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Reason two: it turns out Red Bull isn’t bulletproof, actually. Amid talk that it could go one better than last season and win every race, Max Verstappen lasted just a couple of laps last time out in Australia as one of his brakes… broke.

From nowhere we had a race on our hands where (for a little while, at least) the outcome wasn’t entirely predictable. We’ll take more of that in Japan, please.

Finally, excellent reason numero tres: the championship battle is actually really close, with four drivers - Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz - split by just 11 points.

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Sure, Verstappen will probably still run away with it sooner or later, but if you can’t enjoy watching the fight for best-of-the-rest status unfold then you might as well disengage until 2025. And what will you do in the meantime, watch Formula E? Come on now…

Set the scene for me...

Two weeks ago in Australia Carlos Sainz produced one of the great comebacks of the modern era by winning in Melbourne… mere days after being bed-ridden in hospital awaiting an emergency appendectomy. Clearly lightweighting via surgery is the future for F1 drivers.

And having also won the Singapore Grand Prix last season, it means Ferrari driver Sainz is the only person to beat Max Verstappen to the chequered flag since George Russell’s maiden win in Brazil back in 2022. Amazing stat, that. Also highly depressing.

Anyway, Sainz’s form - and the fact that he’s, er, out of a job at the end of the year - is fuelling much speculation about how the driver market is shaping up in 2025. There are a lot of rumours, but our favourites include the 29-year-old making the switch to Red Bull in place of Perez in 2025, and Alonso supposedly wrecking his chances of joining Mercedes by putting Russell in the wall in Melbourne. Oops, if true.

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Back to the racing: all eyes now will be on Verstappen and Red Bull as they attempt to bounce back from the DNF in Australia. A total of 19 wins in the last 21 races suggests the odds are in their favour…

What time does the Japanese Grand Prix start?

Brace yourself, because it’s another early start if you’re a die-hard fan: the Japanese Grand Prix starts at 6am UK time on Sunday 7 April, with qualifying on Saturday 6 April setting the grid from 7am onwards. Better break the news to the alarm clock gently…

If you’re a proper F1 nut - or, say, a security guard on the night shift - then the practice sessions commence as follows: FP1 at 3.30am on Friday 5 April, FP2 shortly after at 7am, and then FP3 and 3.30am on the Saturday before quali. Tune in to win a Top Gear kudos badge (not really).

Is it going to rain?

You know, it very well might. At the time of typing, the weather forecast suggests that showers could be a possibility on race day, although qualifying should be run in the dry as things stand. As we’ve seen so many times before in Japan, rain often leads to absolute chaos… could a surprise winner emerge for the second week running?

Gimme some history in 100 words or fewer.

The Japanese GP takes place at Suzuka, a 5.807km (3.608mi) circuit with 18 corners that’s regarded by many drivers as one of the greatest tracks on the F1 calendar. The first sector with its many high speed bends is particularly legendary, as is the terrifying 130R corner. It’s also the only circuit F1 visits with a figure-of-eight layout (don’t worry, there’s a bridge - they don’t stop at a junction…). Still, the most famous Japanese GP of all was held at another track entirely - Fuji - in 1976 when James Hunt just barely beat Nikki Lauda to the title.

The top three will be…

The last time Carlos Sainz ended a long Red Bull winning streak… Max Verstappen rocked up in Japan and chose dominance, winning by almost 20 seconds. Yikes. And given what we know about the RB20’s strengths so far, you’d be a brave human to bet against the same thing happening again…

Sergio Perez is racing pretty well at the moment, so he’ll likely be on the podium if he can overcome the inevitable disappointing qualifying performance. And Ferrari seems to be in a league of its own (in the second division behind Red Bull, obviously) at the moment, so let’s go with Charles Leclerc despite the Monagasque being heavier than his teammate to the tune of one appendix.

Shock of the weekend?

Mercedes. The first three races of the season have exposed the fact that the Merc is like a truck in high-speed corners… of which Suzuka has a shedload. Mediocre qualifying followed by a difficult race in which it once again struggles to keep up with Lance Stroll in an Aston.

Where can I watch the Japanese Grand Prix?

On the sofa, at the dining table, on your bed… wherever you have an electronic device really. Oh, you meant what channel? UK fans can either pay for Sky Sports’ F1 channel, or pay for Now TV in order to stream Sky Sports’ F1 channel. Either way, you need access to… Sky Sports’ F1 channel.

Failing that, Channel 4 will broadcast highlights of the race for free at 12.30pm on Sunday (which negates the pre-dawn alarm, too). Qualifying highlights are on Saturday at 11.10am, just FYI.

If you’re on the road while the action unfolds, live commentary of every session will be split between BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Sports Extra.

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