Return to F1’s playground: why drivers rate Suzuka as their favorite track

And what if it rains?

“Again, because it has such little run-off, you have to build up your confidence through the wet. Normally when it rains in Japan, it can be quite heavy. I’m not hoping for a wet grand prix, but it’s very challenging in the wet or the dry.”

Sergio Perez: Finding his top form again

For Sergio Perez his tenth Japanese GP will be a special weekend, because it will be his first time at Suzuka as a Honda driver. He will surely still be a focal point for many fans, especially as he scored such an impressive win in Singapore last weekend after a disappointing recent run.

Suzuka has not been particularly kind to the Mexican over the years. Indeed, in nine attempts he has never made the top six. He earned seventh three times with Force India/Racing Point, and has twice finished eighth, and thus he will certainly be hoping for much more this weekend.

He made his first appearance with Sauber in 2011, and that year and again in 2012 he had the special experience of being team mate to Kamui Kobayashi, and sharing some of the local hero’s support.

Lewis Hamilton going off track in his Mercedes at 2019 Japanese GP

Suzuka can catch out even the best drivers

Grand Prix Photo

Perez was looking forward to coming to last year’s canceled race as a works Honda driver, and he is happy to be finally getting his chance to return.

“It’s definitely great to be back, great to be back with the fans,” he says. “Especially racing for Honda it’s something that I was looking forward massively, to race there for the first time. I really can’t wait to be back with them.”

Perez expects the Honda connection to make a big difference to the level of support he will receive: “Honda is a big part of our team, so I definitely believe that they will be supporting us massively.

“It hasn’t been a great track for me. But I haven’t had a good car there yet. I think it will be interesting to see how I’m able to do with a Red Bull around there. It will be great to get a win in Suzuka. Obviously, I’ve been there as Kamui’s team mate. One year he was on the podium, which was great to see.”

Like most other F1 drivers Perez sees Suzuka’s Esses as the most exciting part of the track, and one of the most challenging sections of any circuit around the world.

Sauber driver Sergio Perez at 2011 Japanese GP

Suzuka debut came for Perez in 2014

Grand Prix Photo

“I think generally, sector one is something that is really, really special. Just the flow, and the speed you need to carry. That’s something really enjoyable, in fact I think it’s the most enjoyable sector in the world. You have to really get it right from the beginning to be able to start the lap time.”

He says the hairpin is also important: “It’s a low-speed corner where you can lose a lot of lap time. You don’t lose that much in the high speed. But you do a lot in the low speed. So certainly, a great track, and really interesting.”

He believes that Suzuka will be especially exciting to drive in the high downforce 2022 cars.

“I think they will be good, because they’re good in the high-speed – these cars will come alive in those corners. And I certainly think there will be more overtaking with these cars at Suzuka, you are able to race better.”

Charles Leclerc: Can he keep the title battle alive?

Charles Leclerc seems to have been at the top of F1 for such a long time already that it’s hard to believe that he has only raced at Suzuka twice.

In fact thanks to the cancellation of the last two events his only appearances came with Sauber in 2018 and Ferrari the following year.

“For me, it’s really, really special” Charles Leclerc

He heads to Suzuka this year with a slim mathematical chance of winning the title, but all he can really hope to do is win a few more races and give the team some momentum heading into 2023. Suzuka would be a good one to add to his CV.

“I’m really, really excited,” he says. “I love the track, especially the first sector. For me, it’s really, really special. And it has something that you never find anywhere else. So the passion of fans, it’s incredible.”

Suzuka has not been a lucky venue for Leclerc. On his first appearance with Sauber in 2018 he qualified an excellent 11th, but he was involved in a collision on lap 2, and had to change his front wing. He was fighting back when he had to retire with a mechanical issue.