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Japanese Grand Prix 2019: that's put the wind up a lot of people.

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

It's said that it's impossible to overtake at the Suzuka race circuit but it's not true. There have been winners from way, way down the field. One of the last old-fashioned racing circuits where Formula One still races, this weekend has shown something fascinating: no matter what technical rules are imposed, no matter what generation of drivers is involved - it's tracks like the Honda's Twin Ring Motagi circuits that actually deliver great racing.

Watching today's race from the comfort of my settee, I found myself thinking back: it was like watching racing in the 1970s and 80s. The lines reminded me of the heydey where Williams, McLaren, Lotus would dominate and Ferrari would look good but often their cars, drivers or strategies would fall apart. True, there were years when Ferrari came good but they were not as frequent as many like to falsely remember.

Most of the modern tracks that F1 goes to are sanitised. Malaysia was the primary exception: it was built into the topography and had many of the features of, say, Watkins Glen or Brands Hatch. Suzuka is actually quite a new track - built in the early 1960s. It's technical, it doesn't have a lot of long straights, it has a chicane which is banked and drivers talk about driving over the transition from one camber to another and it has hills and vales, some of which are steep: if it has a fault, it's that today's cars don't need to brake much for the corners and the speeds fast. But what's that you say? Cars can't overtake because they can't get close enough, because the downforce is upset by dirty air (that's the same dirty air that gives us the recently rediscovered art of slipstreaming). It's all nonsense; in recent races, we've seen lots of overtaking but it's not been on those micky mouse street circuits : it's on tracks where drivers can see around corners, where they can take a strategic view of the next several hundred metres.

One of the fascinating aspects of today's Japanese Grand Prix was that there were barely any track limits issues yet there is only one wall (as Robert Kubica found out within the first moments of qualifying) to hit unless you are already so far off the track it might be closer to walk back to the factory. There is only one brutal kerb. The fact is that the natural racing line is actually within the confines of the track.

It is said that there is only one racing line but, as Le Clerc raced through the pack after hitting Verstappen, and as Norris who also had to pit after a collision and pulled himself up to just outside the points not once but twice, there are lines all over the place if drivers have the nouse to look for them. Inside, outside - there were cars everywhere and still very few off-track excursions. Compare this to e.g. Singapore - there were no, repeat no, safety car interludes; there wasn't even a VSC.

The race was not without its controversy: the first related to Sebastian Vettel who openly admitted that he made a mistake. The lights took a long time to go out, he said, and he accidentally launched. To his credit, he immediately stopped again but at that moment, the lights went out and everyone shot off, leaving him a few metres behind. It was clear to all: after the penalty given to Raikkonen in Russia, Vettel must be awarded a false start. Moments later, LeClerc drove into Verstappen, forcing the Red Bull's retirement. And here's where it gets murky.

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