Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe

F1’s dirty air problem means track position will be king in Japanese GP

A super competitive Formula 1 grid with wide-open strategy options at a stunning track like Suzuka should be all the ingredients needed to deliver a spectacular Japanese Grand Prix.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

But teams and drivers are already bracing themselves for what could be a game of patiently follow-the-leader thanks to the growing dirty air problem that F1 is experiencing right now.

While F1’s new ground effect rules era from 2022 was supposed to better allow cars to follow each other closely, and indeed it worked for a while, the efforts by teams over more than two years now has done away with much of the gains.

Downforce improvements made to the cars, and an increased mastery of outwash designs that are perfect for diverting airflow away from a car but lead to a disturbed wake for pursuing rivals, has made close racing much harder.

While things look super tight between Red Bull’s chasing pack which points to an potentially unpredictable contest, the high aero demands of Suzuka are going to make things super difficult for anyone to race as hard as they like if they are trapped behind another car.

It could mean that the key to making progress up the order at Suzuka is not in brilliant overtakes but in getting clean air – potentially with an out of sync pitstop – to be able to maximise pace.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Pirelli’s head of car racing Mario Isola reckoned that this need to quickly clear rivals and find a gap on track could be a factor in further pushing teams towards starting the race on the soft.

“There has been a lot of development with the aero package and now, unfortunately, we are back in a situation where, when you follow another car, you lose downforce,” he said. “At the beginning of 2022, this effect was not there.

“Now it is back, because the teams have all developed new aero packages and they are creating turbulence behind them.

“And, unfortunately, because of the fast and flowing nature of this track, if you follow another car and you are in traffic, you lose quite a lot of downforce.

“That's why the soft at the beginning could be an option to try to get an advantage and not to stay in traffic, even if you have to have a shorter stint at the beginning of the race.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, leads Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60s, at the start of the 2023 Japanese GP

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, leads Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60s, at the start of the 2023 Japanese GP

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

The dirty air factor means that the start will be more important than it is at some other tracks, and the leader out of Turn 1 should have a pretty good advantage over his pursuers.

But behind, especially for drivers who feel they are out of position, it will be critical to make positions off the start and not risk being caught behind slower cars. It should make for a tense initial phase to the Japanese GP.

As Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur told Sky: “The position at the end of the first lap will be crucial.

“With clean air in front it is much better, but here in Suzuka it's not easy to overtake. Doing 30 laps behind a car is complicated, so the first lap will be crucial.”

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Ferrari still in hunt for more F1 wins despite Red Bull's Suzuka dominance, says Sainz
Next article Verstappen reveals new Red Bull F1 processes to avoid brake fire repeat

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe