Kamui Kobayashi – the only Japanese driver on the grid driving in his first full season at BMW Sauber – takes us on a flying lap of Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Suzuka a difficult and technical circuit
Suzuka is my home race but there are lots of circuits on the calendar that I know a lot better mainly because I moved to Europe when I was much younger to pursue my racing career. Before last year's race, the last time I'd driven here was in 2003 in Formula Toyota but that was on the short track and not the grand prix circuit and, anyway, it feels like a different lifetime as I was only 17 years old.
Last year at Suzuka was great for me to drive there although it was unfortunate it had to happen because Timo Glock was sick. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take part in the race but I still got a flavour in the Friday practice sessions. This year, I can't wait to take part in the race. I've been told there's a Kamui Kobayashi corner at turns two and three, and some of my friends will be there among the fans. I won't get much of a chance to look up but it's good to know the support is there.
Despite my relative inexperience at Suzuka, when I have driven here I've loved it and most drivers on the grid agree it's one of the most exciting circuits on the calendar. And it's the one I want to do the best at - you always want to do best in front of your home crowd. To start with, it is a rarity in that it is shaped in the figure of eight. It's a very difficult and technical circuit. At the start, there's a rush to the first corner - a double right-hand corner that you get into almost straight away.
It's taken in second gear and out of it you accelerate before slowing right down for a series of different corners. Before that corner, the end of the straight is a good opportunity for overtaking so you will see late braking and some puffs of smoke during the race right here. You come out quickly to another straight before the Esses where it's left, right, left, right and left again, and it's one of the places where you can lose speed easily and lose a lot of time. You need to get your entry to the first corner right or else you're off line and you end up battling to keep your speed up.
It's actually a very tough part of the circuit and you're in third gear for most of it on the limit as much as you can be without sliding off the circuit. As you come out of the final corner there, the Dunlop Curve, you accelerate on to a straight and into top gear before dropping down suddenly to second at the crossover. From there, you go under the bridge with cars passing overhead - well, hopefully only the backmarkers overhead! - and there's a small right-hand corner before a sharp left-hand hairpin. Again this is one of the most challenging parts of the circuit.
Then comes a right-hand corner in which you're almost flat out and you have to take a risk and brake as hard and as late as you possibly can. It's tough to get it just right and it's a place where you tend to make many mistakes and crashes. Once you survive that, there's a nice easy right-hand turn up to Spoon Curve, a double left-hand corner. The first you can take relatively fast - usually in fourth gear - but then you drop almost to a standstill before the home straight.
That straight seems to go on for a long, long time as you go back to sixth gear and about 320kph. It takes you over the bridge this time with a very fast corner and this time with the cars below you. There's not a lot of room for error here as the run-off area is virtually nothing but you still have to gamble or else you lose a lot of speed for the remainder of the straight. This section of the track, known as 130R and Japan's answer to Spa's Eau Rouge, has changed a lot following some accidents in 2002 and also 2003. It's less dangerous than it used to be but it is still a difficult challenge for us drivers.
After that comes the slowest bit of the circuit - a tight chicane going right and left. It's easy to get wrong as you cannot judge the braking points that easily in advance. Coming out of that takes you onto the main straight and up to sixth gear by the time you cross the finishing line and hopefully in a good position. For us at Sauber, the nature of the track should suit our car pretty well so I hope to be up in the points at the end of it.