Lewis Hamilton admits he can't wait to make his debut at Suzuka as the circuit returns to the F1 calendar this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix, although his bosses have played down the chances of the Briton fighting for victory.
While Hamilton has competed in Japan twice during his F1 career to date, both those races came at the Fuji circuit, which took over the hosting of the event in 2007 and 2008.
Suzuka will now make its comeback however, and Hamilton admitted it was a circuit he has always wanted to compete at.
“It feels like I've been waiting my whole life to race at Suzuka – so, as you can imagine, I'll be really excited when practice starts there on Friday morning,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid, I've raced Suzuka on computer games – and while it kind of gives you an idea of how the circuit goes, nothing can beat the real thing. It looks like a real driver's circuit – the first sector esses look very demanding and the higher speed corners towards the end of the lap will probably require real precision and a good car set-up.
“I'm also really looking forward to returning to Japan – it's one of my favourite countries and I love racing in front of the Japanese fans. It should be a great weekend.”
Hamilton heads to Japan on the back of his second win of the season in Singapore, although both team principal Martin Whitmarsh and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport chief Norbert Haug conceded that a repeat performance in Japan would be hard to achieve.
“Suzuka is one of Formula 1's greatest circuits, and one that every driver relishes,” Whitmarsh said. “Certainly, McLaren has had more than its fair share of spectacular moments there – we've won at Suzuka on six occasions, and I vividly remember the 2005 race, when Kimi [Raikkonen] took the lead on the final lap of one of the most spectacular grands prix I have ever witnessed.
“For 2009, we go to Japan knowing that overall victory will not be easy to achieve – but the improvements we evaluated in Singapore, particularly some useful changes to the floor, should give us a competitive boost and it will be interesting to see how our pace translates against that of our rivals.”
“I don't think we'll be among the favourites for victory at Suzuka,” Haug added. “However, everybody in the team is working hard to conclude the season with further good results in Japan and the following races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.”