Japanese Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel - can anyone stop him?

Sebastian Vettel heads to the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday knowing he could well clinch the world championship at Suzuka.

Should the Red Bull driver win the race and rival Fernando Alonso finish ninth or lower, then the German will claim a fourth successive title.

Vettel has won three of the past four races at Suzuka and has taken victory in each of the last four races this season. Can anyone stop him in Japan?

The track

Suzuka track facts

Race distance: 53 laps (191.054 miles / 307.471km)

First grand prix held: 1987

Circuit length: 3.608 miles/5.807km

2012 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

2012 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Lap record: Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) in 2005 with a time of 1min 31.540secs

An iconic and unique circuit, Suzuka is the only one on the calendar that crosses over itself in a figure-of-eight design.

Fast and technical, with few overtaking opportunities, it is a challenge for both drivers and team engineers.

The circuit has also been admired by fans and drivers alike for its sequence of fast corners, which includes the 200mph turn known as 130R.

It is also tough on the tyres and the high-speed uphill Esses behind the pits provide a real benchmark for aerodynamic performance.

The venue

While it may be located pretty much in the middle of nowhere, Japan's famously fanatic Formula 1 fans, and the fact its position on the calendar means title fights can often come to a climax there, ensures it is always a popular destination.

The circuit complex features a car-themed amusement park, in which a huge Ferris wheel looms over the track.

Suzuka's layout is also largely unchanged since it first opened more than 50 years ago, giving it a distinct character that is loved by drivers, teams and fans alike.

For European television audiences, there's something special about the race - its early start time, slightly grainy TV pictures and place in history as the setting for so many dramatic drivers' title conclusions give the race a unique feel.

What the drivers say

Analysis

"Formula 1 goes from the ridiculous to the sublime this week, leaving the white elephant-in-waiting that is Korea for Suzuka in Japan.

"World champion Sebastian Vettel says Suzuka is 'the best track in the world', and few of his colleagues would disagree - only Spa-Francorchamps on the F1 schedule rivals it.

"The sport's only figure-of-eight track, this sinuous, sweeping series of majestic corners is the severest test of man and machine.

"More than that, it has character, atmosphere and history, too. It has hosted F1 since 1987 - with a two-year sojourn in Fuji - and it has witnessed many of the sport's most dramatic moments. Among them were the famous title showdowns between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1989 and 1990.

"It is incongruously located in a theme park, where spectators can get their own thrills on a series of high-adrenalin rides, and the Japanese fans have an enthusiasm all of their own. "Crazy, but in a good way," as Vettel puts it.

"There is, in short, nothing like it."

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel: "I think it is the best track in the world, the fans are completely crazy in a good way and I am really looking forward to it, it will be a great race."

Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg: "I really enjoy going to Suzuka, as it is always a cool weekend and special as both a Grand Prix and a circuit. Drivers like challenges and this is certainly a very challenging track. It is a classic track - a bit like Spa - and one that just puts a big smile on everyone's face. The fans are polite and very cute. I especially love the way they wave with both hands, and I shall certainly try to learn this double wave as it looks great."

Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez: "It's an interesting track with a lot of fast corners and it's quite technical too. I can already say it will be one of my most favourites. I'm looking forward to going to Japan again. The fans are amazing, they know a lot about Formula 1, and they even knew me last year when I was the reserve and test driver. It's a great atmosphere, there is a good energy, and seeing the fans so passionate about the sport motivates me too."

Suzuka's greatest moments

1987 - Nigel Mansell injures his back so badly in a high-speed crash in the Esses that he is out for the rest of the season, handing Williams team-mate Nelson Piquet the title.

1988 - Ayrton Senna drops from pole to 11th place on the first lap but fights back brilliantly through the field, exploiting drizzle and a damp track to pass McLaren team-mate Alain Prost and clinch his first world title.

1989 - Prost and Senna collide at the chicane as the Brazilian tries to pass the Frenchman. Senna rejoins and wins the race but is controversially disqualified for cutting the chicane, handing the title to Prost.

1990 - With Prost now at Ferrari, Senna rams into the back of the Frenchman at the first corner, taking them both out and ensuring the Brazilian wins the title. Senna later admitted he did it deliberately as revenge for F1 boss Jean-Marie Balestre, who was involved in the 1989 controversy, putting pole position on the wrong side of the track.

Japan's memorable title deciders

1994 - In torrential rain, Williams's Damon Hill drives the race of his life to thrillingly beat Benetton's Michael Schumacher in a race that is decided on aggregate times after a stoppage, keeping the title alive until the final race of the season.

2000 - Schumacher, now at Ferrari, wins a flat-out, race-long duel with McLaren's Mika Hakkinen to clinch the Italian team's first drivers' title for 21 years.

2005 - Rain in qualifying leaves the front-runners at the back of the grid and produces arguably the greatest grand prix of all time. Renault's Fernando Alonso passes Schumacher with an outrageously brave move at 207mph around the outside of 130R and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen clinches victory by passing the Spaniard's team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap.