Ask any Formula 1 fan about the Japanese Grand Prix and there are three things that they will always mention. A great circuit, a great atmosphere and a great history. Most venues will tick one or two of these boxes, but very few achieve the full house. Why is it that the Japanese Grand Prix is always so well received by the Formula 1 community?
The Japanese love their motorsport. Japan has been (and still is) a world leader in automotive engineering with its rich history in producing some of the most iconic cars in the world. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Dome resemble only a portion of Japan’s motor racing success story. As a result, the level of public enthusiasm for motorsport is constant.
Japan seems to have a loveable obsession with the engine, coupled with a desire to be fast and efficient. Wherever there’s motorsport in Japan, the people will go. Super Formula, Super GT and D1 Drifting are all well-attended formulae that help fuel the local addiction for speed. This level of excitement reaches its epitome when the Formula 1 circus descends on Ise Bay, with the Suzuka crowd being renowned for its passion and effort. Only the Tifosi can rival Japan’s fixation with the sport.
The level of fanaticism for Formula 1 in Japan can be gauged by the sights of the Suzuka paddock. If you’re after a Ferrari Samurai costume, you’ll find one. If it’s a Bernie Ecclestone puppet you’re looking for, it’ll be around. The relatively stoic façade that Formula 1 is often associated with is abandoned for the weird and wacky. The Japanese public’s genuine love for the sport is refreshing to see, and they make up a large part of the weekend in itself.
With the fans fully behind the Japanese Grand Prix, it’s no wonder that the race-day attendance is often consistently high throughout the weekend. It’s not unusual to see scores of spectators sitting in the main grandstands on a Thursday afternoon when there’s no track action to watch, simply soaking up the once-a-year atmosphere.
The charm of the Japanese Grand Prix isn’t solely powered by the people, though. The Suzuka Circuit itself is one of the most challenging layouts on the calendar, with several classic sections that the drivers adore.
The first sector is argubaly the most challenging, with the magical Esses sending drivers on a rollercoaster ride that requires maximum downforce and concentration, before the descend to Degner; a high speed right hander that leads to the unique underpass. The return leg of the lap begins at Spoon, the famous sweeping left-hander that launches cars onto the back straight. But, the most well-known, and perhaps the most feared corner at Suzuka, is 130R. The left-hand kink is held in the same esteem as corners like Copse, Eau Rouge and the Monaco Tunnel for being breathtakingly fast and a true test of an F1 driver’s ability to hold the throttle down. It can be easily argued that Suzuka embodies all of the characteristics that make up the perfect Formula 1 track.
Few circuits can lay claim to a history as chequered as Suzuka’s. Perhaps the most vivid memory comes from the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, in which the McLaren team-mates of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided while battling for the World Championship. Fast forward a year to another incident between the riotous pair, this time at the first corner where Senna sent Prost hurtling into the gravel to end the Frenchman’s title hopes. These milestones of Formula 1 history are still talked about today, and add to the ever-blossoming Suzuka legend.
The Japanese Grand Prix is arguably the most popular Grand Prix on the calendar. It has its own charm and personality that other races aren’t able to created, largely thanks to the passion of the fans and the national love of motor racing. For many Japanese Formula 1 fans, it isn’t just a race. It’s a pilgrimage to a haven of speed that’s full of all of the off-the-wall memorabilia that makes Japan so unique. The Japanese Grand Prix is a breath-taking event, and deserves its place within Formula 1 folklore.
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