The Suzuka Grand Prix circuit is a favourite of many of the Grand Prix drivers, for it shares the same challenge and thrills of high speed flowing corners like the Spa Francorchamps track. Some 5.85kms(3.64 miles) long, it was designed by the ...
The Suzuka Grand Prix circuit is a favourite of many of the Grand Prix drivers, for it shares the same challenge and thrills of high speed flowing corners like the Spa Francorchamps track. Some 5.85kms(3.64 miles) long, it was designed by the Dutchman, John Hugenholtz, the same man that penned the Zandvoort circuit in Holland.
The Suzuka circuit was built by Honda in 1962 as part of a huge complex containing not only the race track, but an amusement park, hotel, restaurants, golf course, museum, driving school and shops, which are all busy throughout the year even when the track itself is not being used.
Other than Ferrari's Fiorano test track, the Suzuka circuit is the only one currently being used by modern Grand Prix cars that features a flyover in its design, which has a superb selection of fast, medium and slow corners that demands the most from both the cars and drivers. The famous 130R sweeping 200 mph left hander on the way back to the pits is one of Grand Prix racing's most challenging corners which has seen a lot of excitement over the years, along with the tight right-hander 'Degner' named after the famous two-wheeled rider.
This will be the 17th Japanese Grand Prix to be held, the first two being run at the Mount Fuji circuit in 1976-7 before finding a permanent home at the Suzuka track, following an accident at Fuji involving Gilles Villeneuve, which saw two spectators killed. There have also been two other Grand Prix events in Japan, the Pacific GP, which was held at the Aida circuit.
Usually the last or penultimate event of the season, the Japanese Grand Prix has been the championship-deciding race no less than 10 times in its short 17-year history. Although Japan is a relative newcomer to world of Grand Prix racing, it has played a major role in the sport since the 1960's when Honda began supplying engines to the Brabham team and then developed their own car and engine program.
The death of Jo Schlesser at Rouen in the air-cooled Honda V8 brought and end to Honda's early F1 program at the end of the 60's, but they returned in force in the early 80's as an engine supplier and scored and impressive list of wins and titles with the Williams and McLaren teams. Next year, Toyota will make its F1 debut with a completely new all-Toyota team, the first team since Honda to produce an all-Japanese effort and the only team beside Ferrari to attempt building all aspects of their Grand Prix cars.
There have been several unsuccessful attempts to mount Japanese F1 teams and cars in the past, the Kojima and Maki chassis being the two most noteworthy while the Dome team produced a car for Honda as did Harvey Postelthwaite before his death, but they never raced. Masahiro Hasemi was actually credited with fastest lap in the wet/dry 1976 race with his Dunlop shod Kojima, although there was some doubt as to the validity of his time. Japan has produced a lot of noteworthy Japanese drivers, 12 that have taken part in a Grand Prix, of which Aguri Suzuki was the only one to take a podium finish when he scored an emotional third place behind Benetton's Nelson Piquet and his Brazilian protégé Roberto Moreno in 1990.
Besides the Japanese driver on a podium for his home race, there have been many memorable moments at the Suzuka circuit, in particular the legendary1989 and 1990 races where the title was decided between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna as a result of highly controversial accidents between the two rivals. Senna, who crashed with Prost in 1989 managed to re-start and continue on to win the race, but his title was then given to Prost after Senna was disqualified for re-joining the race in the wrong direction. His disqualification also gave Sandro Nannini the only Grand Prix win of his career before it was cut short by a helicopter accident. The following year, it was Senna drove Prost off the road at the first corner of the race, which he later admitted was deliberate, which assured the Brazilian the title in 1990.
A tight narrow chicane with high kerbs has been the only change to the circuit layout since its inception, a controversial chicane put in place to slow the cars on the main pit straight following a bad crash during a Formula Two race. Although it slows the cars, the chicane is not popular with the drivers, for its design also creates a lot of minor accidents as drivers miss their braking or get out of shape on the kerbs while trying to overtake.
The last three races in Suzuka has seen the same two drivers heading the field, Michael Schumacher (1 win and 3 poles) and Mika Hakkinen (2 wins). Schumacher is by far the most successful driver in Japan with five wins; three wins in the Japanese Grand Prix to his credit as well as winning both the Aida races.
McLaren are well ahead in the success stakes in Japan with six victories, twice the wins of their rivals Benetton, Williams and Ferrari, which have each won three events. The now defunct Lotus team is the only other marque to have won under the rising sun, taking the first Japanese GP with Mario Andretti in 1976.