There are some who complain about the time it takes to get there from Europe, but I’d be perfectly prepared to hitch. Few circuits match Suzuka’s feelgood factor or pleasing patina: the paddock might have been smartened in the recent past, but the important grey bit remains relatively unchanged. A challenge free of compromise, it’s a venue of the old school with commensurate atmosphere.
When it opened in 1962, smart, wide access roads weren’t considered a racing necessity. Photographers were few and far between and, in any case, tended to stand (or lie) with toes/noses just a few inches beyond the inside kerb. There is a media shuttle bus in Japan, but it has to use the actual circuit and thus departs long before each session’s dawn. If other commitments oblige you to cut things a little finer, you need to walk – and for parts of the lap that means an assault course.
The path to the chicane is fairly straightforward, but beyond that you are separated from the cars by a three-layer strip of Armco to one side (the Dunlop Curve to your left) and no more than a couple of plastic cones to the other (although cars are accelerating away to your right, through the chicane, so you’re away from the line of fire). You then have to vault a barrier and clamber your way over, under and behind an advertising hoarding, through a tiny channel that’s just about wide enough for one human at a time.
In the past this was laced with brambles containing many a sizeable spider, but in 2013 the wildlife had been pruned. It made access a little less photogenic, rather than easier, because there were still enough wire tie-wraps and splintered planks to lacerate your ankles.
All grazes justify the effort, though, because once clear you are but a couple of minutes from F1’s finest slice of real estate – a large earth mound that separates the twin Degner Curves from 130R and provides equally majestic views either side.
130R receives most of the accolades, largely because it’s an exercise in sheer speed, but it’s the fiddly Degners that most upset a car’s equilibrium: the Red Bulls looked glued, but almost everything else appeared to be taunting the laws of physics. You’re looking down into the cars, too, and can see the drivers actually working (rather than merely being aware of their heads bobbing around a bit).
A media tabard confers some wonderful privileges – but this is on a par with any.