Japanese Grand Prix – epilogue


This year’s Japanese Grand Prix was the 25th to take place at Suzuka – and you have to wonder why the event has ever been staged elsewhere. Fuji Speedway benefits from a superior backdrop (when visible through the mist), but in all other respects Suzuka has the edge.

Formula 1 cars carry huge speed into the first corner – and maintain it through the following sequence of sweeps. I’ve been to the circuit a dozen times and the spectacle never fails to impress, nor indeed to take you aback upon renewed acquaintance.

Drivers were frothing about the sensation on Saturday, but – as Paul di Resta pointed out – it will be the last time for a while that any of them experiences a downforce buzz of that magnitude. None of the schedule’s remaining circuits has a parallel complex – and next year’s cars will be configured with significantly reduced grip.

It has been a privilege to witness performance of this calibre, but it’s not just the circuit dynamics that capture your attention. The periphery is inspiring, too, albeit in a different way.

On race morning, the merchandising area behind the main grandstand is always a sea of humanity – and most spectators are draped in team colours of one hue or another. One fan’s hat incorporated a replica safety car (complete with working lights), while alternatives featured on-board cameras, rear wings and assorted other design details, many of them lovingly crafted from purest cardboard. And then there’s a phalanx of Prancing Horse samurai – present most years, but never less than entertaining. It’s the most photogenic crowd of the season, bar none, and the passion is absolute.

It creates the impression that the Japanese love all forms of motor racing, but local contacts tell me the once thriving domestic landscape is rather bleaker. The Grand Prix attracts a crowd commensurate with its status, but elsewhere things have been in sharp decline since the 1980s and early 1990s, when European and American drivers often opted for Japan as a lucrative alternative to F1. In recent times the premier national single-seater series (now Super Formula, previously Formula Nippon) has been nicknamed Formula 3000 Spectators… but even that might now be a stretch.

F1 will remain popular in the absence of a Japanese driver (Kamui Kobayashi was present last weekend, in an ambassadorial role for Ferrari, and 1987-1991 Grand Prix racer Satoru Nakajima drew a big crowd to the entertainment stage next to the merchandising stalls), but a fresh name might help. It is hoped that Honda’s F1 return, in 2015, will regenerate broader interest – although on Sunday’s form McLaren’s need is at least as great as that of Japan’s racing industry…

There was a time when Grand Prix circuits used to be surrounded by diverse stalls, selling pin badges, sew-on patches, Elf Team Tyrrell jackets, books, models, video tapes and most things in between. Small independent retailers began to disappear when pitch prices rose steeply and nowadays everything is a touch homogenised, with little for sale bar officially licensed team products and overpriced food.

There is a strong corporate element to Suzuka’s commercial zone, but the ambience and fevered anticipation set it apart. The area is absolutely rammed, but you can wander securely in the knowledge that nobody will try to pick your pocket or walk off with your camera.

It’s a pleasure to be swept along by the host nation’s zestful spirit – a perfect complement to what will shortly unfold.

Click here for more Grand Prix coverage

Click here for more from Simon Arron

history  I was there when... 2010 Korean GP

You may also like