There are some who consider the trip from Europe to Suzuka an inconvenience – a long-haul flight followed by a significant train ride should you land in Osaka or, more distant still, Tokyo – but I’d counter that the journey could take twice as long yet still be perfectly tolerable. The Japanese Grand Prix is an occasion like no other on the Formula 1 calendar.
For one thing, when you arrive you’ll find the rail system is simple to use and beyond efficient. If a clerk tells you that you’ll have three minutes to make a connection en route, you know that will be time enough. It’s not the kind of margin you’d trust in Crewe or York, but in Japan such things work as they should.
The landscape around Suzuka is largely industrial and significantly less beautiful than that embracing Fuji (although there are a few hills to one side), but the venue and its atmosphere provide adequate compensation. Even on Thursday, with nothing happening on the track, the grandstands opposite the pits will be fairly full with fans who simply want to watch pre-weekend preparations. Until the circuit was renovated a few years ago, one of the main paddock exits took mechanics and other team personnel out through the middle of the stands and the patient audience would applaud them warmly just for being involved. That simple pleasure was eroded when the new paddock was installed, but Suzuka’s soul remains untarnished.
I’m sorry to disappoint anybody who was hoping to find images of Masahiro Hasemi’s Kojima setting fastest lap on Dunlop tyres in the 1976 Japanese GP at Fuji (I was still at school then), or something of Senna and Prost warring at Suzuka in the late 1980s. I didn’t visit Japan until 2001 – a ridiculous oversight – and failed to wield a camera there until 2009, so the accompanying shots are more recent than many in this series. They show Michael Schumacher taking familiar liberties with the chicane kerbs in 2011, Esteban Gutiérrez attacking the second Degner Curve in 2013, a line of photographers taking pictures of that same Degner Curve as Kimi Räikkönen passes behind them through 130R, crowd favourite Kamui Kobayashi approaching the signature big wheel in 2012 and a few local fans.
There is nobody quite like them, nor anywhere else quite like this.
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