Japan is an intoxicating mix of breathtaking natural beauty, ancient culture and futuristic urban jungles. A paradise for tourists.
It’s also buzzing with energy, ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, set to be held for the second time in Tokyo. 1964 its last visit.
But, there’s more celebrations planned for this year, with the 45th running of the Japanese Grand Prix, its 35th as a World Championship event and the 31st held at Suzuka.
The Japanese race is an absolute classic… with the original, held at Fuji, 1976’s final round and championship decider.
Austrian Niki Lauda choosing to retire early from the sodden race and its treacherous conditions, the crown going to James Hunt. The entire roller coaster season made into a Hollywood blockbuster, Rush.
One that impressed Lauda, who sadly passed away earlier this year and will undoubtedly be remembered at this year’s race.
SOUNDBITE (English) NIKI LAUDA,
3-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I tell you, when I saw him in the movie, the first five minutes I thought it's unbelievable, what he could recuperate out of me in his own role there in the movie, it’s outstanding."
Fuji Speedway has hosted just four editions of the Japanese Grand Prix, the first two along with a short interlude in 2007 and 2008. Suzuka has hosted the rest, including all events since 2009.
And rightly so, with Suzuka one of the sport’s real drivers’ tracks… along with Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps, Monaco and Silverstone.
SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“Suzuka is a very fast and flowing track. So definitely that’s why for me it’s one of my favourites [on the 2019 calendar] because the first sector is really, really quick.”
Located an hour from Japan’s third largest city, Nagoya, the 5.8-kilometre track is shaped like a figure eight, and the only one on the calendar that has a crossover with 18 turns, eight left and 10 right, and a top speed of 310 kilometres an hour. Kimi Räikkönen retains his lap record from 2005 in a McLaren. There is just one DRS activation zone on the pit straight. The DRS detection point is just before the final chicane.
It’s also a home event for Honda, which owns the track…and held its own demonstration with Red Bull Racing in Tokyo pre-season to kick-start the passion for its new top team partnership.
… which is expected to fire-up local support with Red Bull Racing looking strong, enough for the podium at least.
Michael Schumacher remains the most successful in Japan with six wins and Lewis Hamilton able to equal him this year. Sebastian Vettel has four. Five drivers have two, including Fernando Alonso.
Ferrari’s Vettel and teammate Charles Leclerc will have lots of motivation this year with a competitive car, and a shot to take the Scuderia’s first win in Japan since Schumacher in 2004.
But Mercedes flies east with the Suzuka success, having won the last five. Hamilton four of those, including the last two-straight.
Qualifying is crucial at the Japanese track, given at the past 30 races the winner has come from the front row 26 times, and from pole position 15. Kimi Räikkönen, then with Mclaren, the big exception in 2005…
… when he stormed from 17th on the grid to take the lead from Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap, into Turn 1.
Thrilling, historic and fast… it’s time for the Japanese Grand Prix.