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Hamilton raves about Suzuka circuit
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Hamilton raves about Suzuka circuit
Posted By: James Allen  |  02 Oct 2009   |  11:03 am GMT  |  71 comments

Lewis Hamilton had his first taste of Suzuka today, a track which he admits he has always dreamed of racing on.

Photo:McLaren

Photo:McLaren


A lot of this has to do with his great admiration for Ayrton Senna. Hamilton has a yellow crash helmet styled after Senna’s and is well aware that many of the most iconic moments in the Brazilian’s career happened here, like the championship -deciding collisions with Alain Prost in 1989 and 1990. Hamilton is unusual among drivers in having a pretty good knowledge of and interest in, F1 history.

Even though it was a bit of a washout today, especially the second session, a dry line did appear towards the end of the morning session and Hamilton has got the buzz,

“I love the track. For me it’s the best track I’ve ever driven, ” he said. “It’s different from Monaco and the street circuits. We weren’t supposed to go out in the second session but I couldn’t help it, I had to go out and have some fun.

“The track is very special, I’ve always wanted to drive here since the very early stages, when I was watching Formula 1, I remember what happened here in 1989. Yesterday I was walking the track and I was thinking, “This is where it happened with Ayrton and Prost and then there’s turn one and all there is so much history here. I got on the track this morning and the first couple of laps are quick. I’m just looking forward to getting out there in the dry and seeing how much you can push on this track.

Given what’s happened recently in Formula 1, it’s quite ironic that people still look back nostalgically on those incidents, where Senna and Prost settled their differences – and the championship – by deliberately crashing into each other. The second one was really fierce, Senna driving Prost off the road at over 120mph going into turn one. Everyone knew he was going to do it, even Prost knew he was going to do it, yet somehow everyone forgave him and no action was ever taken.

No-one else from his team was involved in it, but if you compare what happened then with Piquet’s premeditated crash at Singapore, it shows how times and attitudes have changed.

Hamilton says that the fact that all the running has been wet will make tomorrow’s one hour dry practice session a really big challenge,

“Tomorrow we will have to predict how the wind’s going to be, affecting our gear ratios, predicting the downforce levels, tyre temperatures. There’s quite a lot to guess. For those of us drivers who haven’t been here before even though we’ve driven it in the wet, it’s completely different in the dry. Tomorrow it’s going to be a serious challenge of who’s going to be the quickest at getting on the ball.”

The management here has done a great job in upgrading the facilities, without losing the character of the place. The paddock is similar to before, but the rabbit warren of team offices, has been replaced by semi permanent tents, like in Fuji.

The track has been resurfaced since we were last here in 2006, but Bridgestone are on top of it. It’s a very high grip surface apparently.

I love it here, always have. It’s not so popular among many of the team and media personnel because the hotel rooms are tiny, there is only Japanese food to eat (which is fine by me) and all the signs are in Japanese.

But Hamilton is right; here you feel the history, it’s not Monza-type history with the pre-war heroes and the banking. This is recent history, epic nonetheless, forged by men like Senna, Prost and Mansell.

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71 Comments
  1. Stephen Hill says:

    “This is recent history, epic nonetheless, forged by men like Senna, Prost and Mansell.”

    Don’t forget Schumacher and Häkkinen.

  2. Matt W says:

    James, I respectfully disagree with you. What Piquet did was done covertly to influence the result of a race in favour of a team mate, to secure his own drive for the following season. The stakes were not that high, and he crashed on his own for no reason.

    What Prost and Senna did was done up front when a world championship was on the line, the pinnacle of their achievement in the sport, when they were side by side. Further, Senna’s crash was done more in response to what happened the year before to give Prost a taste of his own medicine, and what had happened that weekend with the moving of the pole position to the dirty side of the track. Both were still wrong, but more on the line of professional fouls than “match fixing”.

    People look back fondly because it was an awesome rivalry resolved on the track when both drivers seemed happy to go as far as they could to win. Both of them benfitted from it, so the events cancelled each other out.

    1. Skanda says:

      Cant agree more!

      1. Martin says:

        The pole position wasn’t moved. Senna was annoyed at the failure to move it. Up to that point pole had the inside line to the corner at most tracks. There were a few races that year that had pole on the outside, but in all three prior years at Suzuka pole was on the inside.

        89 was a case of Senna diving up the inside in a move that would have led to a slow exit from the chicane. Prost raced through the turbo era where passes could be made on the straight, so this probably led to his feeling that Senna’s driving (often necessary these days to pass) was a bit uncouth. Senna needed to pass to stay in the championship and the collision was more like Schumacher and Villeneuve in 97.

        I’m not sure who fondly remembers a guy ramming into the back of an opponent to stop the other guy winning. The consensus at the time was that the Ferrari was a better race car at Suzuka after winning at Estoril and Jerez, with Honda power (and Senna) making the difference in qualifying. We might fondly remember Senna’s emotional commitment to racing, but I think we would have preferred to see a race to the end.

        The reference to side-by-side is a bit marginal too. From the five photos in Autocourse Senna gets as far as having his front wing inline with Prost’s rear wheel. Senna’s left front tyre broke the rear wing off Prost’s car.

        89 was a petulant reaction by Prost to a bold or desperate overtaking move. 89 was probably the only thing that saved Senna in 90 as in my opinion there zero chance to pass into a near non-existent braking zone. At the time there was outrage, but it is sport, not war, and people do relax. To whom does it really that Senna rather than Prost won in 1990 now? For some Senna would still be the best ever. Gilles Villeneuve gets a glowing reputation for winning six races and finishing second to Jody Scheckter in equal cars… (and being 11s a lap faster in a wet practice session that no-one else cared about at the time).

        And then there’s fans and Lewis vs Fernando…

  3. Tomek says:

    Cool, but what about other drivers? Everyone of them praise Suzuka, why make it Hamilton-centered story?

    1. Charlie F1 says:

      1. Because he is the World Champion.
      2. Because he is a self confessed Senna fan.
      3. He was probably more excited than the rest to drive there.

      If you don’t want to read a “Hamilton-centered story” probably best to check the title first “HAMILTON RAVES ABOUT SUZUKA CIRCUIT”.

    2. James D says:

      Why on earth shouldn’t it be a Hamilton-centred story? In this case the Hamilton angle works very well, and has resulted in a much more interesting article than “All the drivers like Suzuka” would have been. Do you think James should only base his stories around drivers you approve of or something?

    3. artorwar says:

      His first race here and he is obviously more verbose and enthusiastic about the weekend. As James says, Hamilton is a real fan, not just a driver, he knows all the video games, he loves the history. I think this is an interesting story and would be happy to read a similar thing about any driver, any talk of bias is nonsense, James is like King Solomon,

      1. Siverstoned says:

        I’m beginning to warm to Hamilton after reading a quote from him today saying that he used to watch Kimi and Alonso racing each other and now feels privileged to be racing against both:
        “I consider them to be the greats” he said.

        Do you think he is starting to mellow a little, James? and do you know if the quote is actually true….

      2. Declan says:

        He is a very astute commentator/journalist who clearly covers F1 as impartially as humanly possible, but he is certainly not King Solomon.

    4. Mike from Medellin, Colombia says:

      1) Because it was LH’s first time at Suzuka
      2) We are back at Suzuka for the first time since 2006. It is good to get the World Champion’s feelings on the circuit.

      3) Did Jonathan Legard put you up to this? I have noticed that there are some unusual posts with repetitive praise on his BBC F1 blog. Two people even wrote to ask if there was a Jonathan Legard fan club. He must be feeling the heat.

      1. john g says:

        eh? who mentioned legard. i (and i reckon a lot of others) try not to think about him too much… spoils a nice day.

  4. rpaco says:

    “Very high grip” Probably means very high tyre wear.
    Will tyres be an issue in the dry here?

    Surely when it is known that it always rains in Japan they could take more inters and wets with them so as to allow some practice.

    The paper boat floating past the garages was the highlight of Q2 this morning, it was going well, until a most unsporting marshal picked it up and I suspect unknowingly rendered several bets void.

    1. George says:

      I’d guess they’ll struggle with overheating more than wearing in the dry, I’m hardly an expert on tires though.

      I actually quite enjoyed the practice sessions this morning, I find Ant and Crofty quite entertaining which helps to fill in the gaps, add in the awesome Japanese fans, the unusual pictures of everyone lazing around and the quite in-depth interviews the BBC managed to take in the middle of the session…it was interesting if not exciting.
      I did feel rather sorry for the spectators though, if you’re going to get soaked like that you should at least get some show to compensate, this makes me feel that tires used on friday shouldn’t count towards the weekend’s quota, costs be damned.

      1. john g says:

        the japanese fans are amongst the best i’ve ever seen. you don’t get many venues where they are still in the grandstands until 8 or 9 watching the teams work – on a thursday (so not even any action on track!!)

    2. Barry says:

      Your noting the paper boat reminds me of a baseball game I was taken to by a friend that lived in Seattle. We were sitting way up in the third level out behind right center field. The pitcher was warming up on the mound, and all of a sudden a paper airplane started floating out from somewhere up in our seating area. It was amazing, It floated porpoise like all the way to the pitcher’s mound and landed right behind the pitcher, who happened to see it as he returned to the start of his windup. He stopped, bent down , picked it up and crumpled it into his pocket.
      I thought he should have sent it to the Smithsonian Air museum, after all it flew about 275- 300 ft.
      Sorry, I know this is off topic, but I have to suffer through Cricket and football here on occasion, so I thought you folks might enjoy a little baseball.
      Just kidding.
      Barry

      1. rpaco says:

        Baseball, is that the one that’s like rounders?
        (only player by junior school children as a rule)

  5. Peter G says:

    I agree with him. I recall seeing the 1988 Grand Prix on TV, and it was magical.
    The 1989 race was brilliant , and to see Senna driving there, with manual ear changes through Dunlop curve….So different to todays cars.
    I was fortunate to live in Japan from 1993 to 1997, and had a photographers pass for the circuit. It was great to go around the track even in the photographers bus.
    I am looking forward to seeng qualifying tomorrow…. Roll on.
    Tracks like Suzuka, Spa and Monza, give me hope for some decent racing

  6. Charlie says:

    Great circuit.

    Raikkonen 05.

    Nuff said.

    1. chris says:

      05 was incredible.

      James, would suzuka 05 rank in your top 5 grand prix commentaries of all time? That would be an interesting read.

      Suzuka is by far my favorite grand prix. The racing is always great and the fact that you have to get up in the middle of the night makes it more memorable.

      1. James Allen says:

        Definitely! I’ll never forget the race, it was action all the way with three superstars starting from the back half of the grid. Then that last lap…

      2. AlexD says:

        Who was the third superstar alongside Alonso and Kimi? The race was not from this planet! Kimi did such a great race, one of his best. I just recently watched it 2 times:-)

    2. Fuchsia says:

      poor ol fisi, suzuka sure brings back fond memories of getting passed by kimi on the last lap.

      looking forward to real racing after singapore’s boring parade.

    3. cile says:

      Suzuka 05 was an epic race. Championship was already decided so Kimi and Alonso were free to race. Both made moves on Michael (Alonso twice). They were helped a bit by Safety Car, but still amazing results.

      There was that strange incident with Alonso and Klien where Alonso went wide and gained advantage and passed him after letting Klien in front. Then, some three laps later he had to let Klien pass him again and lost more than 7 seconds. Very similar to Spa with Hamilton and Kimi.

  7. Richard Mee says:

    You lucky boy James! I’ll have to be content with a nice comfy sofa, a few mates, some sweet coffee and a fry-up. Could be worse. Enjoy!

    1. James Allen says:

      Get some sushi in and some tinnies of Asahi

      1. artorwar says:

        Haha, encouraging drinking at stupid-o-clock UK time :) Dont mind if I do.

      2. monktonnik says:

        Ahhh, Asahi is my 2nd favourite beer. Not sure about the sushi though!

      3. Peter G says:

        Asahi ” Super Dry ” Only beer worth drinking…ever. Then Kirin, then Sapporo.

        I agree with Monktonnik. Can’t handle Japanese food, even after living there for 5 years..

  8. CarlitosF1 says:

    Absolutely awesome track, no doubt, plus a real test for the rookies out there. Love that 1st sector’s sweeping curves, they make the Silverstone esses look easy to negotiate.

    I foresee Alguersuari and Grosjean struggling badly here. BTW James, time for a post on how these two guys are doing? Alguersuari may be trying his best to stay out of trouble is worryingly slow (he drives a brick but Buemi is squeezing that brick way better than him, and 1.5 secs per lap is a Badoer-like lag, isn’t it?) Grosjean isn’t exactly shining either…

    1. TinyJim says:

      Beumi had a full winters testing and a many more races to get used to the car. It hugely unfair to say Jaime is ‘worryingly’ slow when you have zero data to compare him to.

      1. CarlitosF1 says:

        No intention to bash Alguersuari whatsoever, as a spaniard I’d even like him to succeed big time.

        But I just don’t see his laptimes any close in qualifying and race to his teammate, particularly in Singapore, a venue that was also new for Buemi. And by ‘not any close’ I mean fastest personal lap in the race some 1.8 secs slower than Buemi’s. I could understand him being an average of 6 / 7 tenths off the pace due to his inexperience but nearly 2 seconds… In F1 that’s a fortnight!!

  9. Pierre says:

    James, I think you should make a difference between 1989 (Prost deliberately “closed the door”(and low speed and few risks)) and 1990 (Senna deliberately “bumped” the Ferrari (120 Mph and more risky)). Even if the result if the same, the way it happened is different.

    1. James Allen says:

      I do make the distinction; I said the second one was ‘fierce’

      1. Jonathan says:

        Maybe “outrageous” would be a better word! It makes Schumacher’s escapades look innocuous by comparison.

  10. Alistair Blevins says:

    Are tickets still available by a lottery system at Suzuka, or have those days passed?

  11. “But Hamilton is right; here you feel the history, it’s not Monza-type history with the pre-war heroes and the banking. This is recent history, epic nonetheless, forged by men like Senna, Prost and Mansell.”

    ..and long may the history be written here. So glad to see it back on the calendar!

  12. F1 Kitteh says:

    Yes times have changed, they were much braver and really prepared to give everything (including their lives….) to get what they want and believe is correct. (Not that I’m condoning putting other people’s lives at risk but if you want it THAT badly and prepared to make the sacrifice then you deserve it !) Guess people nowadays are all about political correctness isn’t it ? Doesn’t look good for any chance of JV coming back then..

  13. Bruce says:

    Never mind Senna, Prost and Mansell.

    It seems poetic to me that the last time we were here Alonso overtook Schumacher on the outside of 130R.

    As an F1 and Ferrari fan I’m salivating about the return to Suzuka and next season in general. F1 just gets better and better!

    1. AlexD says:

      Yes, but his car was 1 sec per lap faster….do not forget it.

  14. Tom says:

    I thought the colour of his helmet was decided by his dad. He wanted him to have a brightly coloured helmet so that he could see him coming out of the first corner clearly whilst karting so that he knew he was safe.

    Yes, I’m that pedantic.

  15. Paul Mc says:

    Suzuka has always been a special circuit and one that should never leave the F1 calendar.

    Im hoping for a wet race on Sunday, it will spice things up and add more excitement. I predict a Hamilton win and Button to seal the WDC…

  16. Nash says:

    James, any more impressions from Kimi that he is losing his love for F1 (which I and many others hope not).

    Noble mentioned that he walked twice through the Mclaren garage..how was the reaction to that?

    How does Lewis (and Anthony) see the possible arrival of Kimi?

    When would Mclaren announce their line up?

  17. Rob says:

    Really really love Suzuka!!

  18. Stu says:

    Great article James, I agree in Suzuka being a bit of a modern classic – F1 really shouldn’t race anywhere else in Japan. As a boy as I always transfixed by the massive scalextric feel of the track, it’s quite unique.

    I think my favourite memory is from ’93 when Eddie Irvine in his first race memorably unlapped himself past Senna. Classic!!

  19. Williams4Ever says:

    James – I concur what someone else has mentioned here. Suzuka, with Spa , Monza ( and Silverstone) are beloved circuits of everybody Drivers, Engineers, and last but not least Fans (though Fans should have been not least important, but thats how F1 treats them).

    So whats all the deal about –

    a) “Hamilton is unusual among drivers in having a pretty good knowledge of and interest in, F1 history.”

    b) “I love the track. For me it’s the best track I’ve ever driven, ” – Don’t all the drivers give comments on these very lines, I am sure they (including) will do the same lip service every time a new track in unveiled on calendar, remember Turkey (oooh the 180), China .. and very soon we will hear the same for Abu Dhabi and what wonderful circuit it is.

    Only time I heard driver frankly telling about circuit was Jarno Trulli on Indy – “Its a pretty Boring circuit, only challenge is to find optimum balance on car setup for Long Straight vs the twisty infield, but its pretty much a flat circuit no gradient, but for some on the banking section.”

    1. Phil says:

      Webber was very blunt about his feelings for the Valencia circuit this year.

      1. john g says:

        yeah they do make it known when they don’t enjoy a circuit. one that sticks out in my mind was webber again, saying the design of Fuji must have been on mushrooms!

  20. guy says:

    Hi james – thanks for another excellent blog your website is my first read for F1 opinion. Out of interest how much time do you spend on your blog each day?

  21. Williams4Ever says:

    “It shows how times and attitudes have changed.”

    Indeed true, Suddenly Nurburgring’05 came to my mind, when a team left driver with “Car in unsafe condition” on track to go for a win and nobody said, anything, applauded the racing spirit of the team. Compare that with Recent Renault hearing of “Unsafe release of driver”.

    I am sure what happened in Singapore’08 was thought about by other teams and there might have been cases in long history of sport that something similar must have been tried. But it was Renault that got caught only because the driver in question was fired. If the driver was still having his drive, nobody would have talked about it, though everything about that crash and resulting win for the team smelled fishy from onset

  22. T Jones says:

    Tomek,did you read the article?

    James Allen wrote:

    Hamilton is unusual among drivers in having a pretty good knowledge of and interest in, F1 history.

  23. Daniel Gomes says:

    Outstanding post, James. My mind really went tripping reading that one.

    I´m a journalist myself and I reckon being an F1 journo is about as good as it gets second only to being an actual F1 driver. I really only wish I could travel all around the world talking and writing about the sport I love the most.

    Thanks for sharing all your thoughts and info on our beloved F1.

    Regards from Brazil!

  24. TK says:

    Wonder if those nifty upgrades there in suzuka could be an example for silverstone to follow?

  25. Chris Bird says:

    Don’t forget Damon Hill’s superb drive in the wet in 1994. He raised his game considerably that day taking on and beating Schumacher in the rain. In my view the drive of Damon’s career and best drive of 1994.

    1. Peter G says:

      I was there shooting in 1994. Yes, I agree with you. Damon drove briliantly that day. Still have a nice 12″ x 15″ Ciba chrome of him in the wet. ( and its not for sale) Funny, 1993 was wet when Senna won, and 1994 as well. Both were interesting races, but, Suzuka in the wet is no fun for photography. Nice shots of course, but, dragging camera gear around there is hard work.

  26. Brace says:

    hamilton’s ever happy face makes me sick. he raves about suzuka? from what i’ve read, it’s quite wet over there right now, and that probably means he can’t go as fast and feel the track flow as it does in dry. all those fast curves don’t feel that great if they aren’t taken as fast as in the dry. plus, how many laps he did all together till now?

    1. raffamuffin says:

      Jealous much?

    2. Mary says:

      What are you on about? Seriously you need to get some help

    3. Barry says:

      Brace, Perhaps you could give us all some details about your fastest lap there in the dry, as I’m sure we all wait with baited breath to hear it. I’m assuming you actually drove there and not on some video game.
      I’d also enjoy hearing you further expound on how easy it is to drive a 750 hp F1 car on a wet track, as so far as I’m aware, aquaplaning and lack of visibility make it rather difficult.

    4. F1 Kitteh says:

      A marketeer’s job is to get your sponsor’s logo onto the front page.

  27. Med says:

    He says he remembers what happened there in ’89 – I can’t say I remember much of anything from when I was 4…

  28. John M says:

    Great to see F1 back at Suzuka. It’s an awesome track that makes the new street and Tilke circuits pale in comparison, in my opinion. As others said, let’s hope circuits like Suzuka, Spa, Monza, Silverstone stay on the calendar.

    To follow up on another comment made about Senna at Suzuka running through the gears. Personally, I’d love to see F1 regulate a return to clutches and manual gear changes. Put a little more driver skill back into the sport and add a little uncertainty at the same time. It wasn’t long ago that missing a gear would get you passed.

    Anyway, great to see the boys back at Suzuka.

  29. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

    I thought all along that Hamilton would be right at home at Suzuka. He seems to really excel on technical and street circuits, and this is a higher-speed technical circuit.

  30. SteveB says:

    James
    Love the Website; lots of insight, lots of knowledge and always ahead of the game. Thanks. One question though… The ‘mobile’ version was great for easy navigation on my iPod; I could go straight to any story or the comments, but it seems to have disappeared! Any plans to bring it back? Thanks

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes. We are working on it.

  31. Werewolf says:

    To those of us that have loved F1 for longer than we care to remember, it’s really great to see a talented young driver acknowledge our sport’s history; even more so when he is bowled over by a truly great circuit.

    A former colleague of yours, James, once said to me so regretfully, “Schumacher doesn’t give a sh*t about F1′s heritage” and that approach is such a shame. F1 is exciting, vibrant and, quite rightly, utterly modern but its past offers the greatest sporting heritage on the planet.

    1. DAN says:

      If my memory serves me well my favorite Japanese driver Takuma Sato is also quite knowledgeable about F1′s history.
      I was him a few time at Goodwood’s FoS and you could see he enjoyed being there big time.

      James I saw on the formula1.com photo gallery that Taku is in Suzuka, please if you have a chance ask him what his prospects are for next year, ta!

      1. DAN says:

        I meant to say: I saw him.

      2. James Allen says:

        Not looking great, apparently

  32. Andrew says:

    Its great that Suzuka is back in the fold. I saw Damon Hill win his championship there in ’96.

    However (& this probably goes against the grain of general opinion!), I feel its a shame that the original plan to alternate with Fuji seems to have been dropped. Its clear that Fuji isn’t near being the racing track of Suzuka, but it has a unique atmosphere of its own up in the foothills of the mountain.

    I went to the last 2 races there – Hamilton’s win in the rain was truly magical (& I guess the Hunt race must have been…). Only after the race ended did the sky clear and the setting reveal itself. It was like the mountain had to show its hand in the race…

    Last year sat at the first corner and enjoyed a great battle lap after lap between Kimi and Kubica.

    Hopefully, once the economic situation has settled in a few years time, Fuji & Suzuka might alternate as planned. Variety is the spice of life and all that…

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