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Title hopefuls race in shadow of Ayrton Senna at Suzuka
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Title hopefuls race in shadow of Ayrton Senna at Suzuka
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Oct 2010   |  12:04 pm GMT  |  30 comments

Michael Schumacher has called it the “ultimate challenge” for drivers, Lewis Hamilton evoked the spirit of Ayrton Senna – there is no doubt that Suzuka is a special place in hearts and minds of drivers and fans alike.

This weekend the five championship hopefuls will resume their fight on the circuit where the title has been decided on many occasions.

Suzuka is symonymous with some of the most dramatic moments in the sport’s history, the infamous clashes between Senna and Prost which decided the 1989 and 1990 world championships, the duels between Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen, Damon Hill’s dramatic win in 1996 and of course the all time classic 2005 race in which Kimi Raikkonen came through the field to pass Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap to win.

The majestic 130R corner at Suzuka (Darren Heath)


Suzuka tests the car and driver to the limit, particularly in the sweeping corners of the first sector.

“From a driver’s point of view it is probably the highlight of the year,” said Schumacher today. “Mentioning the first sector, that’s the one. That’s what you look forward to. From a driver’s point of view that is the ultimate challenge and I really look forward to this one. It has been through all the years very exceptional.

“Drivers can give a great input on this kind of track, especially in the first sector, but nevertheless, the car is mega-important because of this first sector. If the response from the front end in particular, with all these longish corners, is weak, you suffer quite a lot and in this respect, looking at the nature of the Red Bull car, I think it’s going to be very strong in my view, but then I know that McLaren is pushing very hard on developments, so we will see whether they can keep up or not.”

Suzuka started life as a test track for the nearby Honda factory. The idea to build Suzuka came from the legendary founder of the motor company, Soichiro Honda.

Having established a significant factory at Suzuka, because of its proximity to a major port, he drew the initial layout, making use of the sweeping contours of the hills and then enlisted a Dutch architect, John Hugenholz, to make it a reality. The result is one of the most exciting and challenging race tracks in the world and the only F1 track which features a Figure 8 crossover point.

The unique atmosphere of Suzuka (Darren Heath)


“I think generally just coming here it has always been a track that I enjoyed watching whilst I was growing up,” said Lewis Hamilton. “Watching Michael race, watching Ayrton (Senna) race down here and (Alain) Prost. It seemed, at least while watching growing up, one of the very tough circuits but very much a driver’s circuit. Coming here for the first time last year was a great experience and looking forward to getting back out there.”


Senna’s spirit is very much alive this weekend as the new feature film documentary about his life and racing career opens in cinemas across Japan today. It will be shown tonight in the cinema at Suzuka. The main premiere of the film, attended by the Senna family, will be in Sao Paolo on the Wednesday before the Brazilian Grand Prix. It opens in Europe in 2011.

Ironically the race falls at a time of low Japanese involvement by historic standards; there are no Japanese engines on the grid for the first time in almost 30 years, only one driver, Kamui Kobayashi plus a stand-in, Sakon Yamamoto – and little in the way of Japanese sponsors.

Although Toyota is unlikely to return to F1, Japanese colleagues tell me that there is a possibility that Honda might want to get involved again – solely as an engine supplier – if the new engine rules for 2013 are set in a way which makes it attractive to them. The more green the new formula becomes, with the emphasis on energy regeneration systems – the more likely it is that they will want to face that challenge.

Let’s hope they do. Honda belongs in Formula 1.

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30 Comments
  1. PaulL says:

    To me 1989 Suzuka was the greatest head-to-head of all time.

    1. Yanny Rocha says:

      Totally agree. That race is an inspiration for me. Senna was stolen in that day.

  2. The Kitchen Cynic says:

    1994 was a classic as well – heavy rain, a two-part timed race which Hill somehow won, driving out of his skin. Plus the amazing in-car footage of the Alesi/Mansell battle as a bonus.

  3. Gubstar says:

    I am gutted that we wont get to see the Senna movie until next year! James, I am keeping my ears close to the ground on this site for when you manage to get the go-ahead for your private screening!!
    Lets hope the weather has an affect on qualifying this weekend so that it mixes up the grid a bit. There is nothing worse than when a truly great circuit doesnt provide great racing due to the modern cars crazy aero!
    Suzuka, along with Spa, Silverstone, Monaco, Montreal and Monza absolutely, positively must stay on the calendar!

    1. Stephen Kellett says:

      But you don’t get great racing at Monaco, you just get a giant train of cars that cannot overtake! How can you call that great racing?

      1. Galapago555 says:

        Well, I think it’s a great race – you see a giant train of cars running at 250 kph on the streets of one of the most glamourous cities of the world… and somtimes your see some of them overtaking. This year it was a very exciting race, at least IMO.

        This comes more obvious if you compare this with Hungary or Valencia. For me, Monaco is quite enjoyable, while Hungaroring and Valencia are extremely boring.

  4. Flavio Maciel says:

    The first thing that comes to mind when I see/hear Suzuka is the 1988 race.
    That is one of the best races I’ve ever seen in almost 30 years watching F1.
    Does anybody know when Senna’s movie will open in Europe/North America ?

    James, keep up the good work !!!!

    Cheers,

    Flavio

  5. Silverstone79 says:

    Michaels comments about how well the RedBull will be suited to this track seem to me to be more of a lowering of expectations of his own potential performance on a track he knows well and has mastered before……

  6. Paul Mc says:

    I really dont understand why Suzuka isnt the last race of the calendar anymore. I guess its all about the money these days.

    Ill never forget staying up to watch Schumi v Hakkinen in 1998 & 2000, the tension at the start of the race was immense. This track is the ultimate test and champions are born here.

    I predict a Vettel win with Lewis second and Mark third. Alonso will retire with engine problems.

    1. Galapago555 says:

      I would put my money on Alonso finishing ahead of both Seb and Lewis… not sure what Jenson will do, and Mark will IMO be also ahead of those three. So, a close fight between Fernando and Mark.

      Or, I would LIKE it to be that way… ;-)

  7. Gubstar says:

    Cont:
    And Interlagos & Singapore too!

    Circuits that we can lose:
    Bahrain (Keep Abu Dhabi)
    Sepang
    Melbourne (Go back to Adelaide!)
    Catalunya (Keep Valencia)
    Korea (whats the point, nobody out there cares for F1, and the track is in the middle of nowhere)
    Istanbul (Nobody turns up, because nobody cares)
    Shanghai (as above)
    Budapest (1 precession a year is enough with Monaco)
    Hockenhiem (Just keep it at the Nurburgring)

    New circuits that should join
    USA (Anybloodywhere just as long as there is a race!)
    Portimao
    Kylami

    1. Thomas says:

      Can’t agree with Budapest or Hockenheim. The Hungaroring should be boring on paper, but it just seem to throw up decent races. It’s not the first one on the list to go.

      Same goes for Hockenheim – it’s not a great track really, but neither is the nurburgring. And btw how did you forget Valencia on that list;)

      We could get Fuji back as well. Everybody seems to be hating on it, but both modern races turned out good.

      1. Gubstar says:

        I put valencia because barcelona has been neutered too much, and has been dull for 20 years! Valencia needs a little longer, and maybe a couple of tweaks to the layout

    2. JimmiC says:

      I agree with most of your choices, but Melbourne is an awesome race! And the Hungaroring still throws up a few corkers. Hockenheim – I’ve never liked the new layout, much preferred the old blast through the trees.

      1. Gubstar says:

        Yes, mebourne has produced so me great races, but Adelaide was far superior, and the crowds were huge beyond belief. Never a dull race

    3. Ben says:

      Lists like this are a pure fantasy and are as likely to emerge as a return to racing the original Nurburgring. They totally negate the fact that Formula 1 is a business and races in accordance to the international market that it caters for.

      F1 has established itself not just as the pinnacle of motorsport, but also a truly international event. If it was to pull out of places like China and the South East Asian markets that it has started to establish itself in its brand value would be significantly reduced. The marketing potential would be inhibited and the influx of new sponsors would be diminished, and possibly reduced.

      Those markets, as many nay sayers point out, don’t have a history of F1. Therefore, in order to attract more lucrative sponsorship deals they need some tangible connection to sport in the form of local races. You can’t create an audience over night, and it does take time. But Singapore has proven there is an appetite for the sport in that area of the sport.

      As for Turkey, when the race was first held it had a good turnout. However, the time of year was changed to a point at which most of the local population were working and the turnout fell accordingly.

      It should be pointed out that 150 million people watch F1 on TV. Assuming 150,000 people attend each race on average then in a 20 season event only 2% of F1 fans attend one race live per year in a 20 race season. (And races are watched live by 0.1% of F1 fans)

      When it is decided which races should be axed, the criteria you are suggesting is not one that is used, or can realistically be used. It is as much a fantasy as suggesting we race at Rainbow Road. The financial power of the sport would disappear, the marketing potential of the sport would be crippled and the grid would be composed of far fewer teams, operating at a standard of HRT with a much larger proportion of pay drivers in order to make it stand up.

      2010 has produced one of the most closely fought seasons, with one of the best matches of competitive drivers in competitive machinery in the history of the sport. Most of the races have been entertaining. Most of the drama has been on track.

      That is the result of a finely balanced ecosystem. I am not suggesting it is the romantic ideal that we dream of, but it is the reality.

      Finally, it is something of a fallacy to suggest that if we knock out one unpopular track we will return to a classic one. The F1 calendar used to be 16 races, the calendar has been expanded to include Korea and India. If new races drop out, it is unlikely that we will see old classics return in their place. It is expensive to hold an F1 event and bar the British GP, none are profitable. Nurburgring and Hockenheim have both made noises to this regard and it is one of the reasons they alternate. It allows them to keep the F1 brand attached to their circuit, but halving the cost.

      It also costs the teams money to attend the races and they are unlikely to want to go to extra races which do not interest their sponsors.

  8. Robert Powers says:

    In 1987 F1 returned to Japan,a victory for Berger in the resurgent Ferrari-a John Barnard tweaking of a Gustav Brunner design.It ended up as the most beautiful Turbo car ever.

    Nelson Piquet clinches his third world title as Nigel Mansell’s shunt ends the championship battle two races early.

    And not lost in all this hubbub was one of the greatest drives in F1 history….in the opening laps Alain Prost’s McLaren-TAG was limping in with a cut tire.It would be forty laps before the dethroned champ could make a pass.In the end he finished seventh with no points.But he had made an impression on Nigel Roebuck who described Prost as having been in dead “stone” last!

    1. Pierre says:

      Don’t agree, the most beautiful turbo car ever was:
      from a graphic point of view, the JPS Lotus renault
      from a performance and car design point of view, the 1988 great MP4/4.

  9. Andrew Myers says:

    Isn’t Sakon Yamamoto driving here? So 2 Japanese drivers?

    And it would be wonderful to see Honda back as an engine supplier – here’s hoping that eventuates.

  10. DA says:

    Does anyone have any idea where the best place place to watch at Suzuka is? I’m hoping to go next year.

  11. christos pallis says:

    From Schumachers comments he’s already throwing excuses as to why he will be having a bad weekend here, “the response from the front end in particular” is something the mercedes has been missing all year according to Schumacher! I hope McLaren manage to thrust themselves back into the hunt this weekend, but i suspect a redbull and ferrari fight for the front.

  12. michael says:

    only one Japanese driver? Have you forgotten about (admittedly rubbish) HRT driver Yamamoto?

    1. Gilberto says:

      I think it is quite easy to forget about HRT…

  13. Andy C says:

    Suzuka for me is one of the absolutely best race tracks in the world.

    One of the most memorable overtakes was Eddie Irvine (think he was at Ferrari) when he overtook someone on the outside of the esses.

    I also loved watching the youtube footage of Ayrton driving the NSX at its launch, and just getting in his slipon shoes and absolutely flying round the track.

  14. Shane says:

    Honda most definitely belongs in F1. I think it was a mistake for them to abandon their team when they did, such a shame.

    Supplying F1 engines is in their DNA, they need to do this.

  15. craig says:

    Has Yamamoto still got ‘food poisoning’ then? Think i’ll have a nap later and get up again for pratice 1 :).

  16. F1Novice says:

    Alonso went up a notch or two in my estimation with this ballsy move on Schumacher around the outside of the incredible 130R in 2005

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4308680410352474511#

  17. Steven Boyd says:

    I’m with the previous poster, F1Novice on this one – Alonso does the pass and makes the turn at 320km/h!!!

    Senna Doc: Looks absolutely amazing. I look forward to seeing this with my father, as it was those years and title battles that my appreciation of F1 was built, and we really bonded through that period. Seeing the trailer for the Senna documentary really begs the question AGAIN: what would the rest of the 90s looked like with Senna still in the picture? 7 titles for Schumacher? I don’t think so…..

    Now give us the same doc treatment for Gilles Villeneuve!

  18. Ricado says:

    James,

    I think the main premiere of the Senna film will be in São Paulo (not “Sao Paolo”).

    Cheers

  19. Phil says:

    Suzuka is just a Mickey Mouse track. Fuji is clearly the better Japanese track

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