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.
“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.
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.