Formula 1 returns to the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time since 2019, with Suzuka hosting the Japanese Grand Prix, and you’ll find few in the paddock not excited to be back at the historic eight-shift.
The Honda-owned venue has been a nearly permanent fixture on the calendar since 1987, with 11 Drivers’ Championships sealed on the hallowed tarmac.
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Its curves are unmistakable symbols of our motorsport – and have been decisive for titles for 35 years.
The sweeping climbs are very fast and require precision, courage and commitment. They caught Nigel Mansell in practice at Suzuka’s first F1 event in 1987, the Brit suffered an injury that ruled him out of the race weekend and gave Williams team-mate Nelson Piquet a third title.
The chicane at the end of the lap was the scene of many successful overtaking maneuvers – but also numerous failed attempts, more famously than in 1989 when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna collided. Senna was disqualified – and Prost won the title.
And then there’s the fast, downhill first corner, scene – of course – of the infamous collision when Senna and Prost got too close again a year later to be uncomfortable. This time it was Senna who secured the title.
And I haven’t even talked about Spoon, the Epic Degners, and 130R. There isn’t a bad corner at the Suzuka Circuit. Not many circuits around the world can say that.
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There were many happy memories at Suzuka, Michael Schumacher ended Ferrari’s 21-year wait for a title when he triumphed at Suzuka in 2000. Four years earlier it was Damon Hill who defeated Suzuka and won an emotional first championship. Mika Häkkinen also won his two titles at the venue.
As the calendar has expanded, there have been fewer title deciders at Suzuka in recent years. The last time was in 2011, when Sebastian Vettel – who was still driving for Red Bull at the time – also celebrated his second championship title.
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Are we in line for another Red Bull driver to secure his second title at Suzuka? Max Verstappen is the overwhelming favorite to cross the line this weekend. The Dutchman has his own destiny in his hands and knows that a win and the fastest lap will earn him the crown no matter where his rivals finish.
Accomplishing the feat here would resonate with Verstappen as it was where he first drove an F1 car when he drove for Toro Rosso in FP1 in 2014.
Max Verstappen is looking forward to a possible title win in front of “incredibly passionate” Japanese fans
It’s also a home Grand Prix for Honda – who have a support deal with Red Bull Power Trains and announced this week that they will be expanding their partnership with Red Bull and AlphaTauri, marking the return of the Honda logo on includes the cars of both teams.
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Winning the title at Honda’s track would be a nice gesture for the engine manufacturer who invested so heavily in hybrid technology when returning to Formula 1 with McLaren before moving to the Red Bull family but officially exited it at the end of last season.
The Red Bulls are expected to be very quick around the sweeping corners of Suzuka, marking Verstappen as the favorite to win – and his team-mate Sergio Perez, the last winner in Singapore, is also likely to assess his chances.
Domestic favorite Yuki Tsunoda will also make a lot of eyes. The Japanese driver finally gets a chance to race F1 on home soil after last year’s event was canceled due to Covid-19.
The 22-year-old recently signed a new deal to stay with AlphaTauri for 2023 – in his third season – and will be hugely popular this weekend with his face plastered all over the venue.
The circuit was packed with fans known to be some of the most passionate in the world. They lined the streets outside the circuit and around the main gate hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
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Their costume outfits are incredible, with F1 car-shaped hats – complete with working DRS – a firm favorite. Others create extravagant driver face masks, complete racing suits or huge, colorful banners.
Some are even bringing anime cardboard cutouts of their favorite F1 personalities – from drivers to PR officers, mechanics to team bosses – and they’re just one example of gifts they’re bringing back for F1 staff.
It’s a place like no other and perhaps a fitting place for a title win should Verstappen deliver the performance that allowed him to defend his title with four races to go.