F1 GP: he inside line on the Japanese Grand Prix
What's Suzuka like to drive?
Suzuka takes in every type of challenge for a driver, starting immediately at turn one. A clean and measured approach is required from the beginning; exit speed is carried for the rest of the opening sector, including the famous Esses and Dunlop curve.
A chance to make up lost ground is on offer at Degner 1 and 2 – two classic corners – but it's easy to make a mistake and lose a pile of time – or worse. Passing under the bridge where the circuit crosses back on itself leads to one of the slowest parts of the lap at the hairpin. Next comes arguably the most exhilarating run of corners in the world. A fast sweeping right hand corner leads the drivers into a short braking zone for Spoon curve: a double apex left hander. After a straight comes the epic 130R corner – named for its 130-degree radius – requiring every ounce of concentration to avoid a massive accident. Compared to that, the chicane that comes next feels like travelling in slow-motion. A short open right-hander and a final sprint to the finish line completes a lap around the legendary Suzuka circuit. Not bad for a place originally intended just as a test track when built in 1962!
What's Suzuka like to watch?
There are two things to watch in Suzuka: the circuit, and the fans watching the circuit. The Japanese Grand Prix is well-known for having the best and most passionate fans of the season, and they often turn up to the race wearing elaborate costumes to demonstrate their enthusiasm. In the past, fans have come dressed as Ayrton Senna (complete with yellow helmet and perfect replica McLaren-Honda overalls), an entire Martini-liveried Williams Formula 1 car, Bernie Ecclestone, and even a P Zero tyre, mounted on a Pirelli cap. Being Japan, the whole fan experience is impeccably organised and unstintingly polite. There are grandstands overlooking all the highlights of the track, as described above, and spectating at Suzuka is always an orderly and delightful experience. One tip: bring plenty of wet-weather clothing, as while the atmosphere is always warm, the same can't be said of the climate. In the past, torrential rain has even oved qualifying to Sunday morning – but however bad the conditions, the spectators in the grandstands stay put and stay cheerful. They even cheer enthusiastically for Bernd Maylander and the Safety Car…
What's Suzuka like to visit?
Getting to Suzuka isn't easy: with no direct flights to the immediate vicinity, it's likely that the final part of the trip will take place on Japan's famous shinkansen bullet train – and that's an experience in itself. The best way to enjoy this transport phenomenon is to fly into Tokyo and enjoy a fascinating few days exploring Japan's capital before taking the train to Suzuka. Otherwise, the closest cities to fly into are Osaka and Nagoya; around a couple of hours away. Nagoya is the home of Toyota, and the Japanese giant's incredible museum in the city is well worth a visit for those who love car culture. Traditional Japanese culture can instead be found in the historic city of Kyoto, where it often feels like time has stood still – and it's less than a couple of hours away by car. Kobe is a similar distance: a must-see pilgrimage for dedicated carnivores, with Kobe beef being famous the world over. One more excellent day trip from Suzuka is Nara, known for its wild deer that wander around the park in the middle of the city. They're surprisingly tame, and very used to visitors. Or you could just hang around Suzuka, soak up the atmosphere, buy weird gadgets, and enjoy some of the best sushi you will ever have tasted. Japan is a true assault on the senses – and a trip you will never forget.