Formula 1 is Back in Japan Full Speed Ahead
Editor’s Note: Orinda Motors’ Xavier Estrada writes about his experience attending a Formula 1 Grand Prix Race in Japan, an experience that fuels the passion he has about cars working in Orinda.
It’s been three years, due to COVID-19, since the famous and beloved Suzuka Circuit in Japan has hosted an F1 Grand Prix. In 2022, the race track, which can accommodate over 150,000 spectators for a Formula 1 event, was back in full force.
The most iconic feature of the track is its “figure eight” layout, with the 1.2 km (0.75 mi) long back straight passing over the front section by means of an overpass. It is one of only two Formula One “figure eight” layouts on the world-wide circuit.
The entire event experience also encompasses parades, Honda Jet flybys, Honda’s Hall of Racing Cars and Motorcycles, booths packed with merchandise and food, interview stages, amusement park rides, F1 exclusive events and much more.
The Suzuka track, owned and built by Honda in the 1960s, has held many title-deciding races since it was included in the F1 calendar in 1987. Legendary Grand Prix names such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel won their World Drivers’ Championships there. The last Championship won in Japan was in 2011 by Vettel, who at the time was with Red Bull Racing.
This year (Oct. 6 – 9) Max Verstappen, with Red Bull Racing, was eligible to win his second Drivers’ Championship at Suzuka, if everything fell into place for him and his team. Honda partnered and powering Red Bull Racing was the main sponsor of the Grand Prix. The company hoped its driver, Verstappen, could win the Championship on home ground, just as Senna had accomplished with Honda in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
A wide online agreement suggests Japanese fans are the “best F1 fans.” Spectators arrive at the track sporting team gear; moreover, many show up wearing creative costumes supporting their teams and drivers. The Japanese fans’ enthusiasm for the sport, paired with culturally derived respectful natures, supports the widely known “best fans” complement I experienced first-hand.
Days leading up to the race were wet and gloomy, with the exception of a couple dry spells. Luckily, qualifying was dry, allowing all the drivers to push for better lap times to place higher on the grid for the race.
Of course, on race day it rained the hardest. The driver’s parade started dry, but by the time the Prime Minister of Japan gave his event-opening speech, it began to pour. The race started, but the weather took its toll on a few drivers on the first lap.
Visibility and grip were horrible; Carlos Sainz, a notable star, crashed his Ferrari and other drivers and teams took major damage to their cars in the resulting chaos, forcing a red flag. The session stopped for over an hour before the restart, with the race concluding under a clock as opposed to the traditional number of laps.
Verstappen was able to hold the needed P1 (first place), while his teammate Checo clinched P2 as the result of a last lap penalty, granting Verstappen his second World Drivers’ Championship at Honda’s home race.
I was fortunate enough to attend. The experience was surreal and memorable.
Xavier Estrada can be reached at email@example.com.