Suzuka. A circuit where countless F1 World Championships have been won and lost, one of the oldest remaining F1 Championship circuits still in use by FIA as an F1 venue, one of the few figure-of-eight circuits in the world, and a place loved by both drivers and fans alike.
Located in Mie Prefecture in the middle of the main island (Honshu) of the Japanese archipelago around 230 miles from Tokyo, Suzuka is a small industrial city on the sea that contains several universities and, uniquely, signs in Japanese and Portugese due to the large South American migrant population that work in the Sharp and Honda factories. It also is the home of one of the most anticipated races in the F1 calendar, the Japanese GP, usually either the penultimate race or the season-ender before the schedule has expanded in recent years.
The Suzuka circuit, built in 1962 as a Honda test-track and still owned by the company (through a subsidiary) is one of the most well-known and best-loved F1 venues-the chances if you've ever played a popular racing game, you've driven round a version of it-it was a key part of such classics as Super Monaco GP, the Gran Turismo series, pretty much any F1 game since 1987 and, in its truncated "East Circuit" form, even NASCAR 98. Under its iconic ferris wheel, championships have been decided often, and we've seen some of the most legendary moments in F1 history, such as the spine-tingling feud between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna (three consecutive championships were decided thanks to battles between the two McLaren drivers at Suzuka between 1988 and 1990...and if you're not sure how bad this feud was-it makes the current battle between Mercedes drivers look like a romantic dinner by comparison). This is the 1989 battle. This one is their crash in 1990. 1989 saw Senna disqualified (eventually) for external assistance-1990, though, saw Senna win the title.
Suzuka hosted its first Japanese GP in 1987 (although there was a non-championship F1 race there in 1963)-before then, the first few Japanese GPs had been held at the terrifyingly quick Mount Fuji Speedway. The race briefly left Suzuka again in 2006 and 2007 for Fuji, but has been hosted in Suzuka ever since.
A LAP OF THE CIRCUIT
Suzuka is the only figure eight in F1...the track actually crosses over itself on the back straight, using a flyover. The drivers love this winding, fast, rollercoaster of a track, and so do the spectators. It's also not been changed much, if at all, since 2009-which is rare for many circuits. Here's the layout in all its glory.
From the start, F1 cars blast downhill towards the sea-where most of the weather fronts known and feared by F1 teams roll in from..reaching 200mph before flicking the car right in fifth, dancing over the bumps into the first corner, then braking again downhill to third for the second right-hander. Back uphill immediately with a squirt of the throttle the car dives into the Esses-an uphill left-right-left in fourth with a gentle touch of the brake to third in the middle corner, before over the brow of the hill and straight into a long, long fourth-gear downhill right that seems to go on far longer than it should
Out of that, you're spat straight back uphill, accelerating all the time round the blind, climbing left up Dunlop Curve-swing back over the brow of the hill in fifth and watch for the entrance to the Degner Curves-the first, a quick fourth-gear flick left, is on you before you know it and then all the way down to second for the second part of the corner.
Accelerating out of here you pass under the back straight before drifting right and then braking all the way down to first gear for the hairpin-a great place to pass thanks to the widening, open exit and heavy braking on the way in. Then accelerate to 180 mph, climbing and sweeping right before the evil downhill double-apex Spoon Curve-down to fourth for the first, down again to third as the track drops steeply away beneath you, and then POOOOWEEEERRRR as you weld your foot to the floor for the blast up and over the crossover on the back straight, setting up for one of the most terrifying corners in world motor-racing.
130R doesn't sound like a scary name-(in fact it's simply the original radius of the corner) but it is one of the Great Corners-one that requires balls the size of watermelons to negotiate properly. Originally a single corner, it's now a double-apex left hander that's taken absolutely flat-out at nearly 200mph...the easiest way to get through it is simply breathe deeply, haul the wheel left, and hang on as the car threatens to get fired through the metal fence by the merest bump (this happened to Toyota's Allan McNish in 2003). 130R is an absolute cast-iron bastard of a corner. Out of there, though, you're on the home stretch. Mash the brake pedal again to bring the car down to 2nd gear for the Casio Chicane-right, left, and accelerate downhill sweeping left all the time to get back onto the start-finish straight. If you've done it in 1:35, that's a quickie.
Suzuka gains at least some of its mystique in European fans' eyes by the fact that it's a race that takes place in the wee small hours due to time differences. Combine that with the historic battles that have gone on on this circuit and add in the chance of history repeating and Hamilton and Rosberg taking each other out in spectacular style.
Oh yeah, and Suzuka hates tyres, too, so you can have tank-slapping slides, huge crashes and all manner of unpredictable weather. This place is definitely one where anything can happen.
And that's why F1 fans love it.