The Japanese Grand Prix has been part of the Formula One calendar since 1976, when Fuji was the original host, before the race was moved to the Suzuka International Racing Course in 1987, after a ten year break from being a F1 venue.
The Grand Prix was moved back to Fuji for two seasons in 2007 and 2008, before returning to Suzuka in 2009, and there it has remained. Its figure of eight layout makes it unique, and one of the most challenging tracks on the calendar to drive, and with the chance of rain highly likely, it is a track that is loved by drivers and fans alike.
Aida in Japan has also hosted a F1 event, but it was the location of the Pacific Grand Prix, which was only held during the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Mario Andretti was the first ever driver to take victory in Japan, doing so in style as he came across the line with a lap in hand over everybody else. Driving for Lotus, the American qualified in second place and in treacherous conditions won what was to become a highly controversial race, when James Hunt was crowned world champion as Niki Lauda withdrew from the event, due to the torrential rain.
There have been a total of 20 F1 drivers hailing from Japan, though two of those never made it to the start line. Aguri Suzuki and Kamui Kobayashi were the most successful of the contingent, both even making it to the podium on home soil in 1990 and 2012 respectively.
Michael Schumacher has taken the most victories on Japanese soil with six wins, two ahead of fellow countryman Sebastian Vettel who has interestingly finished on the podium in every single race he has started at Suzuka.
The McLaren F1 team is the most successful squad to compete at the Japanese Grand Prix, with nine wins, two of which were when powered by Japanese engine manufacturer Honda, and two more victories than the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team, who are next on the list.
There have been some action packed and exciting races at this Pacific Ocean island venue across the years, where many a F1 champion has been crowned in the past. Here are a few interesting moments and facts from Japanese Grand Prix gone by:
What’s a few tenths between team-mates?
The 1991 Japanese Grand Prix saw the smallest ever winning margin for an F1 race at Suzuka, when Gerhard Berger crossed the line just 0.344 seconds ahead of team-mate Ayrton Senna.
The Brazilian had led the race from Lap 18 onwards before backing off at the final corner and letting his fellow McLaren-Honda colleague through to take victory, and making good his pre-race agreement, that whoever led the opening laps of the race should win it.
Alesi aqua baby…
Despite his unquestionable brilliance, Jean Alesi only ever claimed victory in one grand prix, a statistic that belies some of the spectacular displays we saw from the French-Sicilian throughout his career. One such performance was during the 1995 Japanese Grand Prix, in the wet, a condition in which he was something of a master.
Having qualified in second place and on the front row of the grid, Alesi jumped the start and was handed a ten second stop-go penalty, which he served almost immediately, finding himself at the back of the pack.
One lap later the Ferrari driver pitted for slick tyres, a risky move considering the forecast but one that worked to perfection as Alesi charged his way through the field, with the rest of the drivers still on wets. His strategy was not without its problems however, when he span the car trying to pass the Minardi of Pedro Lamy who bumped him off track, pushing Alesi back down the order once more to fifteenth place.
Undeterred, or possibly riled by the incident, Alesi put in one of the most stunning displays of skill and car-control in the wet to make his way up to second place. Race leader Michael Schumacher had pitted during the action, and the French Sicilian was now just six seconds down the road and catching the German.
When Alesi moved right in behind Schumacher just a few laps later, the Benetton team began to worry that he would have no trouble in passing their man. Alesi piled on the pressure, but as happened on many occasions during Alesi’s luckless career, the engine of the Ferrari 412T2 gave up on him and he came to a halt, race over.
That performance is still remembered by many as one of the greatest drives in racing history, and one any race fan should seek out and watch if you get the opportunity!
Hill top heroics…
The 1994 Japanese Grand Prix was one to savour for British fans, and those of Damon Hill, who put in a spectacular performance to keep himself in the title race with just one race of the season remaining.
Remembered as much for Murray Walker’s tearful commentary as the victory itself, it was a real battling performance from Hill, who knew he had to win and beat Schumacher or his championship hopes would possibly be over.
As is often the case in Japan, the rain was falling in sheets, and after just four laps there had already been three safety car periods. When Martin Brundle collided with a Marshal breaking his leg, the race was red flagged.
That changed the stakes, and the race would now be decided on aggregate times, with Hill needing to cross the line 6.8 seconds ahead of Schumacher to win. Pit stop strategy came into its own, and the lead swapped on numerous occasions as each driver dived in for a pit stop. When Schumacher pitted, Hill led by 19 seconds, and he maintained that position after his own pit stop a few laps later.
Schumacher hunted the Brit down however, and caught and passed him with just 15 laps to go. Five laps later however, the German pitted again, leaving him 14.5 seconds down the road with just ten laps remaining.
The Benetton man began to charge and quickly brought down the gap to Hill until there was only 2.4 seconds between them. The Brit spectacularly held off Schumacher’s advances however and went on to take victory by a margin of 3.36 seconds, and what many consider his best win ever.
That result left Hill just one point behind Schumacher in the world championship with only Australia left to go.
Raikkonen romps home…
Following an engine change ahead of the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen was forced to start from seventeenth on the grid following penalties, but he was not going to stay in that position for long, as the Finn put on a magical display to take victory!
After the first lap Raikkonen had shot up to twelfth place, and having managed to avoid the crash between Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, that brought out a safety car, he was soon able to catch the rest of the pack and move into fifth place.
Ahead of him, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button were battling for the lead, whilst Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher diced for third place. The Spaniard was much quicker, but was unable to get by the masterful defence of the German.
Raikkonen however was in no mood for messing about and swiftly got by Alonso before passing Schumacher as well, and by the second round of pit stops was in second place behind Fisichella. The Finn was unstoppable and began to close in on the Italian, whose lead was coming down with every lap.
With just two laps remaining the Finn was right up behind the Renault, and as Fisichella exited the final corner to start his final lap he was a little slow off the mark, giving Raikkonen the chance to get the run on him at Turn 1 and the McLaren man swept in for the kill, forcing his way round the outside of the Italian, into the lead and onto victory.
It was one of Raikkonen’s most remarkable races, the Finn showing sheer determination and fight for the whole grand prix. He also achieved his victory from the lowest ever winning position for a race in Japan.
A blow-by-blow account…
Despite winning the 1993 Japanese Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna was not a happy bunny, in fact he was fuming, and then newcomer Eddie Irvine was his prime target.
The reason for his ire, was that the brash Irishman had the audacity to un-lap himself from the Brazilian, not once but twice towards the end of the race, and Senna was furious.
Barging through the doors of the Jordan motor home after the race, Senna was ready to have it out with Irvine, who did not care one iota for Senna’s tone.
Their argument rumbled on for some time with it ending in Senna calling Irvine a f***ing idiot and throwing a punch at the Irishman, before being quickly escorted away by the McLaren colleagues that had joined him for his onslaught.
No doubt a debut Irvine would ever forget!
The 2016 Race weekend
Going into the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, Mercedes AMG PETRONAS driver Nico Rosberg remains ahead and looking strong with a 23 point lead over team-mate Lewis Hamilton, following an engine failure for the Brit at the last round in Malaysia.
Can the current world champion come back from what was demoralising set-back last time out, or will his team-mate’s bad luck spur Rosberg on to glory?
Red Bull Racing took advantage of Mercedes misfortune to take a one-two finish in Sepang, but can they carry forward that impressive effort when they arrive in Japan this weekend?
Ferrari were once again unable to capitalise on their rivals inadequacies, losing out to both Mercedes and Red Bull in the placings, when what they really needed was to claw some points and respect back. Can they make amends at Suzuka?