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Everything You Need to Know about the Japanese Grand Prix

Formula 1 is one of the most well-known and watched sports on the planet, with Grand Prix races drawing in thousands and thousands of fans and viewers, no matter where in the world the event is taking place.

The Japanese Grand Prix is usually one of the last in the F1 season, and so is often the title-deciding race. Japan was the only Asian country that hosted any Formula 1 events up until 1999, when Malaysia joined the line-up, and so has a long and rich history with the sport.

The History of the Japanese GP

The first year that Japan hosted their own Grand Prix was in May 1963. It took place at the Suzuka circuit, which is near the city of Nagoya. However, this occasion was not part of the Formula 1 Championship: the first time that the Japanese partook in this was 1976. In total, 45 Formula 1 races have been held in Japan since 1976, because of an eight-year break between 1978 and 1986.

The Suzuka course, built and owned by Honda, has become synonymous over the years with Japan’s participation in F1. In part, this is thanks to the years between 1987 and 1991, in which the Japanese GP was the decider for the Formula 1 championship.

There have only been two Japanese Grand Prix where the Suzuka circuit was not used: 1976 and 1977. In these years, the race took place at the Fuji Speedway. Both years, concerns were raised over the safety of the track. These issues, alongside financial and travel difficulties, led to Japan being pulled off the F1 roster.

The Suzuka circuit is built inside a funfair, and is the only eight-figure course in the Formula 1 series, making it instantly world-famous. Its design makes for a fast and suspenseful race, and has been responsible for some nail-biting moments throughout the history of F1.

The next Japanese GP will take place on the 24th September, with practices taking place in the two days leading up to the big event. As always, the race will be hosted at the beloved Suzuka circuit.

Popularity of the Event

The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the most popular events in the F1 calendar among spectators and fans. The successes of Honda led to approximately 3 million fans entering a draw for 120.000 tickets, with people desperate to be part of the excitement.

The Grand Prix has permeated popular culture in Asia, dominating the news and leading to bookmakers targeting Japanese bettors, keen for racing enthusiasts to place their bets, especially during championship-deciding races. In fact, it’s among the biggest sectors of the gambling industry, estimated to be worth more than $1 billion worldwide!

Winners of the Japanese Grand Prix

In total, thirteen F1 championships have been concluded in Japan, due to its position near the end of the season.

The Suzuka circuit has seen some iconic victories since its inception. With six wins, Michael Schumacher has accomplished the highest number of wins at the Japanese GP, in 1995, 1997, 2000-02, and 2004. Coming in close to this number is Lewis Hamilton, who won 5 times in 2007, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sebastian Vettel also came out on top an impressive four times, in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013.

One of the most notorious championship finales was the showdown between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. In Senna’s bid to win, he collided with Prost on the final lap, both disqualifying him and retiring Prost. Ultimately, Prost was awarded the title in 1989. Senna secured the title back in the following year.

Issues and Controversies with the Japan GP

As with many countries that host an F1 GP, various problems have arisen throughout Japan’s time hosting races.

Perhaps the most notorious association with the Japan GP is what took place in 1976 between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, in the first year that the country was part of the championship. On the day that the race was set to take place, the weather conditions were very dangerous, with low visibility and heavy rain. Lauda, who raced for Ferrari, was grappling with severe mental health issues after a near-death experience at the German Grand Prix. He said he would not race due to the weather. Hunt, who raced for McLaren, still took part and lost the title, coming in fifth place.

In 2014, Typhoon Phanfone hit the Suzuka track, making conditions dangerous. Heavy winds and rain swept the site, and rendered visibility low. In spite of this, the race went ahead, with no delays or changes to the agenda. Sadly, Jules Bianchi spun off course and crashed into a crane that had been brought in to recover another car that had been in an accident. He was placed into an induced coma due to a head injury and passed away nine months later. In the wake of this tragedy, changes were made to the track to prevent any similar incidents occurring.

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