Designed in 1962 by Dutch architect Johannes Hugenholtz, Suzuka Circuit was originally a Honda test track. Some years after the track was originally built, an amusement park was constructed near the start/finish straight, and later a hotel and spa joined. The complex was originally called "Honda Land", but after Formula One started using the track it was renamed as "Suzuka Land".
The circuit as originally laid out in 1963 was more of a gently curving track. Measuring 6.004km, it had the same general layout, but with no chicanes, and not a large amount of runoff room. There were provisions to run the track as two smaller circuits, which enhanced the testing capability, but these shorter tracks have rarely been used for racing. Spectator amenities were minimal, and the first open racing events were not held until the mid 1970s, when the first full pit and race control buildings popped up. The first change to the layout was in 1983, when the Casio Chicane, just before the Last Curve, appeared, lengthening the track to 6.033km. Continuing the trend towards a safer track, in 1984 the Spoon Curve was tightened and reshaped, and the course length shrank to 5.943km. And in 1985 the mis-named First Corner (because it is actually the second corner of the track) was brought in and tightened, bringing the course length down to 5.912km.
By now, Formula One was on the horizon, and FIA representatives wanted more changes to the circuit. Before the first F1 race in 1987, the pit lane was lengthened, so that cars could enter before reaching the chicane. The wide, sweeping Degner Curve was cut off, to become two sharper and more technical corners with a short straight in between, slowing the cars before the underpass. These were now known as the Degner Curves. The Hairpin after the underpass became wider, but the added width was on the inside of the corner, adding room for battling cars without increasing the overall speed. And in a move unrelated to F1, a small pit area for additional testing was built along the Backstretch, along with improvements to the two "short cut" roads, just before the Casio Chicane. This was the track that Formula One first saw in 1987, measuring 5.859km.
At that point the track saw very few changes for a number of years. Before the 1991 race the Casio Chicane Was shifted towards start/finish a few meters and tightened, mostly as a result of the Prost/Senna wars. In 2001, the two corners before the Degner Curves, the right hand Anti-Banked Curve and the long lefthand Dunlop Curve, were both shifted south slightly, to increase the size of the paddock, and to add space between them and the section of the track that includes the Casio Chicane. By pure coincidence, the track length returned to 5.859km, the 1987 distance. In 2003, the 130R Corner at the end of the Backstretch was shifted and reshaped, so that the cars would not carry so much speed over the overpass. At the same time the Casio Chicane was moved away from the pit straight, and made more than twice as long. But the overall track length shrank to 5.807km. It was at this time that variations in the track for FIM motorcycles started to appear, but this did not affect the F1 course.
Since 2003 the only changes have involved moving the timing line back and forth, rebuilding the pit complex, and creating various chicanes for the motorcycles.
Suzuka is regarded as one of the top driving tracks, and a true test of a driver's ability, but unfortunately there are not many places to pass, and there has been a spirited discussion or two after events. A lap at Suzuka starts with a run on the downhill 600m long pit straight. At the end is a gentle 45° right, which leads almost immediately the the aforementioned First Corner, a tighter 135° right. Unfortunately this combination makes the pit straight less of a passing place than it could have been. Ayrton Senna took advantage of that fact when he deliberately wrecked Alain Prost at this corner to win the 1990 championship. After this the track enters the most difficult section, a series of alternating left and right corners that vary in radius, arc and camber. The first left/right is known as Snake, and after an unnamed and comparatively gentle lefthander, the cars take the right known as the Anti-Banked Curve. This corner is where Nigel Mansell crashed and suffered a concussion in the 1980s, ending his weekend and championship hopes.
After another short straight comes the deceptive left hand Dunlop Curve, which is off camber and has a double apex, and a lot of time can be lost here. This was where Jules Bianchi slid off and suffered his ultimately fatal injuries. Then the cars hit the two Degner Curves, which have no real relationship, other than they are both right turns and sharp as a tack. The first one is a 45° kink, but the second one is almost 90° and has seen more than its share of cars going wide. After the Degner Curves, the track passes under the Backstretch, and through a gentle righthand kink before reaching the Hairpin. This tight 180° left is arguably the best passing place in the track, but it does require some cooperation between the combatants. Coming out of the Hairpin, the cars accelerate through the long, sweeping right known inexplicably as 200R. This leads directly to the multi-apex and difficult Spoon Curve, and then onto the Backstretch, the fastest part of the circuit.
The start of the Backstretch is the highest part of the circuit, meaning the cars can generate tremendous speeds returning to the pit straight. It also means that the kink at the end of the straight, a roughly 70° left called 130R, is both critical for a good time, and one of the most dangerous spots in racing. Fortunately there have been no serious incidents here. Another short straight leads to the infamous Casio Chicane, while always a tight right-left combination, has actually been at multiple locations in the area, and comprised of differing sizes and angles. Then the cars are accelerating through the flat-out Last Curve, realistically part of the pit straight.
The track is shown as having officially 17 corners, but in reality, there are 21. It is claimed that the track has room for 155,000 spectators, and there have been some huge crowds on occasion.
The following is a list of Formula One World Championship events held at the Suzuka circuit:
|Japanese Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Fuji (1976–1977, 2007–2008), Suzuka (1987–2006, 2009–present)|
|Races||1976 • 1977 • 1978–1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017|
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