The 2013 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix marks the 6th F1 event that I have attended and the second time that I have visited Suzuka Circuit. Suzuka is a favourite course for F1 drivers and it is one of the most historic courses on the calendar as well. In 2007 and 2008, the Japanese Grand Prix was held at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka, Japan and I had attended both of those events. That was the first time I had attended an F1 event and little did I know it would only be the start of my F1 adventures. As you know, recently I had been to the Singapore Grand Prix for the second time and I have also attended the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2012. While F1 is not my first love, it is something that I have seen many times and I think it is just the beginning. On October 10th and 11th of 2013, I attended the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix but it was the first time I attended the event and didn’t watch the race in person. I bought a Friday ticket which entitled me to attend the event on the Thursday and Friday, which meant I got a very unique look at the race as the previous time I attended the race at Suzuka, it was for the Saturday and Sunday portions of the race only.
I’m not too sure whether other courses have special Thursday events, but Suzuka does and it is a lot of fun. I spent most of the day at the course but things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. I took a very early Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya and hoped to catch a 9:10am express train to Shiroko Station. Shiroko Station is a couple kilometres from the race track and I was planning to arrive early enough, but there was a huge wrench in my plan as the special express train was fully booked. I ended up waiting for a regular express train which meant I was about 20 minutes behind schedule. The whole purpose of heading to the track on Thursday is to go to the pit walk and track walk. Suzuka has a special free pit walk and track walk. As the teams build the cars up in the garages, fans can walk about in the pit lane, take photos, and get up close with the drivers. It was definitely a fun experience and seeing all of the diehard fans dressed up and going crazy was amazing. Being up close to some famous race car drivers at the peak of their abilities was amazing. While I am not a huge fan of the drivers, it is still exciting to see them.
The track walk itself is also pretty exciting. I have been a huge fan of the Suzuka Circuit and know it very well from playing various video games. The circuit is a figure-8 circuit and from my research, one of only 2 figure-8 road courses. There is something called a figure-8 race track that is basically an X inside an oval, and while they are used for racing, I wouldn’t consider it a road course at all. The circuit is split into two sections, the east and west circuits. The east circuit is probably the most famous section. It contains the main straight, the famous S Curves, and the Gyaku Bank. For the track walk, fans are only allowed onto the east circuit as walking the entire track would take quite a long time. During the track walk, many drivers will also head out for a look and some will even ride their bicycles out onto the track, but in my trip, I didn’t see anyone do that. Seeing your favourite driver can be a little difficult as you never know when they’ll head out for the walk. You will see several team members also walking along the track to inspect that section and to enjoy the atmosphere too. It can be a little insane with the people but it isn’t bad and you really get a feel for how the track has been designed. When watching F1 or any other race on TV, the changes in elevation are hard to understand and you really need to be there on the track to get a feel for it. For me, being at Suzuka and getting a chance to do a track walk was akin to being in a holy place. I was excited and respectful most of the time, except when I walked onto the grass and was respectfully told, via bullhorn, to get off the grass.
The pit walk and track walk are only open in the morning. By 12:30pm, the track is closed and an inspection is held. It is sad when you do finish your tour but the day is long and there is still a lot to see and do. On the Thursday, I spent most of my time in the F1 Square as well as the amusement park area. Suzuka Circuit has a small amusement park, mainly for kids. There are various driving rides where you drive a car on an enclosed track so you can’t pass or really crash and there are a few light speed rollercoasters. I didn’t spend any time on the rides but I did do a lot of shopping, but no buying. The amusement area is where the main entrance for the entire facility is located on Thursday. If you are arriving by bus or taxi, you will enter through that main entrance. You will then walk through the amusement park, under a tunnel, and you’ll be at the main entrance to the circuit area itself. The circuit area is also separated from the amusement area as the amusement area allows people to enter during the race weekend even if they don’t have a ticket to the Grand Prix. You still have to pay the admission price to get into the amusement area as it is still not a public area. The circuit area has a lot to see and do throughout the entire circuit but the main area is behind the main grandstands. There is a huge F1 Square as well as some eateries. From the Casino Triangle all the way to turn 1, you can find various shops all over. Suzuka was pretty special in that they also had local foods from around Japan which meant you could sample a lot of different things. Locals love this as food tourism is very popular. For foreigners, it can be a little difficult if you don’t understand Japanese, but just go to every stand and buy whatever looks good. For me, I mainly stuck to what I knew best, and if you are hungry, the best thing to do for food is to actually avoid the circuit area entirely. You can get beer, drinks, and nice snacks in the circuit area, but when you need food, I highly recommend heading to the amusement area as the prices are similar but the portions are a bit bigger.
For the Friday event, you basically get a chance to see 2 free practice (FP) runs. It’s a great time to see the entire track. For FP1, I started off at the Spoon Curve. It is the farthest section from the main gate. I actually ended up walking across the entire track from turn 1 all the way to the Spoon Curve. Needless to say, I was extremely tired after that but it was worth it to see such a famous corner. It may not be the most exciting place to watch racing, but it is a great place for pictures. I then headed to the famous hairpin, but that was a wash. It was so popular that there wasn’t a single seat available in the public grand stands. I ended up going a little away from the grand stands and almost to the cross over because there were less people. I was a little sad I couldn’t really see the hairpin area, but at the same time I didn’t want to waste my time in that grandstand if it was going to be full. I continued on and spent some time at the cross over, making sure to cover it from several different angles. I then headed over to the Casino Triangle and felt that was one of the best locations on the track. For FP2, I decided to do the southern side of the track. I started off at the Degner Curve which was a bit of a waste. The public viewing area is on a grassy hill located just outside of the circuit itself. It is on what looks to be a public road or an access road for the circuit. It was a long walk from most of the other grand stands and I felt the views were not special. I didn’t get a good spot as most of the cameramen had them reserved. I then trudged back and visited Dunlop Curve, Gyaku bank, the S Curves and the exit to turn 2. It is a long procession of interconnecting grand stands. It was fun to see everything but the main problem with that entire area is that they section off the best areas for people with “photographer” credentials. Anyone can get a photographer’s bib if you pay enough money, but I didn’t want or really need to, so I just enjoyed walking around on my own. I may try to get it next time though if I do go again.
The entire experience was a lot of fun and I would love to go again but I don’t necessarily have to go for the entire weekend. If I was really crazy about it, I would go for the entire weekend. I don’t think I’ll be able to go again next year but I have a lot of memories to last quite a while. Unfortunately the crowds were a lot lower, from what I heard, but from what I saw, the crowds seemed pretty strong. The drivers really want to return to Japan but I think Japan is in for another tough year next year. It is the first year without a Japanese driver and there are no Japanese manufacturers in the series. Honda will make a return in 2015 so Suzuka will grow again when that happens. I’m looking forward to seeing how things go in a couple years and maybe I’ll get a chance to return at that time.
2013 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix is part of a series of posts detailing my experiences of visiting various F1 races around the world. To read more about the various races I have attended, please follow the links below:
- 2013 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix
- 2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix
- 2011 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix
- 2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix
- 2008 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix
- Suzuka Circuit (Official Site – Japanese)
- Suzuka Circuit (Official Site – English)
- Suzuka Circuit (Wikipedia)
- Figure-8 Racing (Wikipedia)