When I saw the Autosport headline ‘Fuji moves to avoid 2007 problems’ I thought, “Wow, they’re building a roof over the whole thing.” It’s not as if anyone wants to see another huge downpour on the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix and have to sit through 30 minutes-plus behind the safety car as we did last year.
But, no, it turns out they’re improving walkways and toilets and putting up larger screens. How typical that the one thing a Hermann Tilke-designed venue should be deficient in, besides character, is facilities for the fans. And I don’t see how this addresses the problem of fans in temporary grandstands not being able to see the race, which was part of the problem last year.
Still I think they’re missing the real problem. Isn’t the worst thing about Fuji not the insipid track or thoughtless organisation, it’s the weather, and that’s not something that can easily be fixed.
The first race at the Fuji Speedway, in 1976, was infamously held in extremely wet conditions. Had the championship not been hanging in the balance, it might even have been cancelled.
Thirty-one years later the third F1 Grand Prix at the circuit was greeted by similarly awful weather. Practice sessions were cancelled and although the race started on time, to please the television networks, the sight of 20 laps behind the safety car was decidedly unspectacular.
But it’s not as if the rain has been away from the circuit in the 30 years between the two Japanese Grands Prix at Fuji.
In 1985 the once-great World Sportscar Championship turned up there to race only for the track to be hit by a typhoon on race day. Nevertheless the race went ahead after 10 laps behind the safety car, despite 18 cars (half the field) withdrawing, so bad were the conditions.
Japan’s domestic single seater category Formula Nippon has raced at the venue every year since 1996. In 1998 a round there was cancelled entirely due to bad weather. In 2006 they turned up, ran two laps behind the safety car in very heavy rain, then abandoned the race.
Are Toyota, Fuji’s present owners, just incredibly unlucky? Or were they poorly advised in acquiring a racing circuit in a part of Japan that sees periods of extraordinarily high rainfall?
Or is this just kind of weather common throughout Japan? After all Suzuka saw a typhoon on Saturday during the 2004 Grand Prix.
Photo copyright: Red Bull / GEPA
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