Fuji gets better toilets but still needs a roof

Japanese Grand Prix 2007, Fuji Speedway, GEPA / Red BullWhen 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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12 comments on Fuji gets better toilets but still needs a roof

  1. mountains = microclimate. it’s a silly place for a racetrack.

    you were right with your first thought. damn place needs a roof. just imagine the sound.

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th February 2008, 21:29

    Ah well. Back to Suzuka next year! :-)

  3. theRoswellite said on 20th February 2008, 21:46

    The place, Japan, isn’t a rain forest. They must have a dry or moderate climate at some time during the year (excuse me for not looking this up). As important as Japan is to GP in general, they should be granted a time slot that allows the race to be run. If this is inconvenient to some other track, so be it. No one would consider running the GP of Russia (coming to your theater soon) in Winter. Rain is just as, if not more, incapacitating as is temperature. Come on Bernie, make it happen.

  4. I appreciate that the weather was horrendously atrocious at Fuji last year, and that it may have been many times in the past. But what bugs me is not the circuit owners prioritising the toilets over the damn-boring track. Instead, my frustration is aimed at the tyre companies for not working harder at developing a tyre capable of running better in the bad weather. In the ’90s there used to be a monsoon tyre, it was used once or twice I think. While it would be a massive cost for Bridgestone only to be used maybe once a year, it would help remove or minimise the safety car periods in these situations.

    Formula One does run in poor weather, which is such a huge plus point as it can produce some spectacular races. Sidepodcast pointed out today that teams don’t appear to be doing enough to maximise their chances in a wet race. Maybe everybody involved needs to bang their heads together to improve the situation for everyone, fans included.

  5. Robert McKay said on 20th February 2008, 22:18

    Maybe it’s just me, but a race where rain is more or less guaranteed should get protected status, in my view. How many really great dry Grands Prix were there last year? One, basically (Canada). But there were at least three brilliant wet GPs (Europe, Japan and China). The long SC-start was ridiculous, I can agree on that, but they were racing in worse conditions at points during the race, so that was just poor decision making (one hopes they would make better use of the red-flag suspension rules next time). And with it going the two-hour distance you still got more or less the usual 90 minutes worth of racing.

    We need a Fuji to counter the dullness of a dry Hungaroring, etc. If it can just ease off a touch next time, that’ll be perfect :-D

  6. While i’m sure a light rain at Fuji would make everyone happy and make for a great race, how about dropping the dry, dusty, boring Hungaroring altogether? At the time it was Bernie’s grand excursion behind the Iron Curtain, but the Cold War is long since over and he’s moved on to bigger and better ventures.

    Just kidding, although I doubt many of us would miss the place. I’ve never been to Japan and can’t tell you anything about the weather, so a manner such as moving the race to a different weekend would be something for you F1 vets to comment on.

  7. Also, is it just me as a newcomer, or would everyone prefer a race at Suzuka every season? Have conditions there been any better than the ones at Fuji?

  8. Nico Savidge said on 21st February 2008, 0:15

    I totally agree with Robert – the first part of the GP might have been frustrating (I definitely shouted at the tv more than a few times), but after that it was one of the best races of the year. It had a brilliant drive by Lewis Hamilton, shock crashes (Alonso, Vettel and Webber), and fantastic battles [between Kubica and Massa and Raikkonen/Kovalainen].

    Sure, the rain made for an irritating safety car farce, but I’d prefer that boredom followed by a great race to the parades we saw in Hungary and Belgium… and in Spain… and in America… and in Italy…

  9. a year ago I spent few days around the Fuji mountain area. The weather over changed 3-4 times a day. Sunshine, rain, warm, cool, cold and all over again :-)

    This is one of the areas where the weather changes will always be on cards. It is similar in Spa, there we sometime have different weather on different part of the track :-)

    I think that variable weather is a good thing for F1 and makes for exciting races. But … I am not that sure it is a wise idea to have races in a place where the weather is so likely to get extreme as is the case of Fuji. The mountain microclimate + the likely path of typhoons …

    When you mentioned Suzuka and typhoon … Even Shanghai was affected by typhoon last year, but the race was lucky not to get the direct hit … The rain and wind was just enough to make the race very exciting :-) Any races that are held in Japan and east coast of China during the typhoon season will always be at risk of typhoons

  10. Basically, holding races at Fuji in the autumn (typhoon season) is a silly idea due to the typhoon frequency. The trouble is that every month in Fuji has, on average, at least 20 days of precipitation…

  11. oliver said on 22nd February 2008, 21:16

    The problem with Fuji isn’t just the rain, but fog or mist engulfing the whole circuit. This makes for very very poor visibility. The practice sessions were canceled because of the fog.

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