Why Fuji Speedway is F1’s worst track

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fuji Speedway: brilliant Japanese fans, utterly lousy circuit
Fuji Speedway: brilliant Japanese fans, utterly lousy circuit

The Hungaroring and Circuit de Catalunya are two circuits that are named most often when we talk about which F1 circuit least deserves a place on the calendar..

But I think Fuji Speedway, venue for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, is the worst circuit used in F1 racing. Here’s why.

Fuji Speedway, Japanese Grand Prix circuit (click to enlarge)
Fuji Speedway, Japanese Grand Prix circuit (click to enlarge)

Sector three

I cannot think of a slower and less exciting sequence of bends at any circuit in any series that even begins to rival the miserable final sequence at Fuji.

Looking at the former configuration of the circuit it?s quite clear what Hermann Tilke had in mind when he devised this monstrosity: he wanted to begin the main straight with a slow corner to maximise overtaking opportunities into the first corner.

That’s fine in principle. But the problem is in order to achieve that he?s had to twist the track first one way and then the other in a knot of dog-slow bends that would embarrass a kart track.

Missed opportunity

The Fuji Speedway was acquired by Toyota who renovated the circuit at enormous cost. F1?s paddock-dwellers gave its facilities a thumbs-up on its return to the calendar last year.

But the circuit configuration betrays a total lack of imagination: Fuji is functionally brilliant but has no character.

This is what makes Fuji more disappointing than, say, the Hungaroring. Tilke had money, space and expertise to throw away when he designed the new Fuji, and he still came up with a turkey. I didn’t like it the moment I first laid eyes on it and that impression hasn’t diminished with time.

No corner worthy of the name

Here are the cornering speeds for each of the (significant) turns at Fuji Speedway:

89kph (55mph)
238kph (147mph)
265kph (164mph)
128kph (79mph)
73kph (45mph)
120kph (74mph)
98kph (60mph)
102kph (63mph)

Fuji is little more than hairpin after hairpin, broken up with long acceleration zones and just two corners tackled at more than 80mph.

It barely has a corner worthy of the name. Which is fitting, because few of the corners have titles, besides those named after sponsors.

Herman Tilke vs history

Has he gone off the track or is he still on it? Who knows?
Has he gone off the track or is he still on it? Who knows?

Fuji was originally conceived as an oval circuit. Although that idea had to be scrapped the track still had an excitingly high-speed configuration when it was used for its first two Grands Prix in 1976 and 1977.

But when Tilke arrived he seems to have gone on a mission to obliterate any trace of the former track. Admittedly, this may be at least part down to the stringent rules on F1 circuit design.

The previous circuit would clearly not be safe enough for F1 today. But could not more have been done to retain a little of its original appeal?

Just 225km away??

My final reason for disliking Fuji is simple. Its arrival on the F1 calendar came at the expense of one of the series? finest tracks: Suzuka.

The other home of the Japanese Grand Prix was designed by John Hugenholz. Hugenholz is the anti-Tilke, responsible for other well-loved former F1 tracks like Zandvoort in the Netherlands.

When there are so many third-rate F1 tracks on the calendar, why on earth did they choose to replace Suzuka? And why swap it for something as dull as the new Fuji?

Happily, the Japanese Grand Prix is set to rotate venues as of next year. That means in 2009 Japan’s round of the world championship will be held a track with proper corners that have proper names. It may even go some small way towards the disappointment of losing Montreal.

One last thing…

Why build a track in a place where it rains so much in the first place?

Fuji Speedway, Japan – circuit information