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

45 comments on “Why Fuji Speedway is F1’s worst track”

  1. It is a great area for hot springs weekend getaway but not for racing … I went there for holiday last year (not for F1) and every day I had chance to experience all kinds of weather few times …

    yes, it is good news that in 2009 the race will be back at Suzuka, bad news, it will back to Fuji the year later …

    some glimmers of hope Canada today – teams seem to want it back and even the possible dates are being talked about … let’s hope that at least in case of Montreal common sense will prevail …

  2. Fuji is a bad redesign but for me the French GP at Magny Cours is my most hated GP.

    Although I must admit I’m not a fan of most modern circuits, especially those that have been massacred.
    Nurburgring & Hockenheim being the best (or worst) examples of this.

    The thing I dislike most about Fuji is that it replaces Suzuka, one of F1’s best race tracks and the only figure 8 configuration track that F1 races at.

    In Circuit de Catalunya’s defence I’ve seen some great races there from other series but it is better suited to motorbikes than cars.

  3. Bernie just cares about the money that’s why he dropped Suzuka.

    Why go to Valencia?!? it was the worst race of the season…it’s like there were trying to make another Monaco but failed horribly.

  4. Random thoughts:

    1.The only chance drivers had of overtaking on the straight was taken away from them when the FiA castrated the engines at the beginning of last year. This will be like Indy 07 where Alonso (or was it Lewis) was able to slip stream up behind is teammate but didn’t have the extra revs to make the pass.

    2. Mt Fuji will be about the only interesting feature of the entire weekend… unless it rains.

    3. If it rains I would expect Lewis to win and Massa to languish in the mid pack, ending any drama of a close championship in the last stages.

    So lets hope for a sunny boring race with Massa the victor so we can at least have an interesting finale

  5. What a backdrop though! But a high price to pay for a nice view….

  6. I agree with this article on Fuji. If they must have two tracks alternating there, they could have used Okayama (aka Aida) instead of Fuji. But I guess money talks.

    Read in some other place that the GP organizers (or something) in Montreal says that there definitly will be no Canadian GP this year. The only way I can see it come back som other year is if it alternates with some street track in the US.

  7. I dont care if the track is rubbish, If it keeps producing races like the last one then I dont care about having Suzuka back

  8. As others have mentioned the best thing you can say about it is there’s a good chance of rain. But Turns 10-16 are horrible. Reminds me slightly of that Micky Mouse bit of the Indy F1 circuit, except worse.

    I know it would decrease the lap time significantly, but why not just literally join up T10 to T16 with one long bend? Get a couple more laps to make up for the shorter distance, thus more opportunities to pass into 1, the crowds get to see the cars go by a few more times making them happier (which is what it came down to at Hockenheim), everyone wins…

    Is there a rule that says an F1 track must have X number of corners, no matter how small and fiddly they are? Is a “technical section” as they politely call it a modern requirement?

  9. You summed it up beautifully, Keith. The track is just another anonymous circuit we seem to be going to in recent times. A great opportunity was missed when the circuit was redesigned.
    While I must admit that the recent fascination for extremely safe race tracks have been met, one often gets the feeling the cars are driving on a too and fro motor lane, the run off sections of the track can make up another parallel circuit.
    A picturesque setting turned into nothing more than a parking lot.

  10. Nothing wrong with Sector 1 and 2. Sector 3 is rubbish and hard to see why they couldn’t have left it how it was in the ’90s.

    That being said I think Tilke gets far too much criticism. Sepang, Bahrain and the new Hockenheim are fine in my opinion. Criticizing the “new” Hockenheim and Nurburgring are ridiculous, both tracks are fun to drive and provide good racing. Tilke can’t be blamed for the absence of the old ring or old Hockenheim (to which there was nothing particularly special about the track layout itself – straights and chicanes.

  11. Darn it – and I was looking forward to getting up at 4am on Sunday morning!! (Sort of).

    I don’t think Fuji’s THAT bad, it just compares poorly to Suzuka. Last year’s race was eventul and if it rains every time then it will be an exciting race.

    The biggest problem I reckon is that Herman Tilke designs all of the circuits. Why get the same guy to design every new course? Surely variety is the spice of racing?

  12. This was my take last year when Fuji was introduced. I felt it was another track like Indianapolis which previously boasted the “Longest straight” in F1 calendar.

    The car setup is identical (and tricky) Low DF for the straight and High DF for the twisty insection. Last year with “Extreme Wet race” I haven’t so far seen decent lap video of the track.

    And As has already been mentioned – This track has come on calendar at cost of my most favorite track SUZUKA.

    Only reason why I look forward to the event is a local friend working for Toyota/EMC will be sharing good pictures post the event. But She had got amazing ones from Suzuka before

  13. Seeing as this will be first Japanese GP I will see live, I can’t offer much in terms of comparison. But Suzuka was always a favorite of mine in the many auto-related video games it stars in, and I don’t think I have ever heard a bad word about the place. I know the rain last year provided some drama and a wild race, but aparently it will be a bad deal if the place is sunny…

    Obviously the decision to go to Fuji was realted to Toyota entering F1 as a constructor, but it was still a bad deal to keep Suzuka off the schedule with all of the plain and nondescript tracks entering the calendar today. Here’s hoping for a good race this weekend, but it will surely be all the better next year…

  14. Something that I always wonder is how the state of Formula 1 today, this lack of “actions”, entertainment and overtaking at some tracks, has shaped the Hermann Tilke´s approach on his Formula 1´s work. I always think that he tries to compensate the great flaw of F1 today, the problem of aerodynamics, on his work.

    I´m sure that if we were in the early 90´s, Tilke would be doing a very different job. In what direction? I really don´t know, but I´m not sure that we would have circuits like those ones. Anyway, I really love the Turkish Tilkedrome and the Turn 8 is already a classic…

    I noticed that Michael Schumacher gives some assistance to Tilke on his works. Is it true? If it is true, someone could start an interesting conspiracy theory explaining why Ferraris car love the Tilkedromes…

  15. AmericanTifosi
    9th October 2008, 22:06

    I hated Velencia more than Fuji, but Fuji is rubbish. I think F1 needs to run at:

    Zandvoort instead of Valencia

    Suzuka instead of Fuji

    Laguna Seca and Montreal….

    This list could be quite long

  16. Hello Keith,

    You aren’t quite right when you say Tilke had the space as well as the money and the expertise; actually he was very limited on real estate and had to fit the new circuit within the footprint of the old.

    The reason for the fiddly final sector is also deceptively simple: if it had been left ‘as was’ the track would have been too short. At current F1 levels of performance, the leaders would have been lapping backmarkers too quickly.

  17. Naturally, the first blemish of Fuji named instantly is Tilke’s ruination.

    Fuji has a disadvantage of being short and somewhat antiquated, and hard to reach, but none of that stops other venues from being used and reused.

    Fuji’s charm is its difficulty. It may not be like Spa, but rain in Fuji shows how hard it is to manuever around the different-sized curves. The asphalt runoffs take that charm away, however, and I think the track would have been better served if sector 3 was still a big, sweeping curve.

  18. Sven Duva – “If they must have two tracks alternating there, they could have used Okayama (aka Aida).” Actually the prospect of F1 going back to Aida gives me a whole new appreciation of Fuji!

    Alex – “Last year’s race was eventful and if it rains every time then it will be an exciting race.” Apart from the first 19 laps!

    Becken – “I really love the Turkish Tilkedrome and the Turn 8 is already a classic…” Yep it’s a great corner – having made the trek to that track it’s just about the only thing I really liked about it though!

    Stuart C – fair enough, but Fuji covers a much larger area than the Hungaroring doesn’t it?

    Why are they worried about the track being ‘too short’? What’s wrong with the leaders going past backmarkers, isn’t it just part of racing? Fuji ain’t exactly Bristol Motor Speedway…

    But I understand the hotels are less smelly, and that’s a step forward over Suzuka? :-)

  19. The only thing in F1 circuit history worse than that final sector is Ceasar’s Palace.

  20. Tilke explained the rationale for Fuji’s layout during an interview last year, but I lost the recording when my laptop’s hard drive conked out a few months ago.

    The site is long-ish but also quite narrow, and in some areas the ground falls away quite steeply. It’s in national parkland so they wouldn’t have been allowed to build outside the original boundaries.

    And, yes, you’re right – the hotels are closer and more plentiful. Suzuka really is in the middle of nowhere. I remember eating in the same “Italian” restaurant (it had one table, which seated about 8!) practically every night. Fabulous track, though, and everyone is looking forward to its return.

  21. Blue skies again today, by the way.

    Hope the live blogging goes well. Radio 5 will have coverage of both sessions on the Sports Extra digital channel.

  22. I cannot name one positive change F1 has made in 10 years. Fuji is just more ammo for my disdain on Bernie/Max/FIA and all.

  23. You asked the question, why build a circuit where it rains so much? Perhaps looking at last years race can tell us why, although the circuit is painfully dull (for a dry race), it was very exciting in the wet. Rain adds excitement to any race and so building a circuit where rain is almost a given is like ensuring an exciting race with minimum effort.

  24. I cannot name one positive change F1 has made in 10 years. Fuji is just more ammo for my disdain on Bernie/Max/FIA and all.

    Oh also, I don’t understand why they use that Turn 10 Dunlop curve. What is the point? There is like 10 million feet of runoff, and even that small change would have an effect of helping sector 3 not be the worst part of any track outside of Valencia/Sinapore.

  25. Why build a track where it rains???? Um….it makes the race more interesting….?

  26. Frankly I’d be amazed if average rainfall even factored in to the original decision to build the Fuji track.

  27. michael counsell
    10th October 2008, 0:11

    Trip Hazard the problem is spectators don’t like getting wet. Some even sued over something rain related.

    Lets pass judgement when we’ve seen a dry race. Not every race needs fast corners we need some variety. For one thing it jumbles the order from race to race.

  28. Besides all the facts that Keith mentioned, I’d like to add the poor logistics at FUJI Speedway, considering the usual awesome organization skills of Japanese events. I’m in Tokyo for the past 11 years and joined almost every final in Suzuka, until last year when I was invited to join FUJI. I didn’t take a car this time as I didn’t know about the layout and surrounding vicinity enough to risk it, so we went by bus. Well organized on the way down by train and bus followed by a 5-hour waiting period after the race ended, just to get into the bus from the stage. The problem was not the huge crowd, rather the inability of the staff to fill the busses efficiently. After 5 hours of waiting, I lost my temper and skipped roughly 500 people to show the staff how to fill 3 busses at once, rather than one after another. And after 10 minutes, those 500 spectators were on their way to the nearby train stations :) Believe it or not, that was reason enough for me not to pay a visit to FUJI Speedway anymore. Oh, how I miss the good old days in Suzuka, where you can park and camp almost right next to the circuit (Motegi is even better equipped) the night before and awake with the vibrations and sound of the morning test races that leave you with goose bumps while brushing your teeth.

  29. Keith- In my remark about not hearing a bad word regarding Suzuka, how could I forget Ron’s comments about the local hospitality industry?!?!

    Rob R.- Quite funny and absolutley correct, and while I am sure any new race in Vegas would be a much better affair, that’s just one more reason why F1 should never go back to “Sin City.” You could also throw Phoenix in there- nice city with some great sports complexes curently, but just a bad deal at that time…

    American Tifosi- I love the Zandvoort for Valencia idea, as the Euro GP gave me absolutley ZERO excitement when I saw it on tape-delay this season, and Zandvoort is very good from what i hear though. Laugna Seca would be good if it weren’t butchered too much, otherwise leave it be as a proper race circuit(aka keep Tilke away!!) As probably the only person on here who likes Indy, I would like to see it come back, but at least we are on the same wavelenght in terms of the North American presence.

    Now, who said the Tifosi coulden’t get along with McLaren backers?

  30. I am sorry Keith, but I totally disagree with everything you sad in this article.
    Fuji is by far not the worst track in the calendar, it is in fact one of the best in my opinion.

    You have to understand the principle of “light and shadow”. The third sector has to be slow in order to increase the difference to the longest straight in F1 even more.

    And this sector is not half as dull as you make it sound like. Tilke did not just add uninspired chicanes to it. Every corner has an uncommon radius or is “blind” or has a special late apex or even multiple apexes. And if you read some driver’s interviews you realise at they have to take the whole last sector as one giant combination of corners. If they make an error into turn 13 it effects all others following turns badly. They can lose up to half a second because they did not it right through this sector!

    The sad thing is you guys can not overcome your own preconceptions. Because it replaced Suzuka it has to be bad by all means. The cool scenery (a thousand times better than a desert around) gets a boo because of high rain probability? Whereas in Spa, Nurburgring, Malaysia or Singapur you cheer for rain, give me a break.

    I am convinced, if this track was in England or Italy your assessment would be very different…

  31. I also think it reminds me somewhat of Indy – one very long straight , and the rest a series of tight tricky corners , leading to a set-up compromise on both speed and handling. That coupled with the frequent downpours in that area would make me very hesitant to place a bet if I were a betting man.

  32. Vlad the Inhaler
    10th October 2008, 9:19

    Michael, have they not heard of hats? Sueing over the weather, lol. What a bunch of losers….

  33. i Have an idea for the tarmac run offs and chicane cutting. Simply use tarmac with varying colours.

    Blue Area: Enter a blue areas of tarmac with all four wheels and you get a drive through penalty. Blue areas have replaced concrete lumps and gravel traps

    Red Area: Enter a red area and you get a 1 minute stop and go. Red areas have replaced gravel traps or are in areas where the barriers have been moved back etc

    That way you get the ‘I don’t want to go there’ factor of the concrete wall, without the death risk. You might get drivers actually having to stay on the track when they race.

  34. Michael & Vlad – I don’t think the lawsuits were anything to do with the weather, it was because their view of the track was blocked (and other things). More here.

  35. @ steve – Paul Ricard circuit already has blue-and-red tarmac runoff areas, but they are used as progressive slowing devices.

    I completely agree with your article Keith. As I said in Journeyer’s recent article “Japanese GP History 1976-1990” the new track is challenging in some ways, but is a shadow of its former self.

  36. I agree with you here Keith – last year’s “race” should not have been run, it was just too wet. And the circuit is too dull and too slow in the dry.

    And more importantly, Suzuka is an amazing circuit.

    But, hey, money talks.

  37. Bbbut – If this track was in England or Italy I’d be complaining we didn’t have a Grand Prix in Japan any more. Just like I’m unhappy there isn’t a Canadian round any more. I want F1 to be a proper world championship.

    I complained about the rain because Fuji, more so than any other track I can think of, tends to have races interrupted or even cancelled because of very high rainfall. I like a wet race as much as the next person, but building a track where there seems to be an above average chance of the kind of rainfall that forces races to be cancelled doesn’t strike me as terribly clever.

  38. Fuji is not third-rate.
    Fuji is NOT the worst track on the calendar.

    I am actually impressed by the third sector; Alex Wurz’s lap over Fuji at planet-f1.com makes it seem extremely challenging. I am pretty sure that turns 4-5-6 will see some wheel-to-wheel racing.

    Keith; Is this just a knee-jerk reaction after Montreal was taken off the calendar? Are you venting out the frustration over FIA through the Fuji Track?

  39. Sumedh – No I wrote most of this days ago. Not very impressed about Montreal either, though!

  40. An interesting opinion about Fuji:

    “To move it because of money to a very average circuit like Fuji is very disappointing,”

    “To me, Fuji is a crap circuit. It’s a horrible, boring place in the middle of nowhere. The weather is usually horrible and it’s just the worst possible place to have a grand prix.

    “You have to say that Fuji does not add to formula one.”


  41. As a little postscript to this, having scrutinised the track layout up close today (it’s my first time here):-

    – They appear to be making a significant effort with the crowd control. It’s now massively over-organised.

    – All the grandstands now have a full view of the circuit.

    – Sector 3 isn’t as bad as all that. The initial ‘chicane’ section is a tad Mickey Mouse (redolent of that awful chicane at Estoril), but as the track progresses up the hill there are a number of tricky camber changes designed to catch drivers out.

    – The track surface is more abrasive than I expected. Bridgestone have changed the dry tyre allocations to suit, but the softer tyre is still only ‘quicker’ for three laps. This is definitely at least a two-stop race.

    – E. Irvine, besides being one of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met, hasn’t raced at Fuji for at least a decade so his opinion counts for zip.

    It’s very easy, when you write a blog or contribute to forums, to write with assumed authority about places you’ve never been to. I find it extraordinary that so many people are prepared to pontificate about the weaknesses of a circuit based solely on viewing a 2D map. Not very scientific, is it?

    Apols if all this sounds tetchy, but I think this discussion has highlighted the basic weaknesses inherent in slagging off a place you’ve never actually visited. Fuji just isn’t that bad.

  42. Fuji is functionally brilliant but has no character.

    Thats a Toyota!!

  43. The reason F1 is at Fuji is not for the rain. Just as the reason F1 is at Suzuka is not for the beauty of the track.

    They are at Fuji to please Toyota, and Suzuka to please Honda. Both love their home tracks, and that is just the way it is.

  44. So Keith, after finally seeing a dry GP on this new config, do you still think it was the worst track? Personally I think it was a great race, and passing opportunities were very nice as well

  45. Funny thing is Fuji actually provided some good racing and drama . the worst circuit is valencia not Fuji. Anoything modern sucks. i.e Singapore, valencia, AAbu dhabi, Bahrain etc. And the new korean circuit and the Rome circuit look like the same old same old, no passing, parade circuits. I think Bernie would race through my tight neighbourhood streets if the money was right.

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