Why Fuji Speedway is F1’s worst track

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

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

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  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. beneboy said on 9th October 2008, 16:37

    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. Dan M said on 9th October 2008, 17:18

    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. sven duva said on 9th October 2008, 17:35

    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. TommyB said on 9th October 2008, 17:42

    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. Robert McKay said on 9th October 2008, 18:14

    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. Oliver said on 9th October 2008, 18:16

    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. Alex Cooper said on 9th October 2008, 19:35

    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 said on 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

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