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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 9th October 2008, 22:38

    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? :-)

  4. Rob R. said on 9th October 2008, 22:46

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Patrick said on 9th October 2008, 23:09

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. Patrick said on 9th October 2008, 23:16

    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.

  10. Trip Hazard said on 9th October 2008, 23:52

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

  11. Robert McKay said on 10th October 2008, 0:04

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

  12. michael counsell said on 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.

  13. Patric Spohn said on 10th October 2008, 2:14

    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.

  14. 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?

  15. Bbbut said on 10th October 2008, 5:27

    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…

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