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. 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.

  2. Vlad the Inhaler said on 10th October 2008, 9:19

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

  3. steve said on 10th October 2008, 9:24

    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.

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th October 2008, 10:01

    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.

  5. Stealthman said on 10th October 2008, 10:05

    @ 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th October 2008, 10:25

    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.

  8. 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?

  9. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th October 2008, 15:30

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

  10. 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.”

    (EDDIE IRVINE)

  11. 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.

  12. Uppili said on 10th October 2008, 20:22

    Fuji is functionally brilliant but has no character.

    Thats a Toyota!!

  13. Patrick said on 10th October 2008, 23:06

    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.

  14. 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

  15. charley said on 17th January 2010, 1:44

    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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