Tom Hitchings watches the Japanese GP at Suzuka

From the stands

Suzuka, 2010

After several visits to the British Grand Prix reader Tom Hitchings chose Suzuka as his first overseas destination for an F1 race.

He found “the best seat in F1″ on Friday, got soaked on Saturday, and watched qualifying and the race on the same day on Sunday.

Read about his experience below.

I love watching the British Grand Prix at Silverstone but Suzuka and Spa are the two circuits I respect the most.

So when I found myself with a couple of free months between jobs, my love of East Asia and F1 came together and I booked flights to spend September and October in Japan – including a weekend at Suzuka.

Friday

The Friday tickets were general admission so you could sit wherever you like. For me Suzuka is all about the first sector – the Esses.

Of course 130R and the chicane have seen more epic moments, but F1 these days defined by downforce and it’s no better illustrated than in that never-ending series of right-and-left-handers that start the lap.

I sat at the anti-banked curve (turn six) for first practice, watching the cars winding their paths up to the Dunlop Curve.

The differences between them was visible early on. The three new teams were so much slower, while the Red Bulls looked firmly planted to the ground.

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica appeared to be pushing their cars closest to the edge. Sadly for me, Hamilton pushed a little too hard a few corners on from where I was sat.

The best seat in Formula 1

In second practice I found what must be the best seat in all of Formula 1.

I sat in the middle of the grandstand between turns one and two, watching the cars coming down the start/finish straight, flying through the first two corners, then negotiating the Esses.

In total I could watch about fifteen seconds of the lap. Most of all, it was the speed through turn one than took your breath away. Straight-line speed is nothing unusual in motorsport, but the speed those cars took around turn one is pure Formula 1.

Second practice was busy and I never tired of watching the drivers go through those first two turns, progressively faster the session went on. The Red Bulls were light years ahead on downforce, but again it was drivers like Kubica who looked to push the hardest, slamming the brakes as late as possible and taking the sharpest apex.

It also became apparent that Michael Schumacher was having a good weekend, he was quick through the corners and looked comfortable behind the wheel.

The thought of Schumacher on form at Suzuka added another dimension to what was shaping up to be a fascinating race.

In the McLaren garage

I was lucky enough to earn a place on a tour of the McLaren garage through my team membership. I am a huge fan and this was a real treat.

We saw lots of people on the way, including Hamilton, Martin Whitmarsh, Ross Brawn, Christian Horner, Norbert Haug and David Coulthard. I was desperate to shake Lewis’s hand but I couldn’t compete with the screaming Japanese girls.

Entering the McLaren garage was awesome, straight away you could feel the concentration and organisation that was going into working on the cars. Both Hamilton and Jenson Button’s MP4-25s were sitting right there and we could get a really close look and take as many photos as we liked (except of the diffuser).

The complexity of the front wing, the smoothed shape of the sidepods and the internals of the engine were all incredible – and right there in front of you.

The mechanics were taking the car to pieces to check everything over, so each time you looked at the car another piece was removed, until almost all the bodywork had come off, like they were dismantling a model car.

Stepping outside the garage you could peek inside the Red Bull and Ferrari garages too. I thought I spotted subtle differences in their body language: McLaren looked methodical and organised. Red Bull quietly confident, Ferrari aloof.

In total we stayed in the garage for about twenty minutes before reluctantly handing back our VIP lanyards and rejoining the masses.

Rain stops play

There was only one word to describe Saturday: wet.

I think we all knew the cars would never run. There were some laps in final practice in the morning but nothing significant.

There weren’t enough covered areas in Suzuka for the number of spectators, so many of us just got soaked through the day. But at least there was a legitimate excuse to buy the official Suzuka oversized poncho as a souvenir.

During qualifying we stared desperately at the message “Qualifying has been delayed until 15:30… 16:00… 16:30…” over and over again. I suppose it was a relief when the inevitable was confirmed, but frustrating nonetheless.

The train journey home was a long and damp affair, but word was spreading that tomorrow would be better and so the prospect of seeing some good action lifted most people’s spirits.

Qualifying and race on one day

That made Sunday a double bill: qualifying and the race. The atmosphere walking to the circuit for early-morning running was electric. Everyone knew it was going to be a dry day, that we were going to see a lot of racing, and the fight for the championship was close.

I took my seat for Q1 on the Dunlop Curve, which also looked across to the final chicane – unbelievably this was the cheapest ticket for the race on F1.com!

Early on I noticed an area at the bottom which was just grass next to a gap in the fencing, only about ten metres from the track. Of course I had been taking photos all weekend and this was the perfect opportunity.

So I stood there for Q1 and Q2, right next to the cars taking close-up photos as they screamed past. It was so loud! But amazing to get that close. A few other people came down, but by the race start we were asked to remain in our seats.

I watched the race looking over the two corners ahead of me and checking Twitter on my phone (as there was no access to a TV or even a positions board). We heard the roar of the engines as the red lights went out and then gasps from the crowd following the first-corner mayhem.

Suddenly the ‘SC’ boards appeared and I held my fingers crossed for twenty seconds until I saw Hamilton come past and I worked out that he, along with the other championship contenders wasn’t involved. I was relieved for him when Kubica retired but in retrospect the Renault driver’s presence would have made the race more exciting.

Although the rest of the race was largely a procession at the front, I was content to see the five championship rivals occupying the top five positions and driving past at the maximum.

When Hamilton came out of the chicane towards the end we heard straight away that he had a gearbox problem. The first time he clearly tried to go into third gear and it made a horrible noise. After that he must have kept it in fourth or double-shifted because it didn’t happen again.

Meanwhile, Kamui Kobayashi’s moves at the end of the race delighted the crowd, everyone was applauding him. The Japanese have definitely worked out that they have a star on their hands.

When the race finished, we dashed over to sneak a peak at the podium celebrations through a hole in the fence before heading off to beat the queues at the train station. My ears were ringing, it had been a fantastic day.

I didn’t care about a poor result for McLaren, the competitiveness of the top five cars, as well as Schumacher and Kobayashi left me with the satisfaction that I had witnessed a race of the highest calibre at the world’s best F1 circuit.

This is a guest article by Tom Hitchings. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

Tom’s pictures from Suzuka

From the stands

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16 comments on Tom Hitchings watches the Japanese GP at Suzuka

  1. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 16th October 2010, 11:27

    Glad you had a blast Tom!

    • mr. t said on 16th October 2010, 23:22

      Great to read about your experience, Tom – I bet the rest of the holiday was pretty good too! These kinds of articles have grown on me over the year – hope to see more from the remaining races of the season. Quite jealous of one guy called Alex Snell in particular who is blogging about his experience of going to every race this season!

  2. Rucknar (@superted666) said on 16th October 2010, 12:07

    I want to go!

    Great Story Tom.

  3. Martin_B said on 16th October 2010, 13:25

    I love these stories.

  4. Ned Flanders said on 16th October 2010, 13:35

    Excellent article! I hope I get to go to Japan someday

  5. Andy W said on 16th October 2010, 14:18

    I have yet to get to see a GP myself, despite following the sport for 30 years… but its great to read these posts (and the stewards one from Singapore) and live vicariously….

  6. George said on 16th October 2010, 14:33

    Very well written, how much was the poncho?

  7. HounslowBusGarage said on 16th October 2010, 16:11

    Sounds fantastic, and a great article too. Were you staying with friends or in a hotel?
    Tiny glitch: “That made Saturday was a double bill: qualifying and the race”. Shouldn’t that be Sunday?

  8. Thanks Tom for sharing the adventure with us.

  9. Tobinen said on 16th October 2010, 17:45

    Very good Tom, thanks for sharing

  10. US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 16th October 2010, 19:28

    Thanks for sharing. Sounds fantastically fun!

  11. Wolfgang said on 16th October 2010, 20:31

    Thanks Tom, hope you have not only time but also cash left to see another GP this year :-)
    Your awe of the car’s speed reminds of another astonishment I always have when watching F1 live: the size of the cars. In TV they look big, filling the the monitor, but in real life they are just ‘tiny’. A (fortunately very hard) shell around the driver, but not much longer than a small car.
    Seeing it live lets you appreciate why so many people are following this sport with amazement and joy.

  12. Dianna said on 16th October 2010, 21:51

    Thankyou Tom,for sharing cherished memories — I could feel your excitement and exhiliration.I hope that MSC csrries the momentum through to Korea.

  13. Ronman said on 18th October 2010, 8:31

    thanks for sharing…

  14. damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 18th October 2010, 12:23

    I do enjoy reading these spectators experiences! Only trouble with that is that I have added about 5 extra cities to my “visit-before-I-die” list in the process. I hope to see Suzuka one day! :)

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