Changing tracks: Suzuka

Changing tracks

Posted on

| Written by

Suzuka Circuit is little different today from the version first used for the Japanese Grand Prix in 1987.

That so little of the John Hugenholtz-designed masterpiece has changed is precisely why several F1 drivers name it as their favourite track.

And it’s also the only circuit used in F1 to feature a crossover as part of the design.

Suzuka Circuit, 1987

Length: 5.859km (3.641 miles)

The first racing track to be built in Japan, Suzuka was opened in 1962, originally to be used by Honda as a test track. It held a non-championship Japanese Grand Prix in 1963. The race was won by Peter Warr, who sadly passed away on Monday.

The world championship didn’t arrive at the circuit until 25 years after it was built, by which time some changes had been made to its configuration.

The most significant of which was the construction of a chicane before the final corner in 1983. Given the reputation attached to the preceding high-speed turn, 130R, one can only imagine what terrifying speeds F1 cars would have tackled that bend at without a chicane.

Over the next four years several other corners were changed to create more run-off, including Spoon (1984) turns one and two (1985) and finally Degner (1987). The latter was changed from a single curve into two separate bends.

A new pit and paddock was also built. Famously, four million Japanese fans entered a lottery to win a chance to buy tickets for the race, national interest in F1 fired by the successes of the Honda-powered Williams and Lotus cars.

Suzuka Circuit, 2010

Length: 5.807km (3.608 miles)
Track data: Suzuka, Japan – circuit information

The current version of the track has been unchanged since 2003. With little room available for expansion (land is extremely expensive in Japan and the layout is very compact) the circuit seems to be safe from ‘Tilke-isation’.

The chicane, scene of great controversy when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna tangled in 1989, has been tweaked twice: first in 1991, then again in 2003.

That year also saw the re-profiling of 130R to ease the corner. This came after Allan McNish’s huge crash at the corner in 2002, where he levelled part of the barrier and his shattered car came to a rest outside the track.

The Japanese Grand Prix relocated to Fuji for two years in 2007 and 2008. F1 returned last year to a much-upgraded facility, with an expanded paddock, new pits and office buildings were among the improvements.

Happily, the race organisers continued to leave the track layout alone.

Suzuka, 2010 Japanese Grand Prix

Suzuka in pictures

How F1 tracks have changed

Image © Renault/LAT, Ferrari spa, BMW ag, Red Bull/GEPA, Spyker F1 Team, Ferrari spa, Red Bull/Getty images,, Red Bull/GEPA, Toyota F1 World

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

33 comments on “Changing tracks: Suzuka”

  1. The chicane, scene of great controversy when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna tangled in 1989, has been tweaked twice: first in 1991, then again in 2003. The latter revision moved the pit-lane entrance for cars from before the corner to after it.

    Wasn’t the pitlane entrance change done in the former revision, not the latter?

    1. Not according to information supplied by the circuit. There’s a panning shot in this footage of the 1995 race (around 6’50) which shows the entrance before the corner:

      1. The pitlane entrance change happened sometime between 1995 and 2000, then.

        By 2000, the pitlane entrance is already in the current configuration:

        1. Hmm. Maybe it was separate from the re-profiling of the corner.

          1. I think the pit lane was put in place before the chicane so that slower cars – ones intending to pit – could get off the racing line into the heavy braking zone of the Triangle. Otherwise, they’d just be holding up the cars racing for position. But it became apparent that this had no effect whatsoever, and the extended pit lane interfered with the racing because it was so long and so slow, and it was reverted back to its current configuration.

  2. Suzuka is so great. I hope they don’t decide to change anything, anytime (even if overtaking is difficult).

    1. don’t worry, they’ll just drop the circuit all together.

  3. Ironically, Degner 2 is perhaps one of the few corners that needs to have a tarmac run-off and it doesn’t! I’m sure many remember the multiple crashes in practice and qualifying that the gravel trap contributed to (beached cars, no grip to slow down after a small mistake). I bet Mark Webber’s glad he did it last year thought – twice in a row would be unlucky even for Mark!

    1. That’s if you believe that challenging corners should have tarmac run-off as a matter of course.

      If the drivers don’t want to crash, they should stay within the confines of the track. I think it’s awful the way once-challenging corners like Pouhon have been neutered because of this inexplicable desire to pave everywhere within 100m of the track with tarmac.

      1. Couldn’t agree more, Red Andy.

        1. Well said. There should be some cost for making a mistake. And all that tarmac looks so awful.

      2. It’s all well and good to say that but the fact is it doesn’t work like that. Arguably the best drivers will be on the limit of staying in the boundaries and there’s bound to be a time when that goes awry. Last year the corner was the scene of a farce. It’s not an easy corner, but it’s not Pouhon.

      3. Totally agree. Even though every time I make a mistake there in rFactor I get mad as hell hahaha :) Same case is for 130R, a barrier modification would’ve enough IMO.

  4. While the actual configuration of Suzuka hasn’t changed that much, the original proposals were quite radical. Although the site as been defunct for some time, there’s a really good article over at eTracks Online that goes into the history of John Hugenholtz’s creation. Soichiro Honda practicaly wrote him a black cheque to do whatever he wanted with it, and while the same basic shape was retained, the first draft had three crossovers. The first sector was a real knot of a road, with a very tight infield section. Eventually it got smoothed out, but it was actually very bizarre to begin with. At one stage the first sector features a double-switchback and another iteration had a Hungaroring-esque sequence of bends vconnecting the hairpin to Spoon Curve.

    You can read more here:

    1. Great link! That first draft is insane.

      1. I’m just curious as to where the pits would have gone …

      2. Wow – whenever I’ve doodled tracks I’ve never done something that crazy! Great find.

        1. That is simply insane! Much respect fo finding that link, Id never heard of that story before

        2. You know what I reckon would be interesting as an approach for a future circuit: a really-style super special stage, with the two loops that usually mirror each other and cross over. It would be difficult to do because the circuit needs to be wide enough and there would be safety issues with running two lanes so close to one another (but I figure it would be like a street circuit with walls that are very close [and also very thick] to the circuit). There was one in the original Colin McRae Rally set in England that was shaped like a double helix with the way it kept criss-crossing over itself. And then there were three in Colin Mcrae Rally 2.0 – England, Sweden and Greece – that were absolute labyrinths, and it was really easy to get lost in them.

          1. Shame that concept has a couple flaws as you mention. Otherwise it would probably be a very interesting idea for a circuit I think. Spectators could see atleast twice as much cars as they see on a normal track.

          2. This has actually been done in fact! In the late 80’s and maybe very early 90’s there used to be an off-season small F1 race in a car park of an Italian motor show, in Bologna I think. There, the minor F1 Italian teams, e.g. Minardi and Scuderia Italia (i.e. Dallara I think), would each run one or two of their cars, with each race being a one-on-one time trial taking place in individual lanes next to each other, separated by a barrier.

            So exactly like the Super Special Stages and the Race of Champions…

            But there was one small, but considerable difference (apart from the fact it was F1 cars):

            The F1 cars would set off, and end the race at the finishing line… Going the opposite directions round the track from each other!!!

            Mental. Of course the circuit was super tight and narrow, so they didn’t get to reach very high speeds, but I liked the concept, and thought you’d all be interested in a bit of history.

    2. Insane ideas! Though I think they were onto something with the 180-degree Turn 1. Just imagine the run down from Spoon with an open 130R and no chicane…

  5. I think we are going to see a lot of people run into the gravel in quali. This track is very unforgiving as I found out in F1 2010 :D

    1. :P First sector is certainly challenging, but, there’s a kind of thrill when you nail those S curves, the Degner and the beautiful 130R. God knows what it’s like in an actual car! No wonder they all love it…

      1. Denger has to be, hands down, one of the best corners on the calendar. I know it’s only a video game, but I love it in Gran Turismo 4 – dip the brakes, swing it in, let inertia carry you across the track, blip the accelerator to keep the revs up, then tap the brakes and swing in for the second half and coax the throttle again as you ease of the brake pedal and let the torque pull you through a corner that is much faster than it looks. And all of that in the space of fifty metres. It’s as delicate as it is insane.

        1. Anytime there are multiple apexes it’s a good thing. Degner, and Turkey turn 8 are two of the best.

  6. Thanks for that Tiago Monteiro photo. I almost forgot Midland and Spyker names ever existed in F1 ;)

  7. There’s no doubt about it Suzuka is a classic circuit. One of the best. I think the FIA rules need to be modified to ensure every circuit has a crossover, and that every circuit must be built on land that has a naturally undulating topography.

  8. Here’s hoping for a safe weekend. I worried last year that the circuit had actually become too challenging for even the finest drivers in the world.

    I agree with Prisoner Monkeys and disagree with Icthyes – Degner 1 is far trickier than Pouhon. If you are not inch perfect at Pouhon, you lift off, get back to hugging the apex and lose a tenth. Degner, due to its tightly radiussed apex, it really is is like threading a needle at 150mph. There is absolutely zero room for error, particularly as you used to have to hit the brakes for Degner 2 as soon as you reached Degner 1’s exit kerb. It’s incredibly difficult to get it perfect every time.

    Hey, I have an idea for a thread: Let’s have a vote/discussion on the most difficult corner on the F1 calendar.
    Sadly, I actually wonder if that Singapore chicane is, considering how impossible it is to look down from the cockpit… Surprised Lewis despised it, as he normally has a superhuman ability to know where the extremities of his car are.

  9. According to ESPN F1 .. there are some minor changes to kerbing this year.

    “The FIA said a new 25mm “negative kerb” has replaced the old kerb and the green concrete section at the exit of the fast first Degner section. The Spoon Curve also features modified outside kerbing for 2010, including more artificial grass there and also behind the kerb at the final chicane.”

  10. I have precisely ZERO recollection of that McNish crash. Just looked it up on YouTube – it was fairly mighty and the back end of the car was destroyed. I don’t remember it at all!

  11. Keith C in NY
    8th October 2010, 0:02

    Curiosity struck – what or who is Degner? Very interesting story:

Comments are closed.