F1: The Japanese Grand Prix
Written by Nikolai Mastrovich
Attending the Japanese Grand Prix does not feature highly on the agenda of many participants of the JET Programme. There are a vast number of JETs who know nothing about Formula One. In my humble opinion, these people are missing out on an event, an international one no less, which showcases some of the finest aspects of Japanese culture- in particular, enthusiasm and hospitality. The Japanese GP is far more than a bunch of cars going round a track 53 times. It’s an entire weekend of quintessentially bizarre Japanese fanaticism. It’s history in the making. It’s extremely applicable to a JET’s role as an internationalization-er. Also it’s f****** ear-splittingly loud!
Of course, for myself and Tom Legge, it didn’t need to be anything but a car race. The two of us could survive for weeks on nothing but the smell of an oily rag. Our plans to attend the GP at Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture literally began minutes after we met each other at Tokyo Orientation. By the time that Saijo language camp had started, we had Sofara Aiono onboard, together with a band of merry English JETs from various other prefectures.
Of course, Tom and his countrymen had four drivers to cheer on – Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Paul di Resta and Max Chilton, and they thusly adorned themselves with Union Jacks. Not wanting to be left out (our New Zealand representative is a front-runner in GP2: the grade below F1), but mainly not wanting to be mistaken for dirty colonialists, Fara and I sported a New Zealand flag and an All Blacks jersey. However, what little decoration we came with absolutely paled in comparison to the thousands of Japanese fans, who appeared to have emptied out their wallets in the weeks leading up to the GP in order to clothe themselves in the very latest team gear from Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes and of course, Red Bull. Some even went as far as dressing up as Ferrari Samurai. Others had hats with little scale model F1 cars on top. I even saw helmets topped with F1 style spoilers, one of which had a GoPro inside.
With this sort of fanfare, it’s little wonder that the drivers themselves repeatedly name the Japanese GP as their favorite on the calendar. Jenson Button, in his 13th Japanese GP noted, “from what I can see, the Japanese are not necessarily a fan of a single driver; they just love Formula One itself.” It also helps immeasurably that this event usually comes around at a point in the season where the Driver’s Championship is coming down to the wire. Because of this, Suzuka Circuit has been the scene of some of the most gripping battles in the history of the sport. Perhaps when current champion Sebastian Vettel’s dominance subsides, as fellow German Michael Schumacher’s eventually did, the dedicated Japanese fans will again be treated to pulsating scenes such as those created by the likes of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the early 90’s. The blisteringly quick Vettel went on to win his fourth Japanese GP this year. For the 2013 season, it was his fifth in a row and eighth in total, leaving him a hairs breadth from clinching his fourth championship in as many years.
However, even in the absence of completely unpredictable outcomes, for me, either visiting Suzuka Circuit OR going to an F1 GP, OR going to a racing meet in Japan would have each been a dream come true. The combination of all three was enough to bring tears to my eyes when the first car flew out of the pits during qualifying (although, sleep deprivation and excessive alcohol consumption may also have been implicating factors in my fragile emotional state). However, the recipe of an aesthetically beautiful race track, stunning early autumn weather (though rain would have made things a little more interesting), outrageously dedicated fans and comparatively inexpensive and delicious food and alcohol make this an event to be enjoyed by anyone, and not only by lifelong kuruma otaku like Tom and I.
Above all else, the Japanese Grand Prix is a perfect example of Japan-meets-world. And this is the crux. Well, for us JETs especially. It’s why we’re here isn’t it? Formula One is one of the great unifying world sports. The drivers, engineers, technicians, managers and officials represent countries from all around the world. The whole show then travels around the world each year, and each year finds some of its most fervent and vigorous support in the Land of the Rising Sun. If you’re interested in seeing Japan excel at playing host to the world, this event is a must. If you’re interested in seeing Japanese fans at their weird and wacky best, this event is fundamental. If, like the majority of our group you’re interested in drinking beer, eating meat and watching the fastest cars in the world roar past at break neck speeds, it’s your damn obligation. There are whispers that next season may even see the return of Honda as a team, and with them, the possibility of a Japanese driver – developments which would push the level of exhilaration at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix into overdrive.
Edited by, Liz Millership and Carlye Hodel