It’ll an early start or a late night depending on how old you are or how much Petrol there is in your veins. Yes it’s the first of the late nighters (if Korea goes ahead next, that is) in good old Suzuka, Japan.
I like Suzuka, it’s pretty much old school non-Tilke-dull-a-thon perfection for me, mostly because it’s just dangerous. There are not acres and acres of run off, or miles of waste land with a lone marshal and no spectators in sight. The Japanese really love their motor sport and turn up in their droves to this proper circuit.
The thing about Suzuka is that it’s been the scene of many a moment in Formula 1. It used to be the last race of the season, back in the day Hill Jnr won his championship here in 1996 beating Villeneuve by 19 points. Schumacher won numerous championships for Benetton and Ferrari at Suzuka.
But there is one event here that has really come to define what modern F1 racing is and what is acceptable from a racing driver.
It was 1990, Prost and Senna were fighting for the championship and both came to Japan with a chance to win. Now you need to understand that Prost in the Ferrari and Senna in the McLaren did not like each other, they loathed the very existence of the other in fact. It defined F1 racing during the 80’s and meant every championship for ever after had to have a hero and nemesis (Hamilton v Alonso for instance). You also need to know that Senna felt that the FIA, controlled by one Jean Marie Balestre in those days had it in for the Brazilian driver. This was good old fashioned paranoia of the best kind.
So it’s all very tense coming Suzuka and there’s is a lot of “I’m the big I AM, me” type stuff coming from Ferrari and McLaren and after qualifying Senna had got pole with another of his brilliant laps and Prost had got second with another of his boring controlled laps. But pole put Senna on the dirty side of the track which meant Prost would probably take the first corner and win the championship.
Senna went to the stewards and said “can we swap sides on the grid. I don’t want to be on the dirty side”. The race stewards said, “Yeah sure ... no worries”. And everyone one went to bed happy.
Except when Balestre heard what had happened he called the stewards up and said “the hell you change the Grid, I’m French, the FIA is French and we say what happens round here. Tell Senna to shut up and do as he’s told. You move the pole back pronto sunbeam…. Merde!!”.
At the drivers meeting the next morning Senna was told that his request was now rejected and he had to start on the dirty side. He greeted this news in a calm collected manner and stormed out of the meeting claiming it was all a huge conspiracy and they were all out to get him. He then went to the press and ... “vowed that if Prost (starting second) got the advantage into the first corner, which most were sure he would, he would never make it into the first corner”
When the race started that afternoon, everyone watched Senna to see what he’d do. Would a world champion drive another competitor off the road to win a championship ? we got out answer 30 seconds later as Prost shot off the line and into an mediate half a car length lead. As the right turn rushed up, Senna on the inside but behind the Frenchman made no attempt what so ever to brake and turn into the corner. He ploughed into the side of the Ferrari spinning them both off into the kitty litter. The result meant Senna had enough points to take the world Championship and a new chapter in F1 began.
The FIA did nothing, not a thing. There were a few harsh words and bit of handwringing, but ultimately Senna had said he was going to drive Prost off the track and he did. Because the FIA did nothing drivers started to accept that dangerous driving for a Championship was now acceptable, that it was okay to bang wheels and intimidate other drivers because it was all in the name of entertainment.
Four years later Schumacher drove Hill off the track to take his first World Championship in Australia, then tried to drive Villeneurve off the track to win another in 1997. Now Drivers like Webber, can “aggressively defend” a corner or a line. Because the FIA won’t throw the book at them. Because it’s entertaining.
Anyway, I have no idea who’s going to win this weekend.
Alonso is talking down his chances, claiming the track doesn’t favour the Ferrari, which is usually code for “We’re going to cream this one buddy” He’ll be the first driver to get 3 on the bounce this year if he does win. I fancy his chances, he’s got that glint in his eye again
Webber is keeping things low key but is still most peoples favourite to take the title, if the luck from Singapore hold out he should be a top 5. He doesn’t need to go for wins at every race now, but he still needs to keep the points rolling in. He’s not one for looking at the bigger picture though, and mistakes can happen when he takes his eye off the main prize.
Hamilton is vowing to do what he does best and go balls out for wins. If we’re not going to Korean in two weeks time them he HAS to win here to stay in with a shout. But two duff races must have dented his confidence, will he over compensate this time out ?
The same goes for Vettel and Button, points are fast running out and these two will need the other three to drop points to be in with a realistic shout.
Last year rain threw qualifying into chaos and left the grid all mixed up for the race, Vettel stormed off into the lead and never looked like being caught. It’s a track he seems to like where aggressive driving will reward the brave and the bold.