Suzuka International Racing Course

Suzuka City, Japan

Built as a test track for Honda in 1962, Suzuka - located 30 miles to the south-west of Japan's third largest city, Nagoya - was designed by Dutchman John Hugenholz, the man who designed Zandvoort and Jarama. The 3.64 mile track was part of a motorcycle theme park and situated close to Honda's huge Suzuka factory. As Honda diversified into cars so the park grew to include automobile exhibits as well and today it boasts swimming pools, ice skating rink, monorails, big wheels, event halls, hotels, golf courses and restaurants.

The first Japanese Grand Prix took place at Suzuka in 1963 and was a sportscar race which was won a young British driver called Peter Warr, who would go on to become the motive force in the Lotus F1 team after the death of Colin Chapman. The Japanese GP remained a sportscar race until 1969 and was then held for Formula 2 cars between 1971 and 1975. Formula 1 arrived in 1976 but it went to Mount Fuji rather than Suzuka and it was not until 1987 that Honda influence finally swayed Formula 1 to return to Japan. The track was slower than Hugenholz's original for safety reasons but it was still a great challenge for the Grand Prix drivers.

The first corner is fast and testing, sweeping right in a long arc which rises around a pond and then dives through a series of sweeps before disappearing from the main grandstand area through a fast lefthander. Suzuka is also one of the very few 'figure-of-eight' circuits, for the road cuts under itself after a pair of right-handers and bursts up to left-hand hairpin, from whence it heads to Spoon Corner, before dropping down and onto the straight -- past the secondary pits and over the track below to a fine sweeping left-hander called 130R - which slingshots the cars up to the last corner, once long and fast, but since 1983 disrupted by an extremely tight chicane.

The circuit has hosted some dramatic World Championship showdowns, notably in 1987 when Nigel Mansell crashed in qualifying, leaving the title to Nelson Piquet. In 1989, McLaren team mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided amid much controversy (Prost got the title) and the following year they did it again although by then Prost was driving for Ferrari, and it was Senna's turn to be World Champion.

Suzuka continues to host the Japanese GP every year while also playing host to many of the major Japanese national events as well. In recent years some upgrading work has been done to improve facilities, largely because Honda is aware that it will not be long before Toyota starts to bid for the Japanese GP with its revamped Mount Fuji facility.