Suzuka race track
Japan hosts a Formula One racing event that draw crowds of over 100,000 for the race itself, with 220,000 coming over three days for practice, qualification and race. The event has been held at Twin Ring Motegimachi, Suzuka Circuit and Fuji Speedway

In last couple of years the Japanese Grand Prix has been the 17th and second to last race on Formula One season and is often decisive in determining who wins the world championship. For many years, Japan hosted the final Formula One race of the season. In 2004 the final race was changed to Brazil, mainly so Europeans could watch the race in prime time.

McLaren’s Jenson Button won the Japan Grand Prix at Suzuka in October 2011. Red Bull’s 24-year-old Sebastian Vettel was third but the placing gave him enough points to sew up the Formula One drivers championship, making him Formula One’s youngest double world champion. Vettel needed just one point in the race to secure the title. Vettel has done well in Japan. He won at the Suzuka Circuit in 2009 and 2010.

Kimi Raikkonen won the Japan Grand Prix in 2005. The race was held before a crowd of 156,000 at Suzuka Circuit. Toyota’s Ralf Shumacher held the pole and Honda was second but but the two Japanese car makers finished eight and fifth respectively in the race itself.

In 2007, the Japanese Grand Prix was held at Fuji Speedway for the first time in 30 years. The track had been overhauled since it was last used in 1977. About 140,000 came but the race was marred by blind seats and a big traffic jam to get to the event. The race track was only accessible by bus which one had to wait for hours to catch.

At the Japan Grand Prix in 2008 Fernando Alonso won in a race that featured a collision between Lewis Hamilton and Feleipe Massa — who were battling for the Formula One driver’s championship — early in the race. Hamilton finished out of the points and Massa finishing in the seventh.

Sebastian Vettel, the 22-year-old German Red Bull driver, won the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix in October 2009 in a race held at Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture.

Japanese Formula One Teams

In 2006, three of the 11 Formula One teams were Japanese: Toyota, BAR Honda and Super Aguri. Japanese teams usually have disappointing season. The only Japanese company that seems to do well is the tire supplier Bridgestone.

Super Aguri Honda is the smallest team in Formula One. Backed by Honda and founded by former grand prix driver Aguri Suzuki, it was launched in 2005 and shut down in May 2008. Super Aguri used drivers Takama Sato and Briton Anthony Davidson in 2007 and 2008. High costs and lack funds were the main reasons for the shut down. It owed Honda a considerable amount of money. It scored only six points in 2007.

Bridgestone has said it will stop supplying tires to Formula One after its contract expires in 2010. It began supplying tires for the race circuit in 1997 and has been the sole supplier since 2007.

In March 2011, Nissan’s Infiniti said it was going to sign a major marketing deal with Red Bull.

Vettel Wins in Japan in 2012 to Close up on Championship Leader Alonso

The 2012 Japanese Grand Prix was held on October 7 at Suzuka. The race started at 3:00pm. Practice and qualifying took place on the two days before the race.

Vettel the Japanese Grand Prix again in 2012. CNN reported: “Sebastian Vettel boosted his hopes of a third straight world championship title with a commanding drive from pole to win the Japanese Grand Prix. Felipe Massa of Brazil finished a distant second in his Ferrari with Kamui Kobayashi sending the home crowd at Suzuka into a frenzy by taking third place. [Source: CNN, October 7, 2012]

Red Bull's Vettel made a clean start to avoid the first corner chaos which saw championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari spin out of the race after being clipped by Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus. His second straight victory has seen him close to within four points of Spaniard Alonso in the standings with five rounds remaining. Massa, under pressure for his place at Ferrari, took advantage of the crash and the ensuing safety car to move through the field with a superb drive, while Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver since 1990 to claim a podium in their home grand prix. He was pushed all the way by Jenson Button, whose McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton finished fifth to move to within 42 points of Alonso.

Toyota and Car Racing

Honda and Toyota operate rival tracks. Toyota’s Fuji International Speedway lies at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It is 4.5 kilometers long, was renovated in the mid 2000s and hosted Japan’s Formula One race in 2008.

Toyota entered NASCAR in 2004 and competed it first top level NASCAR Stock Car race in February 2007 with Michael Waltrip as one of its drivers. Only one non-American car had won a stock car race in the United States before then and that was in January 1954. In 2006, Toyota won 12 of 25 events in the NASCAR truck racing series.

Toyota debut NASCAR season in 2007 was less than impressive. Some called it a disaster. In 2008, Toyota did better with a team of 11 Camrys and drivers Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch and alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch was head in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series before the Chase with seven victories, 12 top five finished and had a 262 point leader driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In January 2009, Toyota said it would cut its NASCAR budget to save money in the wake of the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009.

As of January 2009, Toyota had 51 victories in 125 races and was in its third year with Joe Gibbs Racing, whose drivers gave Toyota ten victories. Toyota has also won the last three manufacturing championship. Competitors have said that deep-pocketed Toyota has won by outspending its rivals.

Toyota's 2009 F-1 car

Toyota pulled out from Le Mans in 1999. It plans to enter with a hybrid in 2010 with the aim of proving that fuel efficiency can be as important in winning a car race as speed. The car is expected to have a storage battery like that found n Prius as well as a condenser that can rapidly generate and store electricity. Toyota hopes to reduce fuel consumption by around six percent and adapt the technology for passenger cars.

Honda and Toyota are leaders in making engines for the 20-race CART FedEx Championship races. Toyota and Honda cars occupied the first 17 positions in the 2003 Indianapolis 500. That year Toyota debuted at Indy and Honda returned after eight years away. Their engine are more powerful than those of General Motors, the top U.S. manufacturer.

Fuji International Speedway is 93.4 percent owned by Toyota. It hosted the Japanese Formula one Grand Prix in 2007 and 2008 but pulled out of hosting it in 2010.

NASCAR. See Below

Toyota and Formula One Car Racing

Toyota entered Formula One in 2002. It has spent over $1 billion and not won anything. As of 2008 all it had to show for its trouble and expense was two second place finishes in Malaysia and Bahrain by Italian driver Jarno Trulli in 2005 and a second place in Hungary in 2008.

Toyota has mostly struggled. In 2002 it finished 10th in the team standings. In 2003 and 2004 it was eighth with no podium finishes. In 2005 and 2006 Toyota signed two big name drivers — German Ralf Shumacher and Italian Jarno Trulli — and operated under the Panasonic racing Team. In 2005, the team got off to a good start. Trulli took second in the second race of the season and the team went on to take five podium finishes and places forth in the constructors title with 12 points.

Toyota's 2009 F-1 engine
The Toyota Formula One team is based in Cologne, Germany. Ralf Schumacher raced for Toyota three years 2005, 2006 and 2007. His best finish was third in 2006 in Australia. In 2008, Toyota replaced Ralf Schumacher with German driver Timo Glock.

In the 2006, Toyota promised to secure its first win but failed. It finished six the in the team championship with 35 points. In the 2007, it finished sixth eith 35 points, beat out by Williams which uses Toyota engines and scored 20 points more. In 2004 it finished forth with 88 points.

In 2007, Toyota put a large chunk of its profits in its Formula One team and sponsored the Japan Grand Prix and supplied engines for rival team, Williams.

In 2008, Toyota said it would scale back cots but vowed that it would not drop out of Formula One despite suffering in the global financial crisis. Later it was revealed that the team nearly pulled out of F1 and only decided to stay after receiving a pledge of support from it main sponsor Panasonic.

Toyota drivers went with driver Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock in 2009. They qualified one and two in Bahrain in April 2009 but were unable to take home a win.

In November 2009, Toyota announced it was pulling out of Formula One partly because of the economic crisis and also because of the fact that its engagement in the sport was tarnishing its reputation as a green car maker. The company left the sport without having won an event and said it would use the money it saved to fund research into eco-friendly cars. The move was expected to save the company at least $500 million a year.

Honda and Car Racing

Honda and Toyota operate rival tracks. Honda’s Suzuka Circuit is 5.8 kilometers long and located in Suzaka in Mie Prefecture. It held Japan’s Formula One races from 1987 to 2004 and through 2007

Honda and Toyota are leaders in making engines for the 20-race CART FedEx Championship races. Honda won its forth manufacturer's title with 348 points in 2001 (the others were in 1996, 1998 and 1999). In 2001, Helio Castronevs won the Indianapolis 500 with a Honda engine and Gol de Fettan won his second consecutive CART driver season championship with a Honda engine.

Toyota and Honda cars occupied the first 17 positions in the 2003 Indianapolis 500. That year Toyota debuted at Indy and Honda returned after eight years away. Their engine are more powerful than those of General Motors, the top U.S. manufacturer. Many members of their CART teams moved to Indy Racing League (IRL).

Honda won its first Indy pole and first Indy win in 2003 and its first Indy championship in 2004.

Honda and Formula One Racing

Honda’s founder Soichiro Honda decided to enter Formula One in the 1960s after going to three races in 1964 with a team of about 20 members. Honda enjoyed its heyday in the sport in the 1980s when it was a major supplier of Formula One engines Honda won 71 races through to 1992. Honda withdrew from racing from 1993 an 1999 and entered again in 2000. It spends much less and gets better results than Toyota.

Honda supplied the engines for McLaren and Williams when they were dominant from 1986 to 1991. In 2001, Honda supplied engines for Jordan and BAR, who battled it out for fifth and sixth place in the manufactures title in the 2001 season. Jacques Villeneuve of BAR made the podium with a Honda engine. Honda make its engines at its celebrated Research & Development facility in Tochigi, Japan.

Honda was championship runner-up with BAR Honda in 2004 before buying the team in 2005. The had just one win: Briton Jenson Button’s win in Hungary in 2006.

In 2005, Honda and British American Tobacco joined forces to create the BAR Honda Formula One team. The team is 45 percent owned by Honda. Drivers for the tam in 2006 were Briton Jensen Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, formally with Ferrari.

Honda employed 700 people and spent between $300 million and $500 million a year but only earned 20 points in 2007 and 2008 and finished next to last in ninth place in 2008. By comparison tiny Toros won a race and scored 39 points in one year with a Ferrari engine. Honda’s poor performance made it difficult to find sponsors.

Honda drivers in 2008 were Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichelo. Without any major sponsors, Honda promoted its “Earth Car,” which performed poorly. But Honda had high hopes for 2009, recruiting former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn to head its team,

Honda Withdraws from Formula One Racing

In November 2008, Honda announced that it was withdrawing from Formula One because of money worries associated with the global financial crisis and the high cost of running a Formul\ One team. . Some also speculate that is poor performance in the previous year was also a factor.

In March 2009, Honda announced that it had sold the ownership of its Formula One team to team boss Ross Brawn. The name of the team was officially changed to Brawn GP. Britain’s Jensen Button and Brazilian Rubens Barichello were kept as drivers.

The deal with Brawn was worked out after a deal with Virgin Richard Branson fell through, a $143 million rescue offer by Formula one Bernie Ecclestone was rejected and rumors that Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim was going t buy the team turned out to be false. Virgin became a major sponsor. Brawn installed a Mercedes engine

Ironically, Brawn and Button did great in the 2009 season. Brawn ended up winning the constructor’s title and Button won the driver’s title. Button won six of seven races early in the season and won the driver's championship and Brawn won the team championship. Barichello won a couple of races and had podium finishes in others.

Japanese Formula One Drivers

No Japanese has ever won a Formula One event since the sport debuted in 1950. Saturo Nakajima was the first Asian to drive Formula One. Nakajima made his debut in 1987 with Lotus Honda at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Aguri Suzuki was the first Japanese to score a podium finished. He placed third in the Japanese Grand Prix in 1991.

Kazuki Nakajima, the son of former Grand Prix driver Satori Nakajima, made his F-1 debut in Brazil 2008 for the Williams team. In 2007 he was rookie of the years in GP2 series. He speaks fluent English which is useful to effectively communicate with engineers Williams will keep Nakajima in 2009.

In 2007 Japanese driver Sakan Yamamoto drove for the team Spyker.

Kamui Kobayashi

Kamui Kobayashi drove for Toyota at the end of the 2009 Formula One season, replacing German Timo Glock. He performed well enough to win a contact with the BMW Sauber team in 2010. Kobayashi was born in Hyogo Prefecture and has been living in Paris for several years. He feared that if he could not land an F-1 job he would have to return to Japan to work at his father’s restaurant.

Even though Kobayashi's father is a sushi chef he has an aversion to raw fish. He owns a Yorkshire terrier named Alfred and once dreamed of becoming a comedian but turned to racing because he “wasn’t talented enough.” His parents are not interested in car racing he said and they don’t even have a road car. Based in Cologne, in Germany, Kobayashi says loves traveling, beaches, holidays and spending time in Paris, when he is not racing. But, when he races, he likes to be serious and succeed. Kobayashi placed sixth at British Grand Prix in 2010.

Kobayashi raced with Switzerland-based Sauber again in 2011. Kobayashi scored the team's best result, finishing fifth in Monaco in 2011. After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Kobayashi has been at the forefront of many initiatives in Formula One to raise funds to help his countrymen recover. He and his team, Sauber, launched a new electronic computer application that features contributions from all of the drivers and team principals in F1. The 'You Are Connected' application can be bought from iTunes and all proceeds go to the Red Cross in Japan.

In July 2011 it was announced that Kobayashi will stay with Sauber in 2012 after the Swiss team decided to take up options to extend their contracts. "I'm very proud and want to thank the team for keeping their faith in me," said Japanese Kobayashi. Team boss Peter Sauber said: "Kamui has grown into his role extremely well. He is taking on responsibilities that naturally fall to the more experienced driver in the team. We had an option of working with him in 2012 and there was never any doubt we would take it.

Kobayashi, Master Passer

Kobayashi has become known for his thrilling overtaking moves. In May 2011 he finished a humble, disappointed 10 to score a point in the Turkish Grand Prix but he finished that high after starting from 23rd on the grid. Tim Collings of AFP wrote: “At one point he rose to fifth, in his first stint on his original tyres, before pitting and later collecting a puncture that cost him points. On the way, he performed more overtaking moves than any other driver in the race, consolidating his reputation as Formula One's master passer.” [Source: Tim Collings, AFP, May 13 2011]

"I had a lot of fun in Turkey," he told AFP. "I really enjoyed the race. I found overtaking a lot easier than in some places, like Hungary for example last year. That's what made it fun...I'm sorry I scored only one point because I had promised Peter Sauber I would score more points, but we lost a lot of time due to the puncture which came when I touched Sebastien Buemi's Toro Rosso car as I overtook him. Otherwise I am sure I could have finished at least seventh."

“Kobayashi's brilliant slaloms through a field of Formula One cars have become the most-alluring feature in Grand Prix racing in recent years, some performances earning him the soubriquet 'kamikaze',” Collins wrote. But that, according to his team boss Peter Sauber, is unfair because, he explained, Kobayashi's attacks are far from self-destructive. "It is unfair and it does Kamui an injustice to reduce him to his duelling prowess - he has proved his ability to carry out strategies with skill."

Kamui Kobayashi in 2012

In 2012, Kamui Kobayashi was only active Japanese Formula One driver. He got off to a good start, placing sixth I the opening race in Australia but didn’t do so well after that. His Sauber teammate Sergio Perez of Mexico stood on the podium three times, finishing second once and third once.

At the Korean Grand Prix in mid-October 2012, Kobayashi was blamed for causing a crash that ended the chances for Jenson Button too place high in the Formula Standings. The BBC reported: “Kamui Kobayashi has accepted he was to blame for the crash which forced Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg to retire on the first lap of the Korean Grand Prix. The Japanese was handed a drive-through penalty for hitting Rosberg and bouncing into Button before Turn Three. [Source: BBC, October 14, 2012]

"This is a race to forget," said Kobayashi. The mistake compounded a bad weekend for the Sauber driver who looks set to lose his seat in 2013. "Someone hit my rear tyre and then it was impossible to control the car, but I had to brake at some point," Kobayashi added. "I feel very sorry for ruining someone else's race, and certainly this

At the Belgian Grand Prix, Kobayashi was devastated that a front row start was wasted by a crash. Tom Mallett of Autosport wrote: “Kobayashi said seeing his Spa front-row start wasted in the first-lap accident was a "terrible" feeling. The Japanese driver had achieved the best qualifying result of his Formula 1 career with second behind Jenson Button, but made a slow start and was involved in the first corner clash that removed Romain Grosjean, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Kobayashi made it to the finish in 13th despite damage to his car from the incident. [Source: Tom Mallett, Autosport, September 2, 2012]

"This is a terrible race result after doing so well in qualifying. There was nothing I could do when a car came flying into mine at the start," he said. "I had to pit once for some repairs and then again after seven laps because of a slow puncture. "During the race I didn't really know how bad the damage to the car was, but I could see a tyre print on the cockpit all the time. "Later in parc ferme I understood why the car was so slow." His Sauber team-mate Sergio Perez, who started fourth, was taken out in the crash. "I am very disappointed for myself and the team because this was a great opportunity for us to fight for a victory," he said. "Cars came from behind and hit me, it was a big mess."

Kamui Kobayashi Takes Third at the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix

In October 2012, Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver since 1990 to claim a podium finish as he sent the home crowd at Suzuka race track into a frenzy by taking third place in Japanese Grand Prix in October 2012 behind Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa.[Source: CNN, October 7, 2012]

Kobayashi was pushed all the way by Jenson Button, whose McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton finished fifth, Jenson Button told the BBC he had no answer to Kobayashi's pace as the Sauber driver beat him to third place in the Japanese Grand Prix by half a second. Button rose from eighth to fourth and applied sustained pressure on Kobayashi, but the 26-year-old held firm to secure his first podium finish. "Towards the end, I was able to start catching Kamui but he controlled his final set of tyres very well," said the 32-year-old McLaren driver. [Source: BBC, October 7, 2012]

Button pitted on lap 13 for a new set of hard tyres and Kobayashi did the same a lap later, but Button could not get in front. Meanwhile, both men were leapfrogged by Ferrari's Felipe Massa, whose new soft tyres allowed him to stay out until lap 17 and climb from 10th (he qualified 11th but benefited from Nico Hulkenberg's grid penalty) en route to a second-place finish and his first podium in 35 races. "Both Kamui and I were compromised behind a Toro Rosso, and that cost both of us a bit of time to Felipe. "I could get close to Kamui, but the only way I was going to get into the DRS zone [which aids overtaking] was by braking extra-late into the chicane, and, every time I tried, I locked up and ran wide.

Kobayashi Launches Website to Raise Funds After Being Dropped by Sauber

At the end of the 2012 season, Kobayashi was dropped by Sauber. To raise money and find sponsors he launched a website. Reuters reported: “Kamui Kobayashi, Japan’s only current Formula One driver, is hoping that a website campaign can help raise the funds needed to keep him on the starting grid next season after being dropped by the Sauber team. [Source: Reuters, November 24, 2012]

“We see I think still some seats that are available so we try to get a seat,” he said. “If we can find some sponsors I think it is easier.” Kobayashi said money, or rather his lack of it, was “the main issue for sure” in why Sauber, who have several Mexican sponsors, had opted for Gutierrez alongside Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg.

“This is F1,” shrugged the Japanese, who arrived in F1 with Toyota support but no other backing and joined Sauber when the carmaker pulled out at the end of 2009. “For Sauber it is my last race but for myself I think it is different. Everybody looks really worried but I don’t really worry at the moment, I try to work hard to get sponsors and find out what’s available for next year’s seat.”

Kobayashi, an extrovert overtaker, has huge popularity in Japan after finishing third for Sauber in his home race at Suzuka this season but he has suspected for some time that he would not be kept on at the team. He said he was trying to harness some of the goodwill at home through a website, with the url posted on his Twitter account to 93,000 followers, offering wristbands in exchange for a donation — for now the text is in Japanese only.

“Suzuka had more than 100 000 people at the race — over the three days we had 200 000,” said Kobayashi, easily Japan’s most successful grand prix driver by career points scored. “I think we have a lot of potential to get some money from the fans as well. It has been just two days but it’s going to help my career for sure.” Force India, Caterham and Marussia still have seats available but all have made it clear that they are looking for sponsorship money as part of the deal.

Kobayashi Gives up on 2013 Drive

In December 2012, the BBC reported: “Japanese former Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi has given up on finding a Formula 1 seat in 2013. The 26-year-old had raised around £6.5m, partly in donations from fans, to fund a drive, announcing that he had failed to "secure a seat with a competitive team". In a message on his website, he asked for the donations to stop and said he would "save the money for 2014" and was "confident" of securing a drive then. [Source: Andrew Benson, BBC, December 17, 2012]

Kobayashi's only realistic options to stay at a comparable level to Sauber, or make a step up, had been Lotus and Force India. But Lotus announced they would retain Frenchman Romain Grosjean alongside Kimi Raikkonen. Force India have not yet revealed who will partner Scot Paul di Resta but Kobayashi's announcement suggests he is out of the running.

Kobayashi's message thanked his fans for the donations, saying: "Since the donations started, it has become quite big news in Japan. And because of your big support, it gave huge influences to some of Japanese companies and I started receiving good support from them. "I was in the position to bring a budget of 8m euro (£6.5m) at least. If you could imagine the time I had, it was an overwhelming reaction and it shows there still is a great potential from Japanese companies. "Unfortunately, the time was still short and I am not able to secure the seat with a competitive F1 team for 2013. I have to admit that it is very sad and I feel sorry for fans and Japanese companies who supported me. But I am still confident to make it happen in 2014.”

Takuma Sato

The Japanese driver Takuma Sato drove with Jordan-Honda in 2002 and Lucky Strike BAR. Honda in 2003. A former university bicycle racer, he was a sensation on the Formula 3 racing circuit in Britain and hoped to be the first Japanese to win a Formula One race. In 2002, he collected his first Grand Prix point when he placed fifth in the Japan Grand Prix.

Sato had Japan’s first podium finish in 2004 when placed third in U.S. Grand Prix. He was he was forth at the Japanese Grand Prix in October. In 2004, Sato replaced Villeneuve as a full time driver at BAR Honda. During most of the 2003 season, he was his team’s test driver. In 2003 he finished sixth at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Sato left BAR Honda in 2005. He had been widely criticized by other drivers, Michael Schumacher once called him crazy and said he should be barred from racing after Sato forced him into a crash the driver Jarno Trulli. Schumacher said, “The problem with Takuma is his misjudgement, he never understands when something is possible and when it isn’t.”

Sato drove for Super Aguri in 2006 and 2007, his six and seventh year of racing. With Super Aguri’s demise in 2008, Sato was left without a team. In 2009, he failed to make the Spanish Toro Ross team and turned down reserve rolls for the two Red Bull teams, He tried out but failed to earn a spot on the 2010 Lotus team.

Sato spent seven years in Formula One and finished eighth in 2004 with 10 top-10 finishes. His greatest achievements were in British Formula 3, where he won 12 races and won the Class A championship in 2001. In 2010, Sato switched to the Indy car series in the United States. In June 2011, he became the first Japanese driver to win a pole position in an Indy race (in Newton, Iowa) but finished 19th after his car hit a wall at the track’s second turn. In August 2011, Takuma Sata finished a personal best of 4th on the IndyCar circuit at the Mid-Ohio race in Lexington, Ohio. He earned the pole position at two races.

Image Sources: 1) Motogei track 2) Japan Zone 3) 4) 5) Toyota 6) Honda 7) Mitsubishi 8) Suzuki 9) Honda

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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