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Formula 1 in Japan: The past, present and future of racing

Written by Ilona Datchary, Edited by Sean McKean

Round four of 24 in the 2024 season will take place in Japan from April 4th to 7th. The Grand Prix will take place in Suzuka City at the Suzuka Circuit. Not many people are aware of the long history of drivers from Japan as well as how long Japan has been put into the calendar for the Formula 1 season. 

The history of drivers from Japan 

Many drivers have arisen from Japan. 21 of them have attempted to start an event, but only 18 have taken part in a race. With as many drivers as Japan has produced, some have unsurprisingly managed to stand out. There have been no World Championships won by a Japanese driver, however, there have been race winners and plenty of podium-sitters to speak about. 

Hiroshi Fushida in the middle during Le Mans in 1986; Image Credits: Photo Dome Ltd.

The first driver from the country to attempt a Formula 1 weekend was Hiroshi Fushida. The first F1 race weekend Fushida took part in was the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix.

He was set to start, but before the race during practice, his engine blew, which unfortunately meant that he would be unable to compete. His next and last F1 weekend was the 1975 British Grand Prix, where he was unable to qualify. His team at the time, Maki, ended up replacing him for Tony Trimmer, and that was the end of his Formula 1 career. 

1987 was the year Satoru Nakajima became the first Japanese driver to have a permanent seat in a Formula 1 team and season. He drove for Team Lotus and was a teammate of the famous Ayrton Senna. In his second race, Nakajima scored points, becoming the first Japanese driver to accomplish this, and he remained for five more seasons. 

Aguri Suzuki (on the left) with Mika Hakkinen ready for an F1 Parade for the Japanese Grand Prix in 2018; Image Credits: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The next driver to accomplish a feat for their nation was Aguri Suzuki. He was the first to get a podium finish and fastest lap during the same race which was the Japanese Grand Prix in 1990. Unfortunately, his career in Formula 1 had to finish early in 1995 due to a serious neck injury. 

A more recent driver, Kamui Kobayashi, was the third driver for the Toyota Team in 2007. In 2009, Kobayashi drove practice sessions in the Japanese Grand Prix and debuted the same year in the Brazilian Grand Prix. He qualified 11th and finished the race ninth.

With his great success the following year, he signed with Sauber and stayed until 2012. In 2014, he came back with Caterham which only lasted one year due to the team’s financial difficulties. 

Kamui Kobayashi with his Sauber Team during F1; Image Credits: Sauber

The current sole driver from Japan in this year’s Formula 1 season is Yuki Tsunoda, who is driving for Visa Cash App Racing Bulls. Tsunoda joined in 2021 with AlphaTauri and has remained with the team, who changed the team name this year.

His best qualifying was sixth in the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and his best finish was fourth in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In the season of 2024, Tsunoda has been proving himself and before the Japanese Grand Prix is 11th in the Drivers’ Standings, whereas his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, is 17th. 

The Fuji Speedway Circuit and Suzuka Circuit 

Japan has had a long history of being part of the Formula 1 season. Many people consider the Grand Prix to be important for the F1 season because usually it is towards the end of the season and has had 36 World Championships determined.

It is also one of the few countries to have had two Grands-Prix in one season, specifically during the 1994 and 1995 seasons, and was the Pacific Grand Prix. 

Last time Formula 1 had been seen at the Fuji Speedway Circuit; Image Credits: XPB Images

The Japanese Grand Prix started in 1976 at the Fuji Speedway Circuit for the infamous 1976 title decider. It remained there for one more year and then for the next ten years, Japan didn’t have a Grand Prix. In 1987, the Japanese Grand Prix came back, and instead of having it at the Fuji Speedway Circuit, it was at the Suzuka Circuit. 

The Grand Prix stayed in Suzuka until 2007, when it went back to the Fuji Speedway Circuit for the next two years. In 2009, it was back in the Suzuka Circuit and the plan was that Japan would alternate the two circuits.

However, in 2009 Toyota decided that they would not continue to have the Grand Prix at the Fuji Speedway Circuit due to economic issues. This meant the Suzuka Circuit would be the sole circuit being used for F1 in Japan and continues to be used now. 

The future of Formula 1 in Japan 

As mentioned, the Japanese Grand Prix was normally towards the end of the season but 2024 has been moved towards the beginning of the season. The reason is that F1 wants to be more environmentally friendly by putting the Japanese Grand Prix right after the Australian.

As of February 2024, there was an announcement for a five-year extension to the Japanese Grand Prix until 2029.  

Yuki Tsunoda driving in the 2024 Australian Grand Prix having his best finish of 7th place in a while; Image Credits: LAT

As for the current Japanese driver, Yuki Tsunoda, his contract is expected to end at the end of the 2024 season. As of now, Tsunoda has been performing better than his teammate, so will he stay with his team? Maybe get an offer for another team? Or will he have to leave at the end of the season? 


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