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Top 10 Best F1 Japanese Grand Prix Moments

Written by Owen Bradley, Vyas Ponnuri, Traber Burns


The 2024 Japanese Grand Prix is on the horizon, and what better way to get excited for this year's Grand Prix, than by looking at the best moments the Japanese Grand Prix has had to offer. Here are DIVEBOMB’s Top 10 Best Japanese Grand Prix Moments.


1.  Senna and Prost Collide, Suzuka 1989 - Owen Bradley

Credit: TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA


One of the most definitive moments of Formula One history, the major championship-deciding clash between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The entire championship in 1989 had been a war between the McLaren teammates, but this was known as the major flashpoint to the 1989 season as well as the first major flashpoint to Senna and Prost’s professional relationship. 


Senna had sent his car up the inside of Prost’s McLaren into the final chicane at Suzuka which back then was called “The Casio Chicane.” However, coming from a long way back, Prost turned into Senna from one perspective, or Senna sent in an audacious move that was over the limit and into the side of Prost. 


No matter the perspective, the two titans clashed. Senna went on to cut the chicane, rather than going backwards onto the circuit. The FIA would therefore disqualify Senna for not completing the official race distance, one of the most controversial decisions in F1, which cost Senna the 1989 World Championship, despite Senna coming back to win the race from Alessandro Nannini.



2. James Hunt Captures Championship in Nail-Biting Fashion, Fuji 1976 - Traber Burns

Credit: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images


The 1976 championship battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda might have an argument for being the greatest in all of motorsports. The two competitors were polar opposites of each other. Hunt, a McLaren driver, was known for his aggressive, sometimes reckless driving style, which gave him the nickname Hunt the shunt. Lauda, a Ferrari driver, was much more conservative with his driving style. 


Hunt spent his free time getting drunk and riding private jets. Lauda preferred flying his own planes and testing as much as he could. Earlier in the season, Lauda had a near-fatal crash at a wet Nurburgring track. Despite being in a coma and being read his last rights, he only missed two races. An extremely wet Fuji speedway would play host to the Japanese Grand Prix and this season’s finale, as Hunt was only five points behind Lauda. 


Hunt and Lauda started second and third respectively, but Hunt took the lead from Andretti’s Lotus off the line. At the end of lap two, Lauda pulled into the pits and retired. There wasn’t a crash or mechanical failure. Lauda simply decided it was too dangerous to race. He later said “My life is worth more than a title.” That left Hunt with just one objective - finish third. 


Until lap 62, that seemed like an easy feat, but with 11 laps left, a puncture forced him into the pits. He came out fifth and ran down Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni, overtaking both of them on the penultimate lap. However, when he returned to the pits, the scoreboard still showed him in fifth. Since electronic timing wasn’t available at the time, it took a quick discussion by the race officials to determine the final order, but eventually, Hunt was given third place and the World Championship. 


If you thought this was set up perfectly for a Hollywood script, so did Hollywood. The movie Rush was a great depiction of the championship as a whole, but it also put a spotlight on the fascinating characters that made it. Niki Lauda and James Hunt will forever go down as one of the greatest rivalries in history.



3. Kimi’s epoch, Suzuka, 2005 - Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Paul Gilham


You normally think of great comeback drives, and you think of Ayrton Senna’s sensational championship-winning Suzuka drive in 1988, coming through from 16th on the grid to win the race — and the championship. 


You think of all the famous drives at Suzuka from the archives, be it Michael Schumacher winning his first title for Ferrari in 2000, or Lewis Hamilton’s wet-weather masterclass at Fuji seven years later, or even Max Verstappen’s dominance in a rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix two years ago. However, few can top the epic drive ‘The Iceman’ put in around the ‘Figure of Eight’ track in 2005. 


In a season dominated by reliability gremlins dogging the MCL20, Raikkonen’s drive was a display of what could have been, had McLaren gotten themselves together during the season. 


A typical wet qualifying session at Suzuka caught the front runners out, forcing them to qualify towards the rear end of the grid, with Raikkonen down in 17th, and his rivals Fernando Alonso and Schumacher starting only just ahead, in 16th and 14th respectively. 


The Finn kept out of chaos during the opening laps, and soon engaged in battle with his closest rivals, even witnessing Alonso just ahead pull off that audacious overtake on the seven-time champion into the fearsome 130R corner. 


However, after the pit stops, both Raikkonen and Schumacher would jump ahead of Alonso, the latter having stopped earlier, with Raikkonen quickly dispatching the defending champion. 


He would soon take the lead after others pitted, before coming in for a final splash-and-dash on lap 45. Re-emerging some 20 seconds behind race leader Giancarlo Fisichella, the Finn drove like a man possessed, slashing this gap to almost nothing as the duo set off onto the final lap of the race. 


Fired up, Raikkonen would put in an overtake to remember, as he spooked Fisichella into defending the inside line, before sweeping around the outside of turn one to take the lead, much to the delight of James Allen in the commentary box. 


A day to savour and remember for the Iceman, who, in a rare show of emotion, raised his arms out to celebrate as he passed the chequered flag, enjoying a well-earned victory, the drive going down in history as one of the greatest the sport had ever seen. 



4. Max Verstappen seals the championship with Suzuka epic; Suzuka, 2022 - Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Dan Istitene


The figure-of-eight Suzuka layout is a tough track to tame in the dry, let alone when the heavens open up, as races at the track in the past have evidenced. In 2022, one driver would put in one of the greatest wet weather drives, doubling his championship tally, and stamping his authority as one of the sport’s finest wet weather racers. 


Having taken pole in the dry by the slender margin of one hundredth of a second from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Verstappen would have a clear path ahead of him for the race. This would pay rich dividends for him on race day, with a typical Suzuka wet-weather race ahead of the drivers.  


Having appeared to have gotten away slower compared to his front-row rival Leclerc off the start, Verstappen would brave it out on the outside of the sweeping turns one and two, keeping his foot pinned, and powering ahead as the duo rounded the two right-handers. 


With a red flag called out after only two laps of running, and the rain refusing to relent, a lengthy stoppage ensued. Yet, a pocket of time after the rain letting up allowed for a motor race — albeit for 40 minutes. 


There was no stopping the Dutchman once the race resumed, as he pulled out a staggering 27-second lead in the span of 40 minutes, roughly translating to 28 laps of wet weather racing. He had pulled out nearly a second per lap on his rivals. It was an absolutely flawless drive from a man known for his metronomical precision and accuracy all season. Not a single off-track excursion, or a moment of oversteer. 


The best part? With Leclerc in second incurring a five-second penalty, and teammate Perez out of mathematical contention for the championship, the Dutchman was crowned world champion in dramatic fashion once again, as he cut a bemused figure, sitting on the ‘world champion’ chair in the cool down room. 



5. Kobayashi delights home fans with a podium to remember - Suzuka 2012 - Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA


Coming into the weekend, Kamui Kobayashi would have been eyeing a great weekend, eyeing up yet another points finish to add to his tally of 35 in 2012. 


Having been in the shadow of his younger, more illustrious teammate Sergio Perez all season, Kobayashi took the spotlight for an improved Sauber package in 2012 that had led them to three podiums up until then — all snapped up by Perez. 


Spurred on by the performance of the Sauber machine at his disposal, and the spirit of the Japanese fans, Kobayashi would put in an excellent lap to start fourth for Sunday’s race, a crucial position putting him in an important position for the race, more so when you look at the action that unfolded the next day. 


With opening corner chaos eliminating and crippling the races of some speedy runners behind, Kobayashi was suddenly staring at a rare home podium, and his battle would be with the much quicker McLaren of Jenson Button. 


Kobayashi had been known as a fiery overtaker up until that point, some of his audacious overtakes catching his rivals out by surprise. Once again, he would use his overtaking skills to keep the chasing McLaren at bay. 


Despite being jumped by the Ferrari of Felipe Massa during the pit stops, Kobayashi held off the threat of Button, crossing the line third, and becoming the first driver to take a home podium since Aguri Suzuki over two decades prior. 


There certainly can be no better feeling than to hear a patriotic crowd chant your name as you step onto the podium, and that was certainly the feeling Kobayashi experienced, with the passionate fans chanting their home hero’s name as he appeared onto the podium, waving to the fans, soaking in the moment. 


6. Senna and Prost Collide: Part 2, Suzuka 1990 - Owen Bradley

Credit: Allsport UK


Just one season on from their major collision in 1989, many things had changed. Alain Prost had left the McLaren team after the 1989 season, most likely as a result of their huge fallout and championship battle at the end of that year. Prost would join Ferrari for 1990, and would be in exceptional form right from the outset. Senna would win the season opener, and also took the most poles in 1990 with 10 from the 16 races. Prost however, was much better on Sunday, race day.


Prost would go ahead to win the second race in Brazil, after Senna had initially started from pole position. This would be the familiar story for the pair of them, trading places and fastest laps all season. Senna would take eight wins, Prost would take five and this led to the championship coming down to the penultimate race in Japan. Senna had the advantage, and if Prost was unable to finish the race then Senna would be crowned the 1990 World Champion.


Senna would take pole at Suzuka, but had been complaining to the FIA that the pole position starting point was on the wrong side of the grid. His spot, despite being fastest in Qualifying, would be on the dirtier side of the track where all the rubber and small debris falls onto, where Prost would be starting on the racing line making it more easy to get some grip and traction from, as well as a cleaner run into the sweeping right hander which you must take from the left side for the best lap time. Despite Senna starting in front, it was arguably Prost that had the advantage. Allegedly, Senna would reveal he didn’t intend on backing out of a potential clash at Turn 1 if Prost was able to get alongside him.


Prost got a terrific getaway and led going into Turn 1, with Senna only having his front wheel and nose cone up the inside, the pair would collide in a massive way, sending them both into the gravel and forcing both cars and drivers to retire from the race. Ayrton Senna would take the Championship, in one of the most controversial moments in F1 history. To Senna’s fans, it felt like redemption for the 1989 clash which cost him the title, but to many others it’s one of the only times that Senna’s desperation got the better of him.


7. Damon Hill Wins an emotional 1996 Japanese GP, as Murray stops commentating - Owen Bradley

Credit: Paul-Henri Cahier


The 1996 Championship had been dominated by Damon Hill in the early part of the championship, taking victory in the first three races of the season. He faced fierce competition, Jacques Villeneuve would frequently be battling against Hill in what turned into a great championship fight between two sons of other motorsport legends in F1. Both men were incredibly driven to win, with Damon Hill’s father Graham passing away in 1975 and Jacques Villeneuve’s father Gilles also passing away in 1982 - it was an emotional season for the two competitors and certainly for Murray Walker, who had known Graham Hill and knew how important this race was for Damon Hill.


Jacques Villeneuve would start from pole position, needing Hill to finish outside the Top 6 and to actually go ahead and win the race as well. Hill would start from second on the grid, the two teammates ready to go ahead and battle it out in a final shootout. Villeneuve would make a poor getaway, with Hill taking the lead. Villeneuve went all the way back down to sixth, and was desperately trying to make some passes on the tough field ahead, including Michael Schumacher.


Villeneuve would eventually have a wheel bearing failure after setting the fastest lap and recovering to fourth, his right rear tyre would come off which also happened to teammate Hill earlier that season. With Damon Hill now the official World Champion, he had one final job - bring the car home. And with that, Hill would round the final corner and the final lap to the 1996 World Championship, becoming the first son of a World Champion, to go and win the Championship himself. Interestingly and poetically, Villeneuve would become the second son to do so just one year later, at Jerez in 1997.


8. Massa and Kubica’s Titanic Battle on the Final Lap - Fuji 2007 - Owen Bradley

Credit: Paul-Henri Cahier


On the final lap of the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, Ferrari driver Felipe Massa and BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica would be locked into a fierce and memorable battle at a thoroughly wet race at Fuji. Massa would send his Ferrari down the inside into the left-hand hairpin of Turn 6, with Kubica performing a switchback or undercut on the exit of the corner, edging in front of Massa down into the late braking zone of Turn 10. 


Massa would back out of a potential collision at the flat right-hander of Turn 8 which gave Kubica the track position heading into that braking zone of Turn 10. But it was Massa, who came from further back, managing to find grip and sending it directly back up the inside of Kubica. Massa clipped a bit of the inside kerb, bouncing him into the path of Kubica’s BMW and forcing Kubica to cut the chicane. With low grip and tyre temperatures, the BMW would then run into the path of Massa and force him off the circuit at Turn 12. The pair were still side-by-side on the run up to the right-hander of Turn 13, Kubica would be pushed off the circuit once again by Massa, forcing him to then run a wider line into the long left of Turn 15, allowing Massa to get back up the inside yet again. 


Shockingly, Kubica would position his car right alongside Massa’s into the slow right-hander of Turn 16, the final corner. Giving as good as he’s been given already, Kubica would push Massa onto the run off, compromising the Ferrari’s exit as Massa had to cut over the grass on the exit. Somehow, despite it being wet and a tough fight, neither of them would crash as Massa pulled ahead on the straight and managed to secure P6 and take home three points instead of two. A great battle which is heavily referenced even in the modern day, as one of the best singular battles in F1 history, up there with Villeneuve and Arnoux at Dijon in 1979.


9. Alonso Flies around Schumacher at 130R, Suzuka 2005 - Owen Bradley

Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI


Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher would find themselves in a battle at the Japanese GP in 2005, with Alonso’s Renault firing quickly out of the spoon curve and on the long straight run to 130R, the very fast left-hander which a lot of people back then were lifting at. 


Alonso would sit in the slipstream of Schumacher’s Ferrari, as the 7-Time Champion attempted to break the tow he was giving to Alonso by moving onto the dirtier side of the track, off the racing line. However, the Renault of Alonso would slingshot himself into overtaking the Ferrari, drawing alongside and onto the racing line. Alonso would fly around the outside of Schumacher in a daring move which could have ended terribly. However, the soon-to-be Champion of Alonso and Veteran Schumacher gave the fans an exceptional showcase of F1 talent.


10. Michael Schumacher’s Maiden Ferrari Championship, Suzuka 2000 - Owen Bradley

Credit: Clive Mason, Allsport


After a long journey with the Scuderia Ferrari, 2000 was finally the year where Michael Schumacher would take his first title with the iconic Maranello-based team. A tense battle with Mika Hakkinen had ensued throughout the 2000 F1 Championship, heading into the race Hakkinen was hoping to keep his Title hopes alive heading into the finale at Sepang in Malaysia. However, being eight points behind Schumacher and a maximum of 10 points available per race, he had to make sure to outscore Schumacher. 


Hakkinen would seize the lead from Schumacher off the start, another case of the driver in second place getting a greater start than the pole sitter. However, after the end of the first lap, Schumacher wasn’t prepared to let Hakkinen run off into the distance just yet. Hakkinen was in really good form, being crowned World Champion in both 1998 and 1999, hoping to become a Triple Champion. Schumacher on the other hand, despite incredible pace and race craft, had been having a slightly more difficult time with Ferrari over the years, and was desperate to not let another Championship slip from his grasp.


Further into the race, at the second round of pit stops, Schumacher would stay out longer than Hakkinen. Interestingly, perhaps due to the lower fuel load, Schumacher began pulling away from Hakkinen despite having to negotiate his way past a stricken car and losing a bit of time. Schumacher’s incredible pit stop by Ferrari was also over one second faster than Hakkinen’s McLaren pit crew, meaning that despite Hakkinen leading on the way into the final round of stops, Schumacher had now overtaken him and was close to five seconds clear of the Flying Finn. 


Schumacher would come around the final corner, to seal the fate for the 2000 F1 World Championship, becoming the first Ferrari Champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979. This went on to only be the beginning for Schumacher and Ferrari’s dominance, as he would win each championship with Ferrari from 2000-2004. 


What is your favourite moment from the Japanese Grand Prix? Let us know in the comments down below!


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