Suzuka Circuit celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It was built in 1962 as a test track for the Honda Motor Company and the organisers of the Japanese Grand Prix laid on lots of celebrations today.
Three-time world champion Niki Lauda kicked off proceedings with a presentation from the drivers to the circuit organisers, and then four iconic F1 cars completed some demonstration laps. As follows: the Honda RA272 in which Richie Ginther scored the company's first F1 success in 1965; a Lotus-Judd from '89 driven by Satoru Nakajima; a Larrousse-Lamborghini from '90 driven by Aguri Suzuki and Shinji Nakano drove Ferrari's F2003 from '03.
“What a fantastic collection of cars for a very special birthday,” said Suzuki, who was the first Japanese driver to stand on an F1 podium, at Suzuka in 1990.
However, the celebrations got even bigger after the Japanese Grand Prix. Local hero Kamui Kobayashi drove brilliantly to finish third for Sauber, driving the crowd wild. As he crossed the finish line four seconds behind second-placed Felipe Massa, the noise of the fans on the start-finish straight drowned out the noise of his Ferrari V8!
It was the perfect end to a special day for Suzuka Circuit.
As podiums go, this one was perfect for all three drivers on it. Sebastian Vettel's victory took him to within four points of world championship leader Fernando Alonso; Felipe Massa's second place was his first podium finish for two years and might go some way towards securing his F1 future and, of course, Kamui endeared himself to the fans with his third place.
There was a podium of a different kind on Saturday evening, following a group run around Suzuka. A total of 139 team members and journalists took to the start line and the run ended up being a sprint between two 'third' drivers. Valtteri Bottas (Williams) and Jules Bianchi (Force India) ran nose-to-tail around the 5.8km track and they finished two seconds apart. Bottas pipped his rival, completing the lap in 21m37s, which was 27 minutes faster than the slowest person…
There was no time for running on Sunday evening. The teams' freight was due to leave the Suzuka pitlane at 2am on Monday morning, which meant the mechanics had to pack up their 40 tonnes of freight in double-quick time.
That done, the personnel will fly to Mokpo in southwest Korea tomorrow morning. They'll then get tomorrow afternoon off, before heading into the Korean International Circuit on Tuesday morning to start preparing for next weekend's Korean Grand Prix. Busy times…