I don’t know too many people who don’t like to travel, and I am no exception! So, when I got the chance to combine a trip to a country I had never visited, with the experience of attending one of the most revered Grand Prix events on the calendar, I wasn’t complaining. Fresh from the Malaysian Grand Prix only one week prior, my friends and I descended on Tokyo, Japan to experience the sights, sounds, and culture of one of the world’s largest and most populated cities before we travelled south to Suzuka for round 16 of the 2017 Formula One Championship.
Within minutes of arriving, we felt like we’d travelled to another world. Everything felt subtly different. Truthfully, I thought the language barrier would be the most challenging aspect of our trip, but it simply added to the cultural experience and making it just a touch more eventful. The colourful, funky vending machines, the quirky corner stores and food bars, the bright and noisy video game and Pachinko parlours – All of it simply amazed me. Tokyo is a huge city, and we definitely experienced the bustle of busy crowds, and yet there is order to everything. I was thrown by how orderly and thoughtfully designed everything was; the subway and transportation systems rival the likes of London, Germany, and Switzerland’s networks. Everything just works… aside from the varying levels of poorly translated signage! (English can be sparse, and you can literally feel lost in translation).
Whilst Japan is all about efficiency, cleanliness, and courtesy, the city is also incredibly safe. Many of the restaurants we visited at night were located in tiny laneways and we seldom felt unsafe or anxious roaming the dimly-lit street or alleys. A personal highlight was our trip to the fabled Robot Restaurant.
Robot Restaurant is a dinner show in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s nightlife district, and features an array of dancers, special effects, and, as the name suggests… Robots! We had heard about the Robot Restaurant a few weeks before our trip and we had already committed to the experience before we had even left Sydney. The dinosaurs, robots, tribal drums, anime dancers and variety of other oddities needs to be seen to be believed. It was what everything you expect if you gave a 10-year old the chance to design their own restaurant, without regard for how those things may come together.
In contrast to the bright lights and craziness that was Shinjuku, we took some time-out to experience some history and culture with a trip to Kamakura. Kamakura is a seaside Japanese city just south of Tokyo. The political center of medieval Japan, modern-day Kamakura is a prominent resort town with dozens of Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines. Its most recognisable landmark is the Kotoku-in Temple’s Great Buddha, a roughly 13m-high bronze statue still standing after a 15th-century tsunami. In many ways, it was hard to comprehend the contrast of atmosphere and culture only 45 minutes from Tokyo.
With several days of tourist activities and sightseeing under our belt, Friday rolled around and it was time to make it trackside to Suzuka. Located around 400km (250mi) south of Tokyo, we relocated to Nagoya to be closer to the race. Formula One is incredibly popular in Japan, so nearby accommodation was difficult to secure. This still left us with a daily commute of around 70km (45mi) – Luckily, the Japanese Bullet Trains (or Shinkansen) provided us a viable travel option, with a 45-minute each-way trip.
Committed and fanatical, is how I would best describe the Suzuka crowds. Eccentric costumes, ridiculous hats and all things crazy, as I had come to expect from Japan. Of course, F1 is truly an international spectacle, so finding English speaking race-goers was not an issue. The relatively close proximity to Australia saw a number of fellow Aussies join us in the grandstands too. The above, coupled with many rounds of drinks, ensured a weekend of good-hearted heckling between all in our marco community, perched in the grandstand above turns one and two. The majority of our newly formed group staying back after each days’ proceedings, well into the night (and well past the service of cold drinks).
Heavy rain fell all day Friday, limiting run time of the cars and rendering the day an anti-climax. Qualifying on Saturday saw Lewis Hamilton Take pole position, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas closing out the front row for Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel was third, desperately trying to keep his diminishing title hopes alive, with the Red Bull cars of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in fourth and fifth.
The race start on Sunday saw a brilliant get-away from Hamilton, leading the field through the opening laps. A number of position changes through the midfield saw an early safety-car period, during which it became apparent that Vettel’s Ferrari was suffering from mechanical issues and would retire from the race, essentially losing what slim chance remained of keeping the title race alive and robbing us all of the prospects of a seemingly impossible come-back across the remaining few rounds of the 2017 season.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen mounted a surprising late challenge to Hamilton’s Mercedes, offering some hope that the race was no precession, however, Hamilton duly responded and went on to claim the win ahead of Verstappen and Red Bull team-mate Ricciardo. As we now know, Hamilton would go on to win the next Grand Prix in Austin, Texas and perform well in the remaining three races of Mexico, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi, claiming the title with a 46 point lead over Sebastian Vettel.
After such a promising start to the 2017 season, I can’t deny that my enthusiasm tapered towards the season end. Ferrari looked to have finally met Mercedes in terms of performance, and Red Bull occasionally showed pace, but after the events of the Baku and Singapore races, the competition fell away as Ferrari suffered repeated mechanical issues, and Hamilton finally found momentum. With fewer technical changes to the regulations in 2018, I wait with anticipation for March 25th, 2018 for the season opener in Melbourne, Australia.
Having added a further two international Formula One Grand Prix to my attendance list through 2017, I cast my thoughts forward to what possibilities lay ahead for 2018….!?