The Suzuka circuit, which I class as one Formula 1’s great tracks, is owned by Honda, and, again, there is a connection: Jordan Grand Prix was powered by Honda/Mugen for many years. Before that I used Yamaha engines after Bernie Ecclestone arranged a deal for me, so I think it is fair to say that Japan and Jordan go back a long way.
People tend to forget that in the 90s and early 2000s, before we had GP2 and GP3, a lot of European drivers came across here and raced very successfully. Michael Schumacher and his brother Ralf, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Eddie Irvine – all of whom drove for me in Formula 1 – cut their racing teeth here, and I can list more than a few others who made their names in Japan.
Over the years Suzuka has been the scene of many glorious title showdowns. The first Japanese Grand Prix of the modern era, in 1987, featured a showdown between team-mates, namely Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell, which was resolved when the latter crashed his Williams-Honda in practice and had to withdraw.
After that we had the acrimonious Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost years, and it did not matter whether they were both in McLarens, or whether Alain was in a Ferrari – either way they crashed into each other.
After that we had Schumacher against Mika Hakkinen followed by Michael versus Fernando Alonso, so Suzuka is certainly steeped in historic title battles. These examples also prove just how much F1’s calendar has changed over the years: In those days Japan generally hosted the penultimate or final round; this weekend we are looking at Sebastian Vettel locking out the Championship on Sunday – after which, just four rounds remain!
Given Suzuka’s history there could hardly be a more fitting venue for Sebastian to seal his second title, particularly as he has won both races here since the grand prix returned to Suzuka from Fuji in 2009 after a two-year gap.
Even if Jenson Button wins – which he could, of course, particularly as he was fastest in both Friday sessions – there is precious little he can do to prevent Sebastian finishing in the top ten. Remember: so far this year Sebastian has won nine races, and placed second in all others except one – where he placed fourth…
I am talking as though it is inevitable that Sebastian will be crowned on Sunday. The fact is, I simply cannot see it turning out any other way, particularly as all he needs to do is score a point. He thoroughly deserves this Championship, too. He has driven superbly all year, keeping a cool head when need be, and turning up the heat when circumstances demanded.
What must worry the opposition is that once the title is taken Red Bull can concentrate on its 2012 car, because there are a few significant changes to the regulations. So, not only does Red Bull currently have the fastest car, but gets an early start on next year’s design while the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes continue scrapping for ‘best of the rest’. So, Sebastian could well be off to a flying start in 2012…