With a history of producing great Formula One races, and on a circuit that is actually good in most aspects, Suzuka today can stand proud that while their track may be aging, at least they can boast decent toilet facilities. Yes, I’m afraid that once again I most bemoan the changing of the Japanese Grand Prix venue from Honda-owned Suzuka to Toyota-owned Fuji. The reason? The circuit has received a lawsuit from 109 irate spectators from the 2007 event.
Before I begin, I would like to be very clear that I am not knocking Fuji International Speedway circuit in the slightest – we are yet to see if the reprofiled and modernised track can produce a decent race, the 2007 return being held under a deluge of rain. Although I feel Suzuka is generally a better circuit, it is not the tracks that have caused this moan; it is Ecclestone’s decision-making, his savage need for a few extra dollars to line his pockets with that has heated my collar.
The news of the legal action today towards Fuji only highlights that some tracks are good at producing races, both on and off the tarmac, while others flounder at the prospect of looking after the fans as well as the corporate executives who only attend to do deals and get their picture in the papers.
Fuji’s problems stem from spectators, who paid a fair amount of money to attend one of the country’s most prestigious sporting events, not having good enough toilet and convenience facilities. Further to causing discomfort to people having to wait a very long time to relieve themselves, the circuit also had problems with poorly designed grandstands. Many spectators claimed that their view of the track was obstructed, and aside from sitting behind someone with a large haircut, it is something you really shouldn’t expect nor have to deal with.
It has also been reported that some visitors to the track were left stranded in the pouring rain due to transportation issues, although this is something I would consider to be common sense when visiting a race track. In fact, waterproof clothing features quite high on my 10 Things You Need For Going To A Grand Prix post. When I visited Goodwood last July for the Festival Of Speed, the heavens opened on Sunday and while it turned the estate into a mudbath, it served as little distraction from the action thanks to a lightweight pacamac (or Kag In A Bag, apparently).
I’m sure Fuji have already sorted out their problems and this year’s Japanese Grand Prix will be a fine event that deserves a place on the Formula One calendar, but this is not the worrying aspect this issue has risen. Instead, my concern lies with Bernie Ecclestone and his narrow-minded view on what makes a decent circuit, one decent enough to host a grand prix.
Currently, Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia is under threat from losing its chance to host the Australian Grand Prix after 2010, and apparently while the negotiations are ongoing, Ecclestone is demanding a night race and more money, or the race will be dropped/moved. However, it would seem that Ecclestone isn’t thinking about what Australia do for Formula One, its image and its fans.
Traditionally, but not exclusively, Australia holds the first race of the year. Being on the other side of the world to Europe, it is nice to watch the race from a cold and dreary UK and see bright, blue skies and the drivers walking around in T-shirts and shorts. It adds to the international-value of the sport, even in this day and age when the world is so seemingly small. The actual circuit in Victoria isn’t all that bad either; the 2007 race was a belter, although perhaps this was more down to the lack of traction control. But despite this, Albert Park has some nice corners, the lap flows well and the drivers rarely grumble about the place.
Spa Francorchamps is another track on the calendar that Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t seem to mind removing at will. It should be noted that in the recent past it has been removed for financial/sponsorship reasons moreso than Ecclestone getting out of the wrong side of the bed on the morning he does the Belgian Grand Prix deal. However, I do feel more could have been done to ensure the future security of one of
Europe’s the world’s finest racing circuits.
And so we return to Japan, and the legal action taken by annoyed fans, the very people who keep the sport going, and the problems faced at Fuji last year. Perhaps it would be wise for the FIA to tighten up on the track inspections, and not just consider the tarmac road but also how their customers, both of the circuit and Formula One, will be cared for. After all, it isn’t just Fuji’s reputation that has been tarnished here, it is Formula One as a whole.