This Sunday, Formula One action comes to Japan. Though there is very little interest left in the title race because of the overwhelming dominance of Sebastian Vettel in the first half of the season, if history is any indication, the race at Suzuka could prove to be yet another humdinger.
Suzuka has always been one of those circuits that have produced edge-of-the-seat races time and time again.
The name Suzuka has been immortalised in Formula One folklore because of the fracas involving teammates and bitter rivals Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1989. Though Senna, who had won his first championship in 1988 and whose hostility towards Prost was no secret, finished the race in the first place, he was disqualified for having taken help from marshals and cutting the chicane after his and Prost's cars got tangled during their tussle for the lead. Senna had to win this race to keep his championship hopes alive. After the contact between the two cars, Prost retired while Senna, who had rejoined the race after his car had been pushed by marshals, drove a fantastic race and despite losing time while reaching the pits in order to change the damaged nose cone, he took the chequered flag first. However, his joy was short lived as he was disqualified. The disqualification not only meant that Prost won the championship, but it also infuriated Senna.
The hostility between these two greats became even more intense after this race. Senna's disqualification handed the victory to Alessandro Nannini, his first and only in Formula One.
Two years prior to the Senna-Prost drama happened, Suzuka had played host to a dramatic championship finale. Nigel Mansell, who was in contention to win the title along with Nelson Piquet, saw his chances disappear after getting injured during practice which put him out of the Japanese GP and the year ender Australian GP. Piquet won his third title in 1987.
Michael Schumacher, who holds the record for winning the most Japanese GPs, won his first title with Ferrari at Suzuka after beating McLaren's Mika Hakkinen. This was Schumacher's third and Ferrari's first title since 1979.
Even last year, the title race just got hotter at Suzuka. There were five drivers who were in contention to win the championship before the 2010 Japanese GP. Sebastian Vettel, who had fallen behind the then championship leader Mark Webber, stormed to his second consecutive victory that kept his title hopes alive. This win was crucial as Vettel eventually won the 2011 championship by a mere three points.
Given the dramatic races that have taken place at Suzuka, it is apt that this year's championship should be officially sealed here. No one is going to bet against Vettel getting a point on Sunday to win his second title. A majority wouldn't bet against the German winning the race too and completing his hattrick of Japanese GP wins. However, if Jenson Button's recent form is any indication, there would be some hoping the British driver to end Vettel's winning streak.