At the risk of sounding like a pathetic meme/inspirational quote shared on Facebook: the best plan is often no plan.
Well, not no plan at all, because no one would ever get shit done; but spontaneity is definitely good. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I rather impulsively bought a ticket for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka and it was absolutely class.
Probably could have said that in one sentence in hindsight, actually.
The seeds were actually planted about six months earlier when my mate Adam – who you may remember from my Fuji climb – posted a screenshot of his ticket order on Facebook. Despite being a big Formula 1 fan, it’d been 12 years since I last attended a Grand Prix. I rather noncommittally said I’d look into it and swiftly forgot about it until a few months ago when we were climbing Fuji. Once again I promised I’d sort it at some point, and once again it completely slipped my mind.
It wasn’t until another drunken meeting with Adam whilst watching the Manchester derby sometime in September that I decided to get my arse into gear. There and then – on the spot – I decided that I’d book the ticket and have it done with. I specifically remember telling myself that doing it whilst drunk was the best idea, because I couldn’t sensibly think about it and talk myself out of it. Sound logic, I’m sure you’ll agree.
As it happened, I didn’t book them that night as I couldn’t find an option for a one-day race ticket and it seemed daft to splash out for a three-dayer when I wouldn’t be able to get the Friday and Saturday off work. I was drunk, not rich. Sunday and sobriety rolled round and – despite having my relatively sensible head on – I didn’t talk myself out of it and couldn’t find a one-day ticket so I bit the bullet and bought the weekend ticket. You can’t win them all.
Suzuka circuit is, like many racing tracks, located in the middle of nowhere. In this case, the nearest city is Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture – around an hour’s train ride away. Rather naively, I thought there’d be no issue getting accommodation in the city due to its distance from the circuit itself so approached it with a fair amount of laziness.
Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one with this idea and almost all the accommodation in the city was fully booked on the Saturday night before the race or extortionately expensive.
With my hands rather tied, I decided to scrap the idea of jumping on the shinkansen (bullet train) straight after work and instead opted for the Willer Express bus at a cool ¥11,000 return. For a bit of perspective, the shinkansen was around ¥11,000 just for a one way ticket. I could have actually got the entire journey for around ¥7,000, but I decided to spend a bit extra on the outbound leg as it would be an overnight journey. An extra ¥4,000 seemed like a very reasonable price to pay for a good (or at least not terrible) night of sleep.
The bus departed Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City at 10.50pm (on the dot – this is Japan). With a little help from a suspiciously cheap bottle of Tory’s whisky I managed to get a few hours of sleep before arriving in a rainy Nagoya at around 6.30am on the Sunday morning. Despite being a little bleary-eyed, I managed to find my way to the nearest Denny’s for a much-needed breakfast and then to my hostel for Sunday night which just happened to be around the corner. It had all gone surprisingly well so far and once an incredibly hungover Adam surfaced we set about making our way to the circuit.
Despite being one of the biggest sporting events in the country every year, it seemed like there wasn’t much extra effort put in by the rail companies as trains from Nagoya to the circuit departed around once an hour and only had about four or five carriages. Now, rush hour in Tokyo is bad enough on certain lines, so imagine a much smaller train with a few thousand people at a time heading to the same place. A claustrophobia sufferer’s nightmare.
After a 20 minute walk or so we reached the circuit and set about picking up my ticket, having a browse around the merchandise stands and getting some food and a drink. In terms of food and drink, I opted for a can of Heineken and as you can see below, perhaps the world’s biggest gyoza. In terms of merchandise, I wanted to pick myself up a Mercedes t-shirt and was more than willing to pay the ¥6,000 price until I saw that there weren’t separate t-shirts for the two different drivers unlike most other teams. As a staunch Hamilton fan, I didn’t really want a t-shirt with Rosberg’s name and number on it so I decided to go without!
All this wandering around and browsing caused us to miss the warm-up races and as we were a little pushed for time before the driver’s parade we also decided to skip a ride on the iconic ferris wheel too. Considering Adam’s somewhat delicate state, this may not have been too bad an idea!
Due to us booking the tickets six months apart, Adam and I were at opposite ends of the circuit so I headed to grandstand C in between the first turn and the S-bend while he made his way over to the hairpin. I didn’t have a great deal of choice when I booked the tickets and grandstand C seemed to be the best of what was left. At ¥33,000 for the weekend I was very pleased with my choice as you got to see the drivers coming off the main straight, into turn one and then into the S-bend. I’d be more than happy to sit there if/when I go to next year’s race.
I found myself sat with a group of blokes who’d been at the circuit all weekend as, as such, had got to know each other quite well. They were clearly a bit more into it than me, as one of them was following the official timings on his iPad during the race while another had brought his own stopwatch and appeared to be timing the laps himself. I’m not sure whether he didn’t trust the official times provided, but each to their own. It’s safe to say I was a little out of my depth when it came to their chats about strategy and tyre choices, but I did my best to nod in agreement whenever someone said something that sounded like a good point.
It was unfortunately (for me, anyway) to be Nico Rosberg’s weekend as he topped the standings during every practice session, qualifying and – rather predictably – the race. Hamilton got off to a bad start and found himself down in 8th before fighting back well to claim 3rd place but truth be told, Rosberg was never in any danger of losing it.
I was perhaps the most vocal Hamilton fan in the vicinity as the circuit seemed to be awash with Ferrari fans and, as expected, Honda fans. Despite Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button languishing towards the back of the pack all race, they were still given the loudest cheers by some distance from the masses of adoring Japanese supporters.
After a bit of excitement on the penultimate lap where Hamilton made his move on Max Verstappen, only to overrun and cut the chicane, Rosberg wrapped it all up and found himself with one hand on the driver’s championship while Mercedes sealed the constructor’s title too.
Many people left as soon as the race had finished in the hope of beating the crowds, whilst many also hung around in an attempt to miss the main rush. I was part of the latter crew and along with one of the guys I’d been sitting with, made my way towards the ferris wheel where I’d arranged to meet Adam – via the track!
In the end, we decided to grab another beer or two before making our way to the station for a later train – around 18.45pm if memory serves – but this seemed just as busy as any other train would have been. At least we got a beer out of the wait. We arrived back at Nagoya station after an hour with plans to reconvene a little later after I’d checked into the hostel. What followed was to be an incredibly random yet completely brilliant night, all of which will be covered in the following post*.
* – When I can be arsed to type it up.