The Japanese Grand Prix - A Unique Experience

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What makes Suzuka special? It's a simple enough question, but one that's hard to answer because there's so much about the Japanese Grand Prix venue that makes it unique.

First, there's the history of the place. It was built in 1962 and its layout has remained largely unchained ever since. It's fast, narrow and undulating - ingredients that combine to make the 5.8km circuit a huge test of man and machine.

"It's such a pleasure to be back at Suzuka," said Mercedes AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton. "The track is so challenging for the drivers because it's fast and narrow, and there's very little run-off. If you make a mistake there's a big chance that you'll end up in a gravel trap.

"The layout is as it's always been, which means you can still relate to the track that you saw on TV when you were growing up. Every time I arrive at the chicane I think of Ayrton [Senna] and Alain {Prost} crashing there in 1989. You can still see the point on the track where it happened."

There are only two corners around the lap that are taken at speeds of less than 100kph; the remainder are all medium and high-speed corners. The fast changes of direction leave the drivers feeling battered and bruised because the g-forces thump them from side-to-side in the cockpit.

"Through the Esses at the start of the lap," said AMG Mercedes Petronas driver Nico Rosberg, "you are slammed against the side of the cockpit, even with your safety belts on, and you have to wedge your arm against the seat to overcome the steering loads. It's tough, it's a very special feeling to drive at such high speeds in a Formula One car."

Another aspect of Suzuka that makes it great is the fans. Even without a Japanese driver on the grid, they remain passionate about the sport and are very even-handed in their support of the drivers, and some will stop at nothing to get an autograph.

"I was coming out of the sauna in the hotel when a fan approached me for an autograph," says Williams star Valtteri Bottas. "Of course I gave the fan my signature, but I put on some pants first!"

The fans also give F1 folk some pretty extraordinary gifts.

"The craziest gift I've received from a Japanese fan is a giant teddy bear," says Sebastian Vettel. "It was very generous of the person, but I looked pretty stupid taking it on the plane!"

Ferrari GT driver Kamui Kobayashi, who finished third at Suzuka last year for Sauber, has been given an even stranger gift. "I was given some fresh bread by a fan," says Kamui. "It was home baked; I think the person had gone to a lot of effort on my behalf."

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali has received many strange gifts during the 20 years that he's been coming to Suzuka, the strangest of which is this: "It was a miniature model of me," says Stefano. "The face was identical to mine and I even had a change of clothes, like an action man."

When it came to the action men on-track, Vettel was once again the person leading the way. He started second, but won the race ahead of team-mate Mark Webber - his fifth consecutive win. Only five drivers in the history of the sport have taken five successive wins: Alberto Ascari, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher. Vettel now leads Fernando Alonso by 90 points in the drivers' world championship; if he finishes fifth or better at the forthcoming Indian Grand Prix on 27 October he will be crowned world champion.