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GP Week : Issue 32
>>GPWEEKOPINION Mount Fuji crowd reflects Super Aguri’s demise Will Buxton GPWeek Editor The Formula 1 circus’ arrival in Japan was met with glorious sunshine, which bathed the Fuji Speedway in a gloriously shimmering cloak of previously undiscovered colour and magic. Mount Fuji even made an appearance, peeking its snow-capped head out from beneath the clouds for the first few days of the weekend. everywhere you looked, your eyes were greeted by luscious countryside and the heat of the burning sun on your neck. It was Fuji, but not as everyone remembered it. The slight sprinkling of rain on Saturday brought back memories for some, but overall the whole place just seemed vibrant and exciting. But it lacked a certain something. Something you usually don’t miss in Japan. F1 fever. The Japanese fans are some of the most passionate for this sport, and everyone you meet in F1 will regale you with numerous stories of fanatical excess witnessed in the country. 2007 wasn’t a great year for the Japanese fans however. Fuji hadn’t catered for them very well, and the rain-soaked masses were on the verge of rioting (most un-Japanese) by the third hour of waiting for buses to take them from the circuit at the race’s conclusion. This year, things seemed much better organised. But perhaps this was because there really weren’t as many fans to contend with. Depending on who you talked to, you got different ideas of the figures. The circuit reportedly dropped the grandstand capacity from 130,000 to 110,000 in an attempt to make the seated areas seem fuller. On Friday, the plan didn’t really seem to have worked. Nor Saturday. Nor, for that matter, on Sunday. 85,000 was estimated as race-day attendance. Not bad. But nowhere near good. With the price for some weekend tickets costing over US$600, many fans simply stayed away, perhaps burned by last year’s experience, perhaps burned by the cost… but many more because the man they wanted to see wasn’t there. The demise of Super Aguri, and the absence of Takuma Sato has hit Japanese F1 big- time. Fuji TV has reported fewer viewers, and the absence of packed grandstands at Fuji started to back these figures up. What was even more astounding was that, of the fans who did show up, about 25% still carried Super Aguri flags, wore replica team kit, and more still wore Sato caps. Sato and Super Aguri fans visibly outnumbered Nakajima fans or Honda fans. Only a concerted drive from Toyota to fill a grandstand full of their own supporters gave any notion that people gave a hoot about the team. Japan is a wonderful country, full of the nicest people you will ever meet. It’s just a shame more of them and their seemingly limitless enthusiasm weren’t there to watch the race. One hopes that, if Sato does get that Toro Rosso drive, Suzuka in 12 months time will have that buzz back. Because a Japanese Grand Prix without the buzz, just isn’t the Japanese Grand Prix. 21 opinion