Suzuka's spectacular farewell

Final outing for controversial circuit with a flair for drama

The world knows that Michael Schumacher, who seems increasingly likely to wear the world champion's crown this year, is heading into retirement at the end of what has been a gripping season.

Less well known is that the Suzuka circuit is also bowing out after a 20-year spell as the home of the Japanese Grand Prix. Politics will see the Honda-owned facility dumped next year in place of yet another anodyne venue, the Toyota-owned Fuji speedway.

So many times this wonderful, demanding track, with its Scalextric crossover and its mind-blowing Esses, Spoon Curve and spectacular corners, has been home to controversy and acrimony. Who could ever forget the famous collision between McLaren team-mates Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the chicane in 1989, and the frustrated majesty of Senna's comeback to a victory subsequently denied him by the FIA? Or the calculated and cold-blooded manner in which the still-angry Brazilian barged Prost's Ferrari off the road a year later, and thus won his second championship sitting in the gravel bed at the first corner? Or Senna punching upstart rookie Eddie Irvine? Or the race of Damon Hill's life when he beat Schumacher in the rain? Or last year, a cliff-hanger of epic proportions with title aspirant Kimi Raikkonen snatching victory on the penultimate lap from Giancarlo Fisichella, as Fernando Alonso staged a fabulous comeback drive to third place?

The drivers love the track, which is curious given that some talked of boycotts at Monza because of one corner and yet here there are several places in which safety levels fall short. "We put up with it because we know we aren't coming back," one said, but it was an unsatisfactory answer that did not explain the paradox.

"It's very technical, espec-ially through turns two to eight, and we don't have as much torque now with the V8s, but those corners are just crazy and it is non-stop," Jenson Button said. "You need mentally to be pretty strong. It's a fabulous track. I love it."

Whether Fernando Alonso feels that way when things are over this afternoon is a moot point, but wherever the Japanese GP is held next year Button believes he himself will be a serious contender for the championship crown.

"It really doesn't matter to me if I win when Michael has retired," the 26-year-old Englishman said. "I just want to win the championship. The real advantage of our new wind tunnel will come for 2007.

"There are other areas where we are weak, and we know what they are. We started 2006 quite well, but just didn't improve at the same rate as Ferrari, Renault and McLaren. But we pulled through.

"We will be the only top- four team who won't have at least one major change. Renault will have Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen after losing Alonso; Ferrari lose Michael and get Kimi; McLaren lose Kimi and get Fernando. We will be able to hit the ground running, and we need to destroy them. We are preparing for a world championship run."

Button conceded that he had gone into this season with similar hopes. "I thought we would be in a strong position in 2006 and it didn't turn out that way," he said.

Perhaps events in the race will provoke similar sentiments in the beleaguered Fernando Alonso. Bridgestone's towering superiority in tyres metaphorically made him drive with one hand tied behind his back during qualifying, and his disenchantment with his sport was exacerbated by Ferrari's tactics in apparently having Felipe Massa bottle him up early in the final session when rain seemed possible.

Renault's chief, Flavio Briatore, slammed Massa and threatened to complain to the race director, Charlie Whiting, who reported Alonso's alleged impeding of Massa to the stewards at Monza in September.

"Today we will tell Charlie, but nothing will happen," Briatore stormed. "We already know what the answer will be. Fernando on the radio was complaining. If you are fighting with McLaren it is fine, if you fight with these guys [Ferrari] it is impossible."

Controversy and Suzuka, hand in hand to the end.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam