Suzuka is one of F1’s finest circuits, a far-eastern gem with stunning corners, a ferris-wheel backdrop and passionate fans aplenty. It’s hosted some great races down the years. including several title-deciders, and Badger has picked out a few to cast an eye back over.
Rather a famous one this, in Britain at least, as it saw Damon Hill finally claim the world championship. In fact it should be famous the world over, as this was the first – and to date only – world championship win for the son of a world champion. Marvelous!
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Arriving at Suzuka in 1996 Damon hadn’t finished ahead of his young Canadian team-mate Jacques Villeneuve since the German Grand Prix in July. It was now October, and Damon was beginning to feel a tad nervous.
But he needn’t have been, as it would have taken a big points swing to make his rookie stablemate champ. Jacques had kept the hunt going by beating Hill to victory at the previous round in Portugal, but he still found himself nine points shy of the Brit, meaning he’d need to win with Damon failing to score to take the crown.
Qualifying made the victory part of the deal look a real possibility, as Jacques took pole by close to half a second. But with Damon alongside him on the grid what was he going to do, ram his teammate off and hope he could continue on to the title?
Well no, of course not – why would you even think that?
In fact Villeneuve got a poor getaway in the race and dropped behind Hill and several others. The title was effectively over already, as Damon began to pull away at the front.
We all know Jacques is no quitter – this is the man who wanted to set up his own team so as to secure a drive for 2011 – and he put a real sprint on, making light work of Eddie Irvine and setting the fastest lap of the race.
But the championship was soon put to bed for good. Villeneuve’s right-rear tyre escaped from the car, and the Canadian’s day was done. Damon was now champion, and completed the year in style by taking the race win. When the Williams driver crossed the line BBC TV commentator Murray Walker had to stop talking – a rare occurrence – as he had ‘a lump in his throat’. Old Murray had either made bad work of chewing his complimentary sushi or was genuinely moved by seeing his chum finally become champion. – We don’t half miss Murray’s superb, unique style of commentating…