Formula 1 Racing

Formula 1’s 14 championship-deciding Japanese races · RaceFans

Nigel Mansell, Williams, Suzuka, 1987

The Formula 1 drivers’ championship has been won in Japan on 14 occasions – more times than any other country.

But the days of Suzuka deciding the destiny of the title are now behind us. From this year Japan’s round of the world championship has moved from the latter stages of the season to the beginning.

From Nelson Piquet to Max Verstappen, nine different drivers have taken titles in Japan, and Suzuka was the scene of all bar two of those. Suzuka was an especially cherished track for Ayrton Senna, who clinched all three of his title in Japan using Honda power.

During that time, with championship glory on the line, we’ve seen the best and worst of F1’s drivers. Here’s RaceFans’ ranking of Japan’s 14 title-deciding races.

14: Injury ends Mansell’s title bid

Suzuka, 1987

If Nigel Mansell thought it was hard to take his 1986 title defeat, when a tyre explosion put him out of the final race, worse lay in store the following year. He and Williams team mate Nelson Piquet dominated the season in their Honda-powered cars and arrived at their engine manufacturer’s home track for the penultimate round locked in battle for the title.

Mansell, with a 12-point deficit to overturn, he led the opening practice session on Friday. But in the afternoon qualifying session his FW11B got away from him in Suzuka’s fast Esses, and after swiping a tyre barrier he landed heavily, injuring his back. He was ruled out of continuing on medical grounds and with that Piquet clinched his third championship in unsatisfactory fashion.

13: Prost’s tactical foul

Suzuka, 1989

When Ayrton Senna dived down the inside of his championship rival to take the lead at Suzuka’s chicane, Alain Prost was only too eager to close the door. Retirement for the pair would make Prost champion, so as their McLarens skidded pathetically to a stop on the outside of the corner, he was quick to jump out.

Senna pressed on, rejoined the circuit, pitted to replace his damaged front wing and repassed Alessandro Nannini to win. Then the clunking fist of officialdom made its presence felt: Senna was disqualified on spurious grounds and the title was Prost’s. A controversy on this scale today might even eclipse Abu Dhabi 2021, and the injustice of it rankled deeply with Senna, who made sure history was not repeated 12 months later.

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12: Senna’s revenge

Suzuka, 1990

Twelve months on from being bundled out of the final race by his championship rival…

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