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F1 in Tokyo's Odaiba. Toyota's intention in cooperating with Honda

10, 09. 2007

   The Formula 1 World Championship (F1) Japanese Grand Prix is to be conducted alternately between the Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka Prefecture and the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture from 2008. One country is allowed in principle to host the F1 race once, and the Fuji Speedway owned by Toyota Motor Corp. had been scheduled to conduct it for five years from 2007 to 2011. The alternating of the racing places thus means that the Toyota side has compromised with the Honda Motor Co., which owns the Suzuka Circuit, for fear of coming under a fire of criticism. It does not seem that the fear is not the only reason, however. By partially given up the right to host F1 races, Toyota seems to put Honda under some obligation now so that Toyota might get cooperation from Honda in future for conducting F1 races on the reclaimed islet of Odaiba in the Tokyo Bay.

Alternate holding between Fuji and Suzuka from 2010

Possible site for F1 Grand Prix on Odaiba
Possible site for F1 Grand Prix on Odaiba

   The F1 Japanese Grand Prix was held at the Fuji Speedway for two years in 1976 and 1977. Then for 20 year from 1987 to 2006, it was conducted at the Suzuka Circuit. The Fuji Speedway has obtained the right to host the races for five years beginning in 2007.

   Toyota made it clear when it announced the purchase of the Fuji Speedway in 2000 that it would make the Fuji Speedway the home course of the Toyota F1 team and that it would make efforts to obtain the right to hold the F1 Japanese Grand Prix at the course. It was a dream of the Toyota management then that the Toyota F1 team would stand on the dais. That was why the company spent about 20 billion yen to totally reform the course.

   The Suzuka Circuit is a prestigious course which Honda bought in 1962. The International Automobile Federation (FIA) noted, however, that the old circuit was deteriorating and its safety was unsecured. This was one of the reasons why the hosting course of F1 Japanese Grands Prix was moved to the Fuji Speedway. It came as a shock to the Suzuka Circuit that it lost the hosting right for the race, and, together the local Suzuka City, the circuit authorities launched a campaign for the regaining of the right. It was also a good timing to reform the old course.

   The alternate hosting of the race between the Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit was suggested by the Formula One Administration (FOA), which supervise the hosting of F1 races, and was the Fuji Speedway agreed. It was decided the race would be hosted by Fuji Speedway in 2007 and 2008 and by Suzuka Circuit in 2009. Starting in 2010, the race will be hosted alternately by Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit.

   It has been said that the Fuji Speedway is the holy place for Japan's motor sports, while the Suzuka Circuit is the holy place for F1 races in Japan. There are many F1 fans who favor the Suzuka Circuit. Since the Suzuka Circuit is the home course of the Honda team, which has won numerous victories in past races, the fans have strong feeling toward the Suzuka Circuit. Against this back ground, criticisms have been voiced against Fuji Speedway owned by Toyota.

Night race and urban race in Asia are in focus

   Toyota is almost certain to become the world largest car producer, surpassing GM in terms of the number cars produced. But its F1 team is not doing well. The company is certain to want to wipe off the bad reputation about its racing team. As far as Toyota is concerned, it has the right to be proud of protecting Japan's motor race tradition by reforming the Fuji Speedway, that would have been certain to be closed if nothing had been done. Also, it did a favor for Honda by saving the Suzuka Circuit from the pinch.

   Initially, Toyota started to make efforts for supporting the F1 races to improve its brand image in Europe, where the F1 races are highly popular. But popularity for F1 races are also being heightening in Asia. Besides Japan, the races are hosted by Malaysia, China and Bahrain. Furthermore, F1 races are to be held in Singapore in 2008 and in South Korea in 2010. In the Middle East, United Arab Emirates is to host the race in 2009. Also, India is a candidate host country for the race.

   The United States gave up hosting the race in 2008. But the hosting of F1 races keeps moving from the West European-centered to worldwide. The hosting places are expanding to countries providing main auto markets, including developing countries. For Toyota, which has attained the top places in the world in terms of car production and sales, holding of F1 races is becoming its big billboard. About the holding of F1 races, the FOA is pushing for night races and urban races in the Asian region.

   The holding of night races is a solution to the problem of the time difference between Asia and Europe. The start of the F1 championship races in Asia in daytime would be early in the morning in Europe. This problems has to be solved in order to increase television viewers of the races in Europe. The conducting of the races in urban areas would not only help attracting more viewers to the courses but also it gives more thrill. A night race will be held for the first time in the F1 history in Singapore, and the FOA is interested in holding of a race in the central Tokyo area. In this case, it insists it is all right to count night races out of the "holding of race once by one country" rule.

Looking at Odaiba where Fuji Television is based

   Hosting a F1 race twice a year, Japan will become a center for disseminating information concerning F1 Grands Prix. Time will come when Hyundai of South Korea and other automakers of China and India participate in F1 races. Toyota and Honda have the desire of winning the races as a matter of course. What they feel more strongly, however, is that they might lose the effectiveness of their brands unless Japan gains stronger position in Asia. As Toyota surpasses GM, day may come when Hyundai and Chinese carmakers beat Toyota. To continue to be the No. 1 brand in Asia, it is necessary to keep Japan's position at a high place in the motor sports world.

   Against this background, Toyota has turned its attention to the Odaiba reclaimed land in the Tokyo subcenter off the Tokyo Bay coast. The main office of Fuji Television, which holds the right to televise the races in Japan, is located on Odaiba. Fuji Television is also interested in hosting F1 races on Odaiba. The city of Tokyo has also sought the possibility of hosting the Grand Prix at one time. By holding the Tokyo Marathon later, the city is beginning to acquire the know-how of controlling heavy traffic over a wide area.

   To actually to host F1 Grands Prix, however, it is important to gain understanding from other F1 teams. For this, it is imperative to get cooperation from Honda, which has left strong marks in the world's F1 races. Even if F1 races are held on Odaiba, it would be difficult for Toyota to bear the responsibility for the needed funds and manpower by itself. Holding of F1 races on Odaiba will become possible by gaining cooperation from Honda. Toyota is aiming at appealing to the world the superior Toyota brand by having its F1 team standing on the daises at both the Fuji Speedway and the Odaiba course.

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