If you asked me this morning to describe the Japanese Grand Prix in one word, my answer would probably have been ‘wet.’ Talking to both my coworkers (some bigger race fans than others) and my husband (also a race fan) produced a similar response: why the hell is does this race always seem like it’s wet?
And we weren’t the only ones. As the news that Typhoon Hagibis is highly likely to disrupt F1's Japanese Grand Prix this weekend with high-speed winds and rain, other motorsport fans mentioned the same thing, that the Japanese GP seems to be a wet one—more so than most races. That’s the reputation it has among fans, generally.
So I decided to crunch the numbers with the Motorsport Magazine database as my guide. Is the Japanese Grand Prix as wet as we think it is?
The answer: not really, no.
The Japanese GP has been held 44 times since its first race in 1976—four times at Fuji, the rest at Suzuka. Out of all those races, only nine of them have included rain, which is about 2o percent.
Of those nine, only four have been totally soaked as opposed to just a partially wet track (i.e. starting wet and drying, or dampening as the race went on), or about nine percent of the total races in Japan. The super-soaked races were Fuji 1976, Suzuka 1994, Fuji 2007, and Suzuka 2014.
Here’s one very wet battle from ’07:
In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot of real wet races. So why the hell do so many people think of Fuji and Suzuka as being wet tracks?
I have a theory. The first race, the 1976 Japanese GP, was a hot mess. A torrential downpour. A formidable slip-n-slide. It also happened to be a championship deciding race in a massively exciting year—and it was depicted cinematically in the movie Rush.
The 1994 race was arguably just as great, hailed as being “the most exciting race of 1994" by Motorsport Magazine, with Damon Hill pulling out a stellar Senna-esque win in a hot mess of a race. It was similar in 2007. As the championship season began to wind down with three drivers in contention, the last thing any driver needed was a rain-soaked race full of crashes and restarts—but it made it interesting as hell for the fans.
And then, 2014, a year marred by tragedy. As Typhoon Phanfone approached, rain drenched the track and made it treacherous to do just about anything, including driving slowly under a safety car. It was under those dangerous conditions that Jules Bianchi suffered his ultimately fatal crash.
Rain-drenched Japanese Grands Prix have admittedly provided us with memorable racing—whether it be good or bad. So while it may not always rain (in fact, it’s historically more likely for conditions to be warm, dry, and sunny), it’s understandable that we remember it being damp: the highlight reel of F1 in Japan is loaded with wet-weather clips. And this weekend promises to bring us more of ‘em.