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Bob's Fuji Blog (Friday)

NEWS STORY
10/10/2008

If nothing else, it's been a great day at Fuji. We got up to see Mount Fuji in all its glory with its attendant halo around the summit and the sun stayed out at least for most of the morning, only clouding over around lunchtime, but importantly, no rain.

A number of my colleagues much prefer Suzuka; it's perhaps a more controlled environment than Fuji. It's more urban whereas Fuji is countryside: trees, hills etc, which I personally prefer. The local towns, however, are more sophisticated, I feel, than the industrial Suzuka.

And dominating it all is Mount Fuji. The first time I came to Fuji, back in the eighties, for a sports car race, we were staying over a hill from the circuit, and every morning we came over the hill hoping to see the mountain itself. But every morning it was shrouded in cloud until… lo and behold, on the last morning, there it was. We parked the bus and out we all jumped, taking pics of one another with the mountain in the background, just like… Japanese tourists.

A non-motor racing friend, the wrong side of 60, was out here last week and on the Sunday he wondered what he was going to do. Someone suggested a walk up Fuji and sure enough, he took up the challenge, making the summit in around five hours. You can understand why mountaineers climb mountains; it's because they're there.

Ukyo Katayama scampers up Fuji as a sort of post-prandial walk on Sunday afternoons, taking under four hours while a colleague is hoping to pop up there after the race on Sunday with a couple of unnamed F1 drivers. Except they're going to do it at night, in order to be there at dawn. BMW boss Mario Theissen is also hoping to walk up; again, it's because it's there!

I came a rather strange route to Japan via Singapore - again! At Changi airport I met up with former Grand Prix driver Marc Surer who told me the bad news about the Canadian Grand Prix. It was rather apposite, because I'd just fallen in love with another of Montreal's outstanding products, the Cirque du Soleil. I watched one of their fantastic performances on the wide screen in the back of the seat of my Singapore Airlines A380, that's the new double-decker long haul plane. I was just like a kid at the circus, sitting on the edge of my seat with an inane grin on my face.

It brought me back to CdS founder Guy Laliberte's legendary post-race parties in Montreal and now, it seemed, they were all over. Initially Marc and I thought that the cancellation of the race was caused by the deterioration of the track surface this year, but progressively we have learned more since coming to the circuit. It is, of course, financial and the rumours are that Mr E seems to have finally become exasperated at not having his bills paid, so he has pulled the plug.

But the teams are revolting. They want more races on the North American continent, not fewer and will be seeking exactly that when they meet with the commercial rights holder. By then, however, with government intervention, they may find that the race has been reinstated, if not for next year, for the future. Bernie likes dealing with governments, one of the problems with Silverstone. He finds that perhaps governments have a more comprehensive and generous attitude to bringing a Grand Prix to a country or city and that fits with his financial demands.

There is a great impetus among the teams at the moment. While they may no longer be led by the Eddie Jordans and Peter Saubers of this world, there is a very businesslike approach to the problems faced by Formula One which is amply illustrated in today's press conference, whose transcript you can read here on Pitpass. John Howett of Toyota, in particular had a couple of good points to make, even if he patently refused to answer my question as to detailed examples of cost-cutting areas. See his answers to questions on standard engines and the global financial crisis - they give great encouragement to fans of Formula One.

Standard engines, cost-cutting and the financial crisis are the hot subjects out here in Japan, although one seems somewhat cosseted from the latter as we blithely take the shuttle bus from our hotel to the circuit and back, basking in the warm sun while waiting for the bus. The world's troubles - and my failing mortgage - are miles away - literally. Planet Paddock was never more apposite.

Having said that, I am able to read at least two English newspapers every day thanks to photocopied editions which are somehow supplied here and there are similar copies from other European countries. Last night we ate at an Italian restaurant - excellent food - and there's a Chinese just up the road. The only thing our hotel lacks is a bar which means that we still sit around a vending machine dispensing large cans of Asahi or whatever at 500 yen a time - that's around 3 - just as we did when I first came to Japan in 1983. It does, however, mean that there's a certain amount of noise which one team principal objected to. Just as well he didn't hear his slightly inebriated technical director holding forth last night with no thoughts of political correctness - or even team confidentiality.

Such is life a long way from home. I'll try and get round to the racing at some stage - who's hot and who's not. But now it's time to catch the shuttle bus. At least we're back on a normal schedule. Eating at 3am as in Singapore is thankfully a thing of the past. Maybe more Singapore reflections tomorrow…

Bob Constanduros

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