Paddock Postcard from Suzuka 09 Oct 2011
The Japanese Grand Prix may be a firm favourite amongst the drivers and this year it may well see the crowning of the sport's youngest double world champion, but thoughts in the build-up to Sunday's race at Suzuka were dominated by the earthquake and tsunami which devastated the country back in March.
Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone has commissioned paintings of the current grid's five world champions and their most recent title-winning cars. Having been signed by the subjects - Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel - the pictures will be auctioned on Suzuka's website following the race.
Many drivers paid tribute to the quake victims and the resilience of the Japanese people by sporting specially-designed helmets. McLaren's Jenson Button will be auctioning his off after the Grand Prix, while McLaren team mate Hamilton will auction off his race boots. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, Lotus's Jarno Trulli and HRT's Vitantonio Liuzzi are also sporting special helmets.
"The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan earlier this year was terribly shocking but this country proved once again how strong they are," said Liuzzi. "While the country is yet rebuilding itself and the consequences of the disaster are still visible, we shouldn't forget about them. Motorsports and Japan have a really close relationship and it is good to be back here and show our support.
"I also wanted to do my bit and, together with my helmet brand and designer, we prepared a special and very beautiful one that I will use only this weekend. On Sunday, after the race, I'll donate it to the Save Japan foundation for them to auction it. They are doing a fantastic job and I hope to modestly contribute to the cause."
A special range of approved Formula One products, available in the merchandise area of the track, will also be raising money for the earthquake victims, with a Bernie Ecclestone glove puppet proving particularly popular in the paddock.
Local hero Kamui Kobayashi, meanwhile, has organised for a girls choir, MJC Ensemble, from one of the disaster-affected regions to journey to the race and sing the national anthem on the grid ahead of the race. The choir, from Minami-Soma city in the Fukushima Prefecture, have been provided with the bus trip to the track, hotel rooms and race tickets.
As usual in Suzuka, there were many familiar faces in the paddock. 1980 world champion Alan Jones was the driver steward, and Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer made his usual visit. The charismatic former Honda President Nobuhiko Kawamoto attended, as did former Honda and Sauber Petronas engineer Osama Goto and Bridgestone's former head of motorsport Hiroshi Yasukawa.
Charles Pic and his mentor, 1996 Monaco Grand Prix winner Olivier Panis were also much in evidence, as the wealthy French GP2 racer seeks an opening to get into Formula One racing. Veteran Formula One journalist Joe Saward, meanwhile, celebrated attending his 400th Grand Prix with an event held at McLaren.
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