30 years on: An anti-climax at Suzuka

Maurice's Memories: Japanese Grand Prix (2:12)

Maurice Hamilton looks back on his first ever visit to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix. (2:12)

Anyone complaining about the championship becoming predictable in favour of Lewis Hamilton should recall the Japanese Grand Prix 30 years ago. Anti-climatic doesn't make a start.

Nelson Piquet won the title while standing still in the Williams garage. Qualifying was at full stretch and yet, in a matter of seconds, the season's story had come to a sudden stop -- against a tyre barrier in the Esses, to be precise.

Qualifying in 1987 was run in one-hour sessions on Friday and on Saturday, a driver's best time from across the two counting for grid position. With only Japan and Australia remaining on the calendar, the championship had narrowed to a fight between Nigel Mansell and Piquet in their Williams-Hondas, the Brazilian arriving at Suzuka with a 12-point advantage in an era when the first six finishers received points ranging from 9 to 1.

If you think today's scoring gets rather onerous with half the grid receiving a reward for more or less turning up, in 1987 mental acrobatics were called for as each driver could only count his best 11 results from the 16 races.

Piquet was already at his maximum and dropping scores whereas Mansell could go for it and grab whatever he could. Boosted by a fine win at the previous race in Mexico - and Piquet receiving just three points for finishing second - Mansell rightly considered himself to be in with a shout.

There was no love lost between the Englishman and the Brazilian. They barely spoke to each other and did most of their talking on the track. Mansell, having spoken loudest in the unofficial sessions, was leading the way once more during the opening phase of qualifying. Then Piquet went quicker by a couple of tenths.

No worries, thought Mansell. Before asking for his second and final set of qualifying tyres, Nigel opted to check out the latest condition of the track on his used tyres. He wasn't even trying that hard --which may be a pointer in itself -- when he took too much kerb on the first right of the Esses. This put him off line for the next left. Typically, Mansell kept his right foot buried. This, coupled with lightening reflexes, had got him out of trouble many times. But not at Suzuka.

There was not enough room to allow recovery and, before he knew it, the Williams was sliding, then spinning backwards. The tyre barrier acted like a catapult and speared the Williams-Honda forward, this time in the air. The car landed on a kerb, Nigel's back receiving the brunt of the impact.

It was extremely painful. We knew that because, for some reason, Mansell had removed his crash helmet and balaclava, exposing a contorted image that was being caught by a nearby TV camera. Piquet, having returned to the pits, was out of his car and watching the scene relayed via a single TV monitor high on the garage wall.

Mansell was taken to the circuit medical centre and then helicoptered to hospital at Nagoya. Reports were mixed; no-one knew if he would return. His car was repaired and ready the following morning.

At 8 am, Professor Sid Watkins, the FIA medical chief, visited Nigel in hospital. A subsequent FIA bulletin stated that Mansell "...had a good night and suffers no injuries or fractures but he is suffering from very severe muscular pain and serious bruising. He is medically unit to drive." Within hours, Mansell was being loaded with appropriate drama onto a plane bound for the UK.

Piquet, having won just three grands prix, was the 1987 World Champion. Mansell, having won six, was not.

A sense of deflation at Suzuka would be lifted by Ferrari's first win in more than two years. Their first win in more than two weeks would go down just as well this weekend.