Drivers and fans aren’t the only ones excited for Formula One’s return to the hugely popular Suzuka circuit this weekend, our resident Japanese team member Kats Shirahata is too.
Like the team, Kats, our Senior Spares Coordinator, will experience his first Japanese Grand Prix since 2019 on Sunday, so we thought we’d catch up with him to see how he was feeling ahead of his home race.
While Kats has lived in the UK for quite some time now, that feeling of returning home to a country which he holds so dear will never get old.
“The first time I came to England was in 2003 - almost 20 years ago - which is a long time.
“And then I’ve been working for Williams for 16 or 17 years!
“Returning to Japan generally is a little bit different to returning there just for the Japanese Grand Prix.
“Firstly, when I go back to Japan, obviously I can see family and all those sorts of awesome things.
“Now we’re back at Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s just different to any other circuit.
“I managed to come back to Japan during the summer break but my last time at the Grand Prix was 2019.”
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While Kats has been a mainstay in the Williams team for so many years and experienced many a Japanese Grand Prix, he also holds fond memories from before his time in the pinnacle of motorsport.
“I came to Suzuka with GT cars as a mechanic and I was always dreaming about the future. In those days, I also went there to just watch racing too.
“I then started to dream about Formula One and now here I am!
“1993 was the first Formula One race that I remember going to in Japan. I think the Williams [Alain Prost] got pole position that day.
“I didn’t stay for the race unfortunately as we had limited tickets.
“We had Friday, Saturday Sunday tickets and were swapping them around between us, so I just came on Friday in the end.”
Catch up with our Japan episode of The Williams Warm-Up
It’s no secret that Suzuka is one of the most popular tracks on the F1 calendar, and when we asked Kats what makes it special for him, he didn’t hesitate to answer.
Aside from his love for the unique figure-of-eight track, Kats also couldn’t hide his passion for Japan generally and when asked what his three favourite things were about his home nation, his response was again immediate.
“The food, the people, the Japanese Grand Prix.
“For anyone coming to the race this year or next I would tell them to enjoy the food and try to enjoy the culture.
“I know it’s different but I like to think it’s different in a good way.”
Finally, while Kats may not be accustomed to the limelight like our drivers, that all changes a little when we head back to Suzuka, where he’s become something of a local celebrity.
Over the years, we’ve learned that Kats has gathered quite a following in the area, so much so that a certain superfan even designed some special badges with his face on them.
“I started with Williams in 2006 and I was the only [Japanese] mechanic in the pitlane.
“I think because it’s very rare for Japanese people to be working in Formula One, some local journalists picked it up and started to talk about it.
“Gradually I then started to become kind of famous - well they made me famous - you know just a regular Japanese guy working for Williams.
“It didn’t need to be me, but I guess now I’ve been here 17 years, so it’s grown!
“I’m not quite sure [about the badges] but a Formula One fan wanted to make this badge with me on it and he once asked if I would allow him to do so.
“So I just said ‘yeah, go for it!’”
Kats pictured with his special badge at the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix
Kats shares a message for F1 fans ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix