In the 1950s, the Fédération Internationale de I'Automobile (FIA) launched the Drivers' Championship to find the world's fastest driver in formula cars – the purest form of racing machine. That ethos was passed on to all FIA national member organizations.
Top-level formula motor racing has been held in Japan in various forms since 1973, when Formula 2000 was launched. The competition morphed into Formula Two in 1978 and then Formula 3000 in 1987. Japan Race Promotion Inc. (JRP) was established in 1995 and relaunched the competition as Formula Nippon the following year. Hiroshi Shirai, previously project leader on Honda's Formula One race team, became JRP president in 2010. In 2013, the name of the competition was changed again to Japanese Championship Super Formula and a bold plan was implemented to upgrade the race cars and lift the profile of the competition, with the clear aim of spreading the appeal of Super Formula from Japan to other parts of Asia and transforming it into a third great open-wheel racing competition after Formula One and Indy Car. (The competition's name will change to the Japanese Super Formula Championship from the 2016 series).
In the early days, formula racing in Japan was led by top drivers such as Kunimitsu Takahashi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Satoru Nakajima, who later competed on the global stage in Formula One. In the Formula 3000 era, Michael Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen competed in Japan, as did Ralf Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa, Eddie Irvine and Toranosuke Takagi in the mid 1990s, all tenacious drivers aiming to make it into Formula One.
More recently, drivers such as FIA World Endurance Champion André Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Loic Duval and Kazuki Nakajima have been winners of the Japanese Championship. In 2015, Kamui Kobayashi, who competed in Formula One until the previous season, made a triumphant return to Japanese circuits, mesmerizing spectators with his driving skills. This year, Stoffel Vandoorne ― GP2 2015 Champion and on the cusp of making his Formula One debut ― will compete in the SUPER FORMULA series. Interest from drivers like Vandoorne shows how Super Formula is increasingly seen as an important competition by the world's top drivers.
The Super Formula race car chassis is the Dallara SF14, which is based on a quick-and-light design concept. Toyota and Honda supply 2.0-litre turbo-charged inline-4 direct injection engines, while advanced Japanese-made fuel flow restrictors are used to control engine performance. These chassis and engine improvements have resulted in racing cars with greater control and stability, making them highly responsive and agile. Drivers who have competed in Super Formula say the cars achieve cornering speeds that are even higher than in Formula One. From this season, Yokohama Rubber will become the sole tire supplier, marking its return to the competition after a hiatus of roughly 20 years and heralding a new era in the Super Formula competition.
Excluding the engines, Super Formula racing cars are essentially single-manufacturer machines, meaning qualifying races are fought over extremely tight margins of less than one second. The outcome of each race comes down to pure competition between drivers and a battle of wits between engineers working to get the most out of the cars.
Super Formula races are run on world championship tracks such as Suzuka Circuit, Fuji Speedway and Twin Ring Motegi, where even the smallest errors are punished, and on older circuits such as Sportsland Sugo, Okayama International and Autopolis, which are also favorites with overseas drivers. The diverse nature of circuits during the season makes the racing even more competitive.