The term “best fans” has become something of a cliché in Formula 1 circles. A term often used by Lewis Hamilton - with sincerity, it should be added - on the podium following a victory (for example, “[insert country] has the best fans”), it has become more of a meme and less of a genuine compliment.

But when it comes to the Japanese Grand Prix, it is nothing but the truth: Suzuka truly does have the best fans.

A typical race weekend will see a few diehard fans turn up on the Thursday to try and grab some autographs, with crowd numbers then growing through the race weekend. At Suzuka though, the significant interest is there from the moment you turn up at the circuit. Fans line the roads, waving at the passing cars they see containing an F1 driver or figure. By the paddock gates, they wait with merchandise, home-made banners and souvenirs to grab autographs and pose for pictures - not just with drivers, even extending to some members of the media!

Heading around the fan zone at Suzuka is one of the highlights of the season. Since Liberty took over the running of F1 in 2017, it has made a greater effort to create dedicated fan areas, but Suzuka has always done it right. Going for a walk around the fan zone between FP3 and qualifying on Saturday, you can see the famed rear wing car hats with working DRS (and now complete with a Halo on top), fans in full race suits and a replica helmet of F1 legends - and a true passion for the sport you will do well to find anywhere else in the world.

The unique nature of Japan’s F1 passion even extends to the merchandise you can pick up in the Suzuka store. Sweets made to look like tyre marbles? Check. A cake in the shape of a Pirelli tyre? Sure, it’s there. Pepper that is marketed as being Suzuka gravel? Of course. And the pièce de résistance: track map underwear.

Sauber F1 driver Marcus Ericsson spent 2009 based in Japan while racing in Formula 3, winning the national title that year before moving up to GP2. It gave the Swede a chance to get a taste of the Japanese fanbase, of which he spoke warmly.

“They are very unique! They are very fanatical and the passion is so strong,” Ericsson said of the Japanese fans.

“When I lived here, even in F3 you have fans standing outside your hotel waiting in the morning and by the track at every race. But also what I find is very unique is how respectful they are. They would never do something disrespectful. Japanese people are very nice like that.

“I always love coming here and I try and give back as much as I can to the fans. It’s difficult because there’s so many of them and I would stay here for hours if you want to meet everyone and sign all the autographs and stuff like that, but it’s nice to see.

“Every Thursday it’s a full grandstand. People are here because they love F1, and they sit here all day but there’s nothing going on and they just sit there the whole day! So I think that’s how much they enjoy it.”

That much was clear on Saturday after qualifying when, three hours after the session had finished and with the sun having long set, fans packed out the main grandstand, lighting it up with glowsticks.

Support for a home driver has not been possible since 2014 when Kamui Kobayashi last raced with Caterham, but the return of Honda the sport the following year ensured there was some Japanese presence still on the grid.

While there may have been some tough times with McLaren, there is a renewed sense of optimism about Honda’s future in F1 after a solid year with Toro Rosso, with the team’s best qualifying coming at Suzuka as Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly secured P6 and P7 on the grid.

“They’re very well educated, they follow very closely,” Hartley said. “I think especially for us this weekend being with the Honda PU, there’s going to be a lot of support.

“Even on Wednesday, arriving at the hotel or from the train station, it was even tricky for us to walk through the train station with all the fans waiting for us.

“There are not many countries in the world where you would see so much support and passion from the fans. I wouldn’t expect anyone to come and see me if I arrived home in New Zealand. Just to arrive here, the hotel, the train, there’s always people there wanting to support and be part of this Formula 1. It’s pretty cool from that point of view.”

Gasly was based in Japan for much of 2017 when racing for Honda in Super Formula ahead of his F1 move, giving him a good connection with the fans here.

“I spent so much time in the country last year, plus it’s my second season as a Honda driver. Probably they see me as one of them, which is nice and which I can feel as well,” Gasly said.

“It’s always nice when I come here. Again this morning at breakfast, you have people coming at 7 in the morning just to give you presents. All the time I come in Japan, I always leave small space in my luggage because I know when I come back home, I will have so much more stuff than when I arrive in the country.

“For me, it’s probably the country where you have the most passionate fans. It’s really nice.”

Suzuka confirmed at the start of September it had agreed a new three-year deal to host F1 starting in 2019, ensuring one of the most-loved circuits stays on the calendar.

But it also means F1’s most wonderful fan base will still get to enjoy the sport for years to come. Considering this may be seen as a ‘low point’ for Japan in F1, given the lack of home driver or true on-track success for Honda, it is exciting to think just how much more fanatical the fans who flock to Suzuka may get if an upturn follows in the near future.

And if Hamilton does win today’s race and then hail the “best fans”, don’t scoff. He’ll be absolutely on the money.