With packed grandstands full of fervent fans and a track widely considered to be one of the best and most challenging on the calendar, the 2012 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix is one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the season. The drivers and senior team members look ahead to the Suzuka race and discuss their prospects…
Felipe Massa, Ferrari
2011 Qualifying – 4th, 2011 Race – 7th
“Even if it will be tough, this weekend, I would love to be fighting for pole and victory again. Our car can be competitive at Suzuka, because there are plenty of high-speed corners which suits the F2012, as can be seen from the fact we were competitive in Silverstone back in the summer and these two tracks have some characteristics in common, in terms of the required levels of downforce and how you set up the car. In fact, I hope we can be more competitive at all the remaining tracks, as every race now is very important for the team and for Fernando [Alonso] and also for me of course! We all know that we need to work hard in order to be as competitive as possible at every track.
“I love Japan and its people, their lifestyle and their education. I also love to eat Japanese food, which I actually do wherever I am in the world, but eating it in its native country is special. I always look forward to visiting Tokyo as well, if I can spend some time there and, at the track, the enthusiasm of the crowd makes it a very enjoyable race weekend.
Michael Schumacher, Mercedes
2011 Qualifying – 8th, 2011 Race – 6th
“My motivation is completely intact after the news last week, especially because Suzuka is one of the season’s highlights for me. I enjoy the circuit – it has sections that challenge you as a driver like almost nowhere else. Then there are the fans: they love motor racing and it is fun to feel their passion. I’m also a big fan of Japanese food, so I’m always happy to travel to this race. Logically, it would also be nice to achieve a sporting highlight this weekend, although my chances are of course very limited because of my grid penalty. But I’ve always approached these things as a challenge.
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes
2011 Qualifying – 23rd, 2011 Race – 10th
“The last race in Singapore was my best result for a little while and I hope this is the start of an upward trend for me and the team. So I’m looking forward to getting to Japan this week and getting on with the work to get the most out of our new aerodynamic package and upgrades. Suzuka is a very exciting track which is popular with every driver for the interesting corner combinations and unique layout. I also look forward to meeting the Japanese fans again who have such a great passion for the sport and their support is always so enthusiastic.
Ross Brawn, Mercedes team principal
“Suzuka is a fantastic racing circuit, and the support that Formula One receives from the Japanese fans every year is so impressive. They really do love the sport and it’s always nice to see their enthusiasm as we arrive at the circuit every morning. The track is a popular one with the drivers for its challenging layout, and Suzuka has seen some very exciting and decisive races over the years. For the team, we are looking forward to having more time to continue the ongoing work to optimise our new developments, and will be working hard to have a good weekend.
Norbert Haug, Vice-President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
“Suzuka is one of the most demanding race tracks in the world and, if you asked the drivers to rate it between one and ten, I’m sure that the average would be very close to ten. The circuit is a classic: almost every corner is a challenge and the high-speed uphill Esses behind the pits provide a real benchmark for aerodynamic performance. The average lap speed is comparable to Silverstone and the engines spend over two-thirds of the lap distance at full throttle. Engine performance and driveability are important requirements in Suzuka in addition to good aerodynamics.
Paul di Resta, Force India
2011 Qualifying – 12th, 2011 Race – 12th
“It’s a track that’s all about aero so it’s a real test of your car. I also found it very technical with corners like the ‘S’ curves where you need a good change of direction. Finding the sweet spot isn’t easy because half the track is made up of straights so you need efficiency as well as downforce for the high-speed corners. Tyre degradation is also high so a neutral car is what you need during the race.
“The thing that surprised me last year was the commitment and enthusiasm of the fans. Even on Thursday the grandstands were busy. So that makes it a special race and the fact that it’s a track with a lot of history. I also enjoy Japanese food, although the challenge is making sure you order the right thing!
Nico Hulkenberg, Force India
2011 Qualifying – n/a, 2011 Race – n/a
“My race in 2010 with Williams was not especially memorable because I was taken out before the first corner. That was a real shame because it’s a track I really enjoy and with corners like the ‘S’ curves it’s a great experience in a Formula One car.
“Suzuka is definitely one of my favourite circuits: it’s really challenging and technical, and you need a good car balance to hook up a good lap. Because it’s so technical it’s important to find a good rhythm because if you mess up one corner you can lose the flow of the whole lap.
“I’m feeling positive and we have generated some good momentum within the team recently so I want to keep that going. The goal is to keep getting consistent results in the points.
Dr Vijay Mallya, Force India team principal
“Historically Suzuka has never been our best track, but hopefully this time the team has something up its sleeve. I think we have been pretty consistent on most tracks this season so we are quietly confident that we can perform well this weekend. I certainly hope we can pull some rabbits out of the hat in Japan and Korea and come away with some more points.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director
“Suzuka is definitely one of the highlights of the Formula One calendar for us: not only from a technical point of view but also because of the unique atmosphere. The fans are some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic in the world, and we are always assured of an extremely warm welcome. But it’s the layout of the track that delivers the technical challenge: Suzuka is a classic drivers’ circuit, a bit like Spa or Monza, with some of the most awesome corners that we see all year and very little margin for error. While it might at first seem from the names of the compounds that we are bringing harder tyres to Japan this year, in fact they are softer. Despite the increased demands that this places on the compound and structure, they are still more than capable of withstanding the immense forces to which they are subjected lap after lap. With a full step between the compounds as well, we hope this will bring extra performance and excitement to what is already a classic race. This should also open up the opportunity for lots of different strategies, which as we have seen already this year can form the foundation of a memorable victory, or boost drivers to a top result even if they have started from lower down on the grid. Last year the drivers’ championship was actually decided in Japan, but this year has been so competitive that we are still a long way from seeing the titles settled – and that is great news for all the fans.
Lucas di Grassi, Pirelli test driver
“Suzuka is really enjoyable to drive and it always produces good races but it’s not so easy for the tyres because there are so many heavy demands: the first part of the lap, for example, is just corner after corner so the tyres are constantly working with no real chance to cool down. There are a lot of combined forces in particular, when the cars are turning and accelerating, and this is what always puts a lot of energy through the tyre. Because of this, there is never a problem with tyre warm-up, but of course you have to take care over a longer stint, particularly when the car is heavy with fuel. It’s good that we have the hard tyre in Japan this year: I tested this 2012 hard tyre a lot and it’s a really versatile product, which has plenty of performance but durability as well: a big step over the equivalent compound in 2011. The soft tyre should be the perfect choice for qualifying, but I would expect to see the hard tyre come into its own during the race.
Timo Glock, Marussia
2011 Qualifying – 21st, 2011 Race – 20th
“Suzuka is quite a different circuit to the last race in Singapore and with a lot of high-speed corners. Now we just need to wait and see how the car performs there. For this race we again have a couple of new developments on the car suited to this track, and I am hoping we will see another step forward and an even better chance of fighting with our immediate competitors and further closing the gap to the front of the field. Another tough and demanding race for the team, being a back to back with Korea. Although Singapore was a tough challenge logistically and operationally, the result there gave everyone a boost, which was very nice to see and share in after all the hard work that has gone on this year in particular. I hope we can be strong again at Suzuka and do everything we can to defend our 10th position in the championship.
Charles Pic, Marussia
2011 Qualifying – n/a, 2011 Race – n/a
“I visited Japan for the first time in 2011 to watch a race I was hopeful I would come to take part in. Twelve months on, I’m back and doing just that. My visit was quite short last year and as I passed through Tokyo I was also hopeful that I would be able to spend a little more time exploring Japan next time around too – I loved the city and the country. I really like what I have seen of the circuit. It will obviously be another new challenge for me, driving here for the first time. Although it is a very technical circuit, I think the hardest new track for me – Singapore and its night-race – is behind me and my preparation will be much more representative of the other new long-haul tracks I have tackled in my debut season. These are important times for the team and we need to work together to ensure that now we have 10th place back we hold on to it. I realise that is the key objective for us in these races and I will be playing my part in that – hopefully with some strong performances along the way to underline everything I have learned this year. As far as Japan is concerned I am looking forward to some time to explore before and after the race, so I can really make the most of the whole Suzuka experience.
John Booth, Marussia team principal
“We take the trip back to the Far East after a week back at base, feeling very positive about the way the last third of our season has started out. We are in a much stronger position in development terms at this stage of the year than ever before and that is really exciting for us as an ambitious team looking to make significant strides for next season and beyond. It was fantastic for us to earn back 10th place in the constructors’ championship, but we have to keep pushing all the way to Brazil now. Fortunately we have two highly competitive challengers in Timo and Charles – and continual developments coming through from the technical team – to be able to do just that. We enjoy the Suzuka experience immensely, although the weather conditions as we all embark on the trip seem quite interesting! It’s still a little early to see how that will affect us over the race weekend, but we’ll approach it as a potential opportunity. We also look forward to having Max Chilton alongside us in his new capacity as reserve driver, up to the Brazilian Grand Prix. He is extremely motivated to be working alongside the team so closely and to see what he can learn during this period.
Pastor Maldonado, Williams
2011 Qualifying – 14th, 2011 Race – 14th
“I’m really looking forward to getting to Japan this week. I think everyone in the paddock looks forward to this race, as the fans in Japan are some of the best in the world and give us all such a warm welcome. I also enjoy the track as it’s one of the historic circuits in Formula One. There is a good combination of high-speed corners and we run close to the maximum amount of downforce. It’s a great challenge as a driver.
Bruno Senna, Williams
2011 Qualifying – 9th, 2011 Race – 16th
“I’m really looking forward to the Japanese Grand Prix. It’s one of my favourite tracks of the season and it’s very fast and flowing but quite narrow compared to some of the other circuits we visit. It feels amazingly quick and is one of the biggest challenges as a driver. It is similar to Spa-Francorchamps so it’s a real drivers’ track. You can get variable weather in Japan ranging from warm and sunny to rain that stops qualifying. It’s always exciting though and we have a good potential to be strong there.
Mark Gillan, Williams chief operations engineer
“Suzuka is a fantastic old-style track with its trademark figure-of-eight layout that proves a tough technical test for the drivers. The circuit layout leads to very high average cornering speeds and energy input into the tyres, but it’s reasonably light on the brakes. Following Singapore we have been working hard to ensure that the cars run as reliably as possible for the remaining races. Given the excellent pace shown at Singapore in both qualifying and the race, we expect to be strong in Suzuka and will bring further updates as part of our continuous improvement process.
Remi Taffin, head of Renault Sport F1 track operations
“The power sensitivity at Suzuka is not higher than say Canada or Valencia, but the variety of corners over the lap requires some careful preparation. The first half of the circuit, from the First Curve to Spoon Curve, is flowing so the engine needs to be responsive and smooth throughout the power curve. The second half of the track, from the exit of Spoon to the end of the pit straight, is all about outright power as 90 percent of this section is spent at full throttle. We will most likely introduce new engines here for this reason.
Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham
2011 Qualifying – 18th, 2011 Race – 18th
“I stayed in Singapore for a couple of days after the race before heading back to Europe to spend a couple of days at home and then do a session in the simulator before going to Japan.
“Suzuka is one of the races everybody looks forward to and I’m no different. It’s a proper track, exactly the sort of circuit you want to drive F1 cars on as it has everything – high-speed corners where you can really feel the downforce working, medium-speed sections where it’s all about car balance and some of the most passionate fans in the world.
“For me the best bit of the track is in sector one, from T1 to T7. You go into T1 and T2 at high speed and if you’re not fully committed you can lose a lot of time right at the start of the lap. Out of T2 the track is positively cambered and you can really lean on the car as you go into T3. From there, right through to T7 if the car is well balanced the whole section seems to flow. It’s a great feeling when you get it right, but get it wrong and you lose a lot of time.
Vitaly Petrov, Caterham
2011 Qualifying – 10th, 2011 Race – 9th
“Japan’s one of my favourite places to race, in fact it’s one of my favourite countries to visit whether we’re racing or not! At home I eat Japanese food quite often and the fact it has great food and really cool fans makes it a great place to go as an F1 driver. The fans really are incredible. The stands are packed throughout the whole weekend, even on Thursdays when we’re not on track, and they’re so polite, almost a bit scared of asking for autographs or photos, but you can tell how much F1 means to them and it’s always cool when they give us presents or things they’ve made for us.
“On track Suzuka is obviously a cool track to race on. The first sector is a good challenge in the car and for the engineers, to make sure we have a well-balanced car. The second sector is also pretty quick and then you’re into S3 and heading towards 130R. A lot of people talk about that being a major corner, and it looks pretty good on TV when you see the cars flat out through there, but in the cockpit it’s really not that much of a challenge. Despite that you need to be flat through there as the chicane afterwards is one of the few overtaking spots, so if you lose time through 130R you’re going to come under pressure from cars behind right at the end of the lap.
Jenson Button, McLaren
2011 Qualifying – 2nd, 2011 Race – 1st
“All of my Grand Prix wins have felt special, but winning at Suzuka in 2011, at the first Grand Prix held in Japan since the terrible tsunami last March, was an achievement that still makes me feel incredibly proud and emotional. As everybody knows, Japan means a lot to me. It’s a place I love, I’ve been here so many times – for business and pleasure – and I still feel that wide-eyed awe and deep emotion for a country that exists so comfortably on so many different levels.
“Suzuka is definitely a circuit that puts hair on your chest. It’s extremely uncompromising; like a street circuit, it doesn’t allow for a single mistake, punishing you for putting a wheel wrong at almost every point on the circuit. But it’s also extremely quick – there’s only one line through the esses that make up the whole first section; the Degner corners are blind, hidden in dips in the track, and approached over bumps that jolt the car, trying to unbalance it. Successfully hitting the apex for Degner 1 is a bit like trying to thread a needle while running the 100 metres – difficult!
“We go to Japan with a car that I feel convinced can fight for victory – it should be another good weekend for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
2011 Qualifying – 3rd, 2011 Race – 5th
“When I first raced here in 2009, I couldn’t believe a place like this could still exist in Formula One – it still feels like a proper old-school circuit. It doesn’t have the polish or finesse of an ultra-modern track – but is all the better for it. It’s fantastically quick, too, and very difficult to master. It’s an unforgiving place, and it also has that special atmosphere that you only get in Japan, for some reason.
“I think that’s due to the fans – they’re what make any visit to a racetrack in Japan feel so special. They’re very passionate about Formula One, but also extremely polite and friendly – they make you feel very special every day when you’re going in and out of the circuit.
“In terms of the championship, there’s nothing to really be gained by analysing the points tables, from now on, it’s simply gloves-off. As in Singapore, I’ll come out fighting, I’ll just be hoping for a better result next weekend.
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal
“Suzuka is a very special circuit, a place where some of the greatest chapters in McLaren’s history have been written over the past 25 years. Of all our achievements there, I look back at Jenson’s victory last year with particular fondness and satisfaction. It was an extremely tense afternoon, and the victory was a perfect team effort – Jenson drove with all the measured aggression we’ve come to expect, and his back-up from the team was superb.
“Despite Lewis’s retirement from the last race, our performance in Singapore was encouraging for the whole team; it showed that we have a car that can fight for victory on a wide range of circuits, and we’re confident of once again challenging at the front in Japan next weekend.
Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber
2011 Qualifying – 7th, 2011 Race – 13th
“I’m very much looking forward to my home Grand Prix in Suzuka. I think our car should be very fast there and we also will get new parts on the C31 for the Japanese Grand Prix. I am confident about getting a good result in front of my fellow countrymen. Last year I was seventh on the grid but then had a problem at the start and only finished 13th.The Japanese fans are great and the mood and atmosphere they create is an enormous support. And it is not only me who they cheer for! They are true Formula One fans and that is why I’m really proud of them. Nowhere else will you find the fans being at the circuit so early in the morning and staying for so long at night, no matter what the weather is like. Also regarding the track itself, Suzuka is a very special place. I’m sure a lot of drivers would agree it is a really great circuit. It is a very technical track, really exciting to drive and challenging, especially because it is so difficult to put a perfect lap together there. I would say at most of the circuits it takes no more than 20 to 30 laps to really learn them. Some are getting boring even before that, but in Suzuka you are still learning and improving after you have done hundreds of laps.
Sergio Perez, Sauber
2011 Qualifying – 17th, 2011 Race – 8th
“I really like the Suzuka Circuit. Last year I drove there for the first time and enjoyed it an awful lot. I finished eighth after having started from 17th because we had a problem in qualifying. After underperforming in Singapore, in Japan I am expecting our car to again to be as good as it used to be and we should be strong in the high-speed corners. The circuit has got some quite nice sections and corner combinations. Thanks to the Japanese fans the atmosphere there is really great and our team gets a lot of support because it is Kamui’s home race. I am very much looking forward to it.
Giampaolo Dall’Ara, Sauber head of track engineering
“Suzuka is one of the most fascinating and challenging tracks of the season. It’s got a first sector with very technical high-speed corners, and then you encounter the middle sector with the hairpin and the tricky Degner corners, which are relevant for stability. Spoon corner is also quite special. It’s a medium to high-speed corner, leading onto a long straight with the R130 corner, which is flat nowadays but still challenging. Finally there is the slow chicane at the end of the lap where you need good traction. Overall it is a very complex and technical track. It requires a well-balanced car and it is very challenging for the drivers. The tyres will be the hard and the soft compounds, which should be fine for this track. Due to the abrasive surface and the fast corners in the first sector, which put a high load on the tyres, there should be no issues with warming them up. Also we will be introducing a new aero package in Japan, including a new front wing for the C31. Looking at the requirements of this track I expect our car to be very competitive there.
Mark Webber, Red Bull
2011 Qualifying – 6th, 2011 Race – 4th
“I’m looking forward to the Japanese Grand Prix as it’s an opportunity to get a top result again on a track I enjoy driving on. Qualifying has not been as strong for us recently and we know this has to be improved. We are focusing on that and, once that’s better, we can make a strong push towards being better positioned at the end of Grands Prix. The Suzuka Circuit has an incredible combination of corners. You have to be very accurate and rhythm is very important. It’s a good challenge for the drivers.
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
2011 Qualifying – 1st, 2011 Race – 3rd
“I love the Suzuka circuit. In short, it has the most amazing corners and brilliant fans, I really like coming here. In 2011 the country experienced unbelievable difficulties, so it was extremely important to try and give them some enjoyment and to show our support for their suffering. I wish I had won in 2011, it was my third Formula One race on my favourite track and it still bothers me a bit that I took my world title with a third place. The track itself is huge and almost every metre of it is special.
Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus
2011 Qualifying – n/a, 2011 Race – n/a
“It’s a good circuit, one that’s quite fast and there are some nice opportunities for overtaking. The best tracks for me are ones with long straights and sharp corners with lots of space for racing on, and Suzuka has that. In 2005 I had one of my best wins there after starting the race near the back of the grid and then taking the lead on the last lap. Winning in that way, you never forget the feeling it gives you while crossing the finish line.
“It is one of the more difficult tracks and part of racing at Suzuka is that there are usually quite a few accidents. When you are on the limit, a driver will always have some big moments during the weekend at a fast circuit and Suzuka really punishes the driver due to the speed of the track and the small run-off areas. It’s a great circuit; very quick and challenging for both car and driver. You need an aerodynamically strong car there, and a solid car to go through those fast, long sweeping corners. I think that suits the E20.
Romain Grosjean, Lotus
2011 Qualifying – n/a, 2011 Race – n/a
“What a circuit! If we have a good base line set up then we can really enjoy the track. It’s an amazing circuit. I’ve only raced there once but I loved it so I’m really looking forward to going back. It’s difficult to pick one part of the circuit as your favourite. The first sector is brilliant, with turn one, turn three, four and five – it’s crazy! Then you go right under the bridge, then a small hairpin, and next up is the ‘Spoon corner’ which is a nightmare for the drivers. Then you’re flat out, DRS wide open, before the last chicane. A brilliant circuit. Also, I think it’s important to say the fans are absolutely amazing in Japan, and the atmosphere around the track is very special. I love Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, and when I cook at home I often try to put some spices in my dishes that are from Japan.
“There are many challenges over the weekend. We have to get the set-up working perfectly as Suzuka is so demanding and exposes any weakness in the car. You have to complete all the sessions without making any mistakes because the run-offs are small and it’s easy to damage the car if you run wide or get a corner wrong. You need to get on top of the tyres as Suzuka never stops in its demands on them. I think it is a place where you need just a little luck. I hope we have some of that in Japan and everything comes together.
Eric Boullier, Lotus team principal
“I know that both Romain and Kimi enjoy the Suzuka circuit so we’re all looking forward to the race weekend. Kimi still holds the lap record from back when he won there in 2005, so he should feel confident and we are of course looking to provide him with a car to achieve the best that he can. I could tell you that the target is the podium, which it is somehow, but the relative level of performance between the teams is constantly evolving. We’re bringing a few promising updates including our ‘device’. We think that the track will suit our car, and we’re hoping for a gentle build-up to the race, with no technical drama or dodgy weather.
James Allison, Lotus technical director
“It’s a track with a wide range of cornering speeds, but there are several very fast turns in the Silverstone mould; in particular Turn 1, the ‘S’ bends and130R. These are features that have suited us so far but it’s a tight season and, as we’ve shown, you really need to hit the ground running in order to have a good weekend.
Pedro de la Rosa, HRT
2011 Qualifying – n/a, 2011 Race – n/a
“Suzuka is a beautiful and spectacular circuit; I would say it’s my favourite track. It’s very quick, you hardly touch the brake, and we’ll be able to make a better evaluation of the difference between the new floor and the old one. It has inclinations, quick, flowing corners and it’s a very long lap. It’s a circuit for aerodynamics and horsepower where the best cars stand out. I’ve got great memories of it because my first victories in Formula Three and Formula 3000 came there and it’s one of the tracks which has brought me most luck in my career because by winning there the doors to Formula One opened. I hope to also have a good performance next weekend.
Narain Karthikeyan, HRT
2011 Qualifying – n/a, 2011 Race – n/a
“I’m really looking forward to Japan after not being able to finish in Singapore. Suzuka is a very fluid and challenging track. From a physical point of view it’s also tough as it’s very quick. It’s a circuit that I love and one I have fond memories of. I think we’ll take a step forward with the car with regards to Singapore and we’ll be able to better evaluate how the new floor works. We’ve been pretty fast in the last few races but we’ve been missing a bit of luck. But we have to continue working to maintain this positive momentum through to the end of the season.
Luis Perez-Sala, HRT team principal
“Suzuka is a circuit with a lot of tradition which I raced at during my years as a Formula One driver. It’s quite a technical track that’s very challenging both mechanically and for the driver and it’s also a very attractive circuit because it combines quick corners with quick straights. We’ll be able to further test and evaluate the updates we took to Singapore because we will have more data. We’re confident that we’ll be able to continue with our momentum and it’s another race to continue progressing.
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