Kimi Räikkönen: “Suzuka is one of the top three tracks in the world”
After a fight up the order to second place in Korea, our Finn is at the top of his game heading to one of his very favourite circuits, Suzuka
Suzuka is up next; what are your thoughts on the circuit?
Normally it doesn’t make too much difference to me where we race – as long as we have a good result then I’ll enjoy it – but Suzuka is a track I look forward to every season. It’s a proper circuit that’s been around for a many years, and you can understand why as it’s a challenge for the drivers and usually makes for some good racing too. It’s fast, technical and there are some good places to overtake, which to me is what racing should be about.
You describe it as a challenge; what is it that really pushes you in the cockpit here?
It’s a bit of everything really. There are some corners where you are flat out – or very nearly flat out – but then there are others where you really have to balance the braking and throttle carefully to maintain the best speed. If you push too hard then you can easily be punished, as I found out in qualifying last year when I was on my best lap in the final session. Hopefully this time we’ll get everything right and be fighting at the front; that’s where you can have the most fun at a circuit like Suzuka.
Would you say this is quite a special venue for you as a driver?
As a racing circuit it has unique characteristics and belongs in the top three in the world with Spa and Monaco. I enjoy winning races the most at the places like these. For me coming to Suzuka was never that enjoyable because of the long journey, but driving a Formula 1 car on the track has felt great every time. I had a good race at Fuji too. It was that wet race back in 2007 when I came from pretty far back to a podium finish, but Suzuka 2005 is my best memory from Japan. It’s very difficult to say which is your best race – especially if you have won many – but coming from the last row of the grid to take victory at a place like this is one I remember very, very well.
What do you like about Japan as a country?
I particularly like Tokyo and always have a good time when I visit there. It’s a fun place, there is a lot going on, and I do enjoy sushi…
What do the Japanese fans mean to you?
Since my first ever visit to Japan back in 2001 with Sauber, I’ve always enjoyed the almost fanatic loyalty of the local fans. They really support you, no matter what position you are racing for. Maybe that Suzuka victory was the best memory for them too. Even last year – after being out of Formula 1 for two seasons – I still had a lot of Japanese fans all over the world. For sure, that feels nice! Whenever I race or go rallying, there are always some Japanese supporters around and I appreciate the support.
It was another strong race result from you in Korea, with some close racing between you and Romain…
It was quite close I guess but we both came out of it okay. He basically gave me second place with a small mistake at the end of the lap after the restart and I already knew there were yellow flags into Turn 3, so I knew if I overtook him into Turn 1 he wouldn’t be able to pass me back. It wasn’t too difficult; he defended pretty hard but I managed to get through.
Was more possible had you qualified better?
Qualifying was pretty awful for me in Korea, but it’s difficult to say whether a better grid position would have made the difference. Sebastian [Vettel] was faster than us at the end; not massively, but a little bit for sure and his tyres were fresher too so I think it would have been tough to catch him in any case. We were closer to the Red Bull in Korea than we have been in some races, but not close enough…
Do you think there’s the potential to add to your win tally before the end of the season?
If we can improve our performance on Saturdays then there’s always a chance, so we’ll keep trying for sure and see what we can do.
Romain Grosjean: “There’s just something about this place”
After a highly positive Korean Grand Prix it’s straight to Japan and Suzuka, where Romain Grosjean is in a highly positive state of mind. Bring it on…
What are your thoughts on Suzuka?
I know I won’t be the first one to say this, but Suzuka is definitely my favourite circuit of the year. Every driver has races that are special to them for one reason or another – a home Grand Prix, or the venue for their first win maybe – but I think if you ask most racers they will tell you there’s just something about this place that’s a little bit different. This will be only my third time driving the track, but I’ve been looking forward to it ever since the flag dropped in Korea; it’s simply fantastic.
Why do you think it is that everyone raves about this circuit?
It’s a track that really allows a driver to demonstrate their feel for the car. Not only is combination of corners pretty relentless – so you never really get a rest – but the way the layout flows together means that the smallest mistake can make a big difference to your time. Get it right, and the feeling is amazing. Get it wrong, and you just want to keep trying again and again until you have it nailed. Each sequence is challenging in its own way, and you have to find the perfect balance to put a good lap together. Every track has its challenges, but Suzuka is a continuous test of a drivers skills and I think that’s what makes it so beautiful to drive.
And Japan itself?
Suzuka itself it pretty far out from the busier parts of the country, but the people, the culture, and of course the food all really appeal to me, so it’s somewhere I’d definitely like to explore a little more one day. You can’t help but mention the Japanese fans as well; they really are in a league of their own! Everywhere you look there are people with shirts, flags, crazy hats, and so many other things they have made at home just to show their support for the drivers on one weekend of the year. I don’t think any of us will forget the noise last year when [Kamui] Kobayashi got his first Formula 1 podium in front of his home crowd… my ears were ringing all the way to Korea; it was unbelievable!
Your Race Engineer Ayao Komatsu is Japanese; do you think some extra home knowledge could help you at Suzuka?
I will have to ask Ayao for some special tricks! Certainly I really like Suzuka, the car is looking very good at the moment and maybe Ayao has some local knowledge too. He certainly gets home support so maybe that will help me out on track too.
The Korean Grand Prix was a pretty good showing for the team; you must be pretty happy with your performance?
It was a fantastic result. Of course, one step higher on the podium for me would have been better and two steps up would have been superb. Our battle with Lewis [Hamilton] was good, our pace was great but the safety cars stopped us in our fight for the win. After the restart I should have been in front of Kimi on the road, but it was my mistake which let him past so it was third place on the podium instead of second.
How was it dicing with your team-mate on track, and do you expect more of the same for the rest of the year?
If we’re fighting for the same piece of track and the same position then it means we’re both getting the maximum out of the car, which is a positive thing whichever way you look at it. Obviously we’re both competitive, but our racing has always been fair. I made a mistake in Korea which is why he got past, but this is not something I want to happen again. The team’s philosophy is always to let us race unless we’re on very different strategies where one driver could hold up the other, and this is the right approach. Let’s hope we have some more battles for podium places and I’ll be pushing to be the one ahead.
You were looking good against Sebastian [Vettel]; do you think you were in the fight for the win?
Before the safety car we certainly had a strategy to push Sebastian, however we don’t know how much he had in reserve. Maybe the potential of getting my first win was quite close in Korea, but you can’t set a time frame on these things; you never know when the win might come…
Eric Boullier: “Korea certainly tasted like a win and we’ll keep fighting”
After a third double podium of the season, Team Principal Eric Boullier is convinced that the Enstone squad will continue to fight for the top three during the remaining five races of the season
How good is it for the team to be able to show its potential so late in the year?
It doesn’t matter what’s said about you away from the track, it’s on track that you have to deliver and we certainly delivered in Korea. It’s a testament to the strength and the breadth of the team that we were able to get both drivers on the podium in quite an emphatic fashion in Korea.
Did you expect the team to be so strong?
We expected to put in a good showing, but it’s always difficult to know exactly how well you will compete relative to the opposition. To be honest, a double podium tastes like a race win this late in the season. All credit is due to everyone back at Enstone for delivering us extra performance from the long wheelbase car, as any gain towards the end of the year is especially beneficial as we fight for position in both Championships. The race team delivered a great strategy and pit stops, whilst both drivers drove exceptionally well. This is what we want for the remaining five races of 2013.
What’s the approach from the team with regards to team orders?
We want our drivers to race for the best results for the team, so if you have the opportunity of a 2-3 with both drivers – and there is no Drivers’ Championship consideration – you will let them fight for the positions and rely on their good sense not to take each other off. Of course, we have had occasions where one driver is on a different strategy from the other and has the pace to challenge for positions ahead – which is when you might ask the slower driver to make the sensible decision – but this wasn’t the case in Korea; we let Kimi and Romain fight for position. We may have been a little nervous occasionally on the pit wall, but both drove superbly to help achieve a great result for the team.
On the broadcast in Korea, it sounded as if you could have been favouring Romain for the result?
You have to remember that the television feed only takes certain edits from radio transmissions between the driver and the pit wall. We had Romain asking for Kimi to let him by as he felt he was faster, but we wanted to leave the drivers to determine their positions by racing on track which is why we were telling Romain to race Kimi. As we know, Kimi doesn’t want to talk too much to the pit wall and doesn’t need words of encouragement; he knows what he’s doing and we saw that once more in Korea.
Talking of drivers, there’s a lot of discussion about the importance of driver weight; will this have an impact on any decision as to our 2014 line-up?
We’re more interested in the talent and potential of a driver rather than the difference of a few kilos. We have confidence in our development team to be able to produce a car for the 2014 regulations which should be competitive in the hands of any driver we consider for next year.
Looking to 2014 there are a lot of challenges; ranging from radically different cars to potentially the biggest calendar in the sport’s history. What does the future hold?
I think there will be a lot of interest next year. Before the season starts of course, we will see the unveiling of the new cars and then their first outing on track when we go testing. It’s sometimes difficult to look too far ahead when you are in the midst of an exciting season, but of course we have been preparing for 2014 for a long time. It’s clear from our recent history that there’s a lot of potential in Lotus F1 Team, so let’s see what the future holds.
Alan Permane: “Suzuka is one of the highlights of the year”
After a strong showing from the squad in Korea, Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane looks ahead to one of the highlights of the year at Suzuka
What’s your feeling after the Korean Grand Prix?
It was a very satisfying weekend. Our latest developments with the car clearly worked well, we had flexibility on strategy allowing us to make the right calls in the race, and we had our best pit stops of the year. We were the only team to have the pace to challenge Sebastian [Vettel] which is quite an achievement this season.
What do you think of Suzuka?
I think it’s pretty much everyone’s favourite track; particularly amongst the drivers. The first part of the Esses – also known as the ‘Snake’ – is one of the most rewarding pieces of track a driver can experience. In a strong car with a good front end it really does flow well, and it’s one of the highlights of the year. Then, there are a couple of very high speed corners. Turn 1 is almost flat-out on entry, with braking at the mid-way point for Turn 2. 130R is flat out at very high speed; a little more tricky with high fuel loads, but certainly in flat in qualifying. Then you have the Spoon curve; a very long, double-apex, third to fourth gear corner leading onto the back straight and taken at reasonably high speed. There are plenty of challenges and I think we’ll have another interesting weekend.
Is there anything of specific interest in line with the circuit’s figure-of-eight layout?
In terms of set-up it’s not notable, but in terms of character it certainly is. The nature of a figure-of-eight configuration adds elevation into the mix, with the track heading downhill into Turn 1 followed by a reasonable climb uphill through the Esses in sector one. It then heads down and up out of the hairpin, down some more into Spoon and along the long straight, before rising up again through 130R and the chicane. There’s quite a long downhill stretch on the start-finish straight to wrap things up, so it’s certainly a circuit that’s full of character.
What could be the challenges?
It’s a reasonably high grip surface, so the hard and medium tyres should be well suited to it. Tyre degradation won’t be as significant here as we saw in Korea, but it’s a track which exposes any weakness in your car or setup so we’ll be working hard as always to get things spot on.
How do you need to set up the car?
Although there are high speed corners it’s actually a high downforce layout; a similar feel in many respects to Silverstone, but with the added feature of elevation. A car with a strong front end is essential as understeer really kills a lap time here, but everything else is needed as well; good braking, good stability and a car which can ride the kerbs, especially in the last sector.
Should the team be feeling confident after recent performances?
I think we can be quite confident. We saw in Korea that the car is working well, while Suzuka has some quick, flowing corners which are quite similar to those of sector two in Yeongam; the part of the track where we were most competitive last weekend. There are also some high speed changes of direction and long, medium speed corners which should all suit us. If we had a weakness in Korea it was the first sector, which combines stop-start corners with a long straight; neither of which are a feature of Suzuka.
Has the team managed to unlock additional qualifying pace?
There’s an element of having achieved a good level of understanding in terms of both the tyres and the car at this point in the season, but we’ve always favoured the softer compound rubber and of course the supersoft has been the option tyre at each of the last two races. Romain has done a particularly strong job in qualifying of late; coping admirably with the pressure of delivering a quick lap, even when we add to that pressure by challenging him to get through the first session using only the harder compound. We haven’t had many upgrades over the last few races as we’re concentrating on the challenges of 2014, so any gains in qualifying performance have come from the driver rather than improvements to the car which is very encouraging for him. Despite starting out of position in both Singapore and Korea, Kimi has managed to fight back superbly to make the podium in both races. We’ve clearly got two drivers at the top of their game right now, so our battle for championship position throughout these final five races could be very entertaining indeed…
Jubilation in Japan – An Engineer’s Guide to the Suzuka Circuit
Taken almost flat with only a light lift, the opening corner of the lap is a quick curve leading into the slower Turn 2.
Turns 3 – 6:
Understeer needs to be minimised for the constant change of direction through the ‘S’ Curves, with a well-balanced car maintaining the speed.
Turns 8 + 9:
Two tricky turns make up the Degner Curve. The first is short and narrow with a cautious approach required thanks to the inner kerb, to which drivers need to get as close as possible without making contact.
Turns 13 + 14:
Understeer saps speed through the Spoon Curve and so needs to be minimised, with a fast exit necessary onto the following straight.
130R is flat out, but more difficult when the cars are heavy with fuel.
The best overtaking opportunity around the circuit layout, with DRS less effective at this particular track than elsewhere.
Front wing level is important to eradicate speed sapping understeer through the long Spoon corner, and to assist with quick change of direction through the ‘Snake’ of Turns 3 – 7.
Comparable downforce levels to Silverstone or Barcelona; not maximum levels, but not far off.
Good change of direction is required, especially for the ‘Snake’ through Turns 3 – 7, so a stiffer and more responsive setup is sought.
The only heavy braking applications are into the Turn 11 hairpin and into the Turn 16 – 17 chicane. As with Silverstone, much of the lap is spent cooling the brakes meaning that – in contrast to Singapore – more attention is paid to keeping these warm.
The hard and medium tyre compounds will be used, meaning that the selection for Suzuka moves a step harder for the third year in a row after 2011’s soft and medium and 2012’s soft and hard allocations. Suzuka is one of the biggest challenges of the year for tyres as the track layout contains a wide variety of corners; many of which are fast, but with some heavy braking areas and tighter turns intertwined. The hottest part of the tyre tread can reach 120 degrees centigrade at Suzuka.
A high-speed figure of eight track that features every possible corner; from high speed kinks to flowing linked turns, profiled curved bends and hairpins. The engine needs to deliver across the entire power spectrum without sacrificing driveability and responsiveness. High speed corners such as the ‘S’ Curves also subject the internals of the engine and lubricant systems to high lateral G-forces.