Reports

Japanese F1 Grand Prix

2016 JAPAN GRAND PRIX – PREVIEW

Circuit stats
2015 Winner Lewis Hamilton, 53 laps, 1:28:06.508s
2015 Pole position Nico Rosberg, 1m32.584s
2015 Fastest lap Lewis Hamilton, 1m36.145s (lap 33)
Name Suzuka International Racing Course
First race 1987
Circuit length 5.807km/3.608 miles (5th longest of the season)
Distance to turn one 350m/0.217 miles (longest of season: Barcelona 730m/0.454 miles)
Longest straight 900m/0.559 miles, on the approach to the Chicane
Top speed 330km/h/205mph, on the approach to the Chicane
Pitlane length 413m/0.257 miles, estimated time loss 23s (longest of season: Silverstone, 489m/0.304 miles)
Full throttle 65 per cent, with the longest period of full throttle being 16s
DRS zones One, on the approach to Turn One
Key corner Turn Nine, a third-gear right-hander that passes underneath 130R at the exit to create the unique figure-of-eight shape of Suzuka. Also known as ‘Degner Two’, this corner is relatively slow, but a bump on entry makes it difficult to get the car into the apex. There’s very little run-off due to the bridge, so the smallest of mistakes can prove very costly
Fastest corner 300km/h (186mph), Turn 15
Slowest corner 72km/h (45mph), Turn 11
Major changes for 2016 None, except for maintenance work on kerbs and Astroturf
Fuel consumption 1.89kg per lap, which is average
ERS demands Medium. An interesting mix of slow, medium and fast corners tests every aspect of car performance, including the ERS
Brake wear Low. Only 10 per cent of the lap is spent braking, with only one significant braking event, into the Chicane
Gear changes 42 per lap/2,226 per race
Circuit facts
History lesson Owned by the Honda Motor Company, Suzuka Circuit has been a regular fixture on the F1 calendar since 1987. It was designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz in 1962, since when it’s become renowned as an excellent test track due to its eclectic mix of corners.
What makes it unique The figure-of-eight layout. This is the only circuit on the F1 calendar that has this configuration (crossing at Degner Two/130R), creating a relatively equal split of right and left-handers.
Grip levels High. The asphalt is relatively old, which means the roughness of the surface helps to provide grip. Combine the asphalt with the aerodynamic loads created by the cars at high-speed and grip levels at Suzuka are deemed to be good.
Run-off end up beached after only a relatively minor mistake.
Watch out for... Rivers. Suzuka’s coastal location means the weather conditions can change quickly, particularly at this time of year. When it rains, the undulations mean rivers flow across the track, which can lead to aquaplaning.

The drivers on: the circuit

#14 Fernando Alonso

“Like me, many drivers love going back to Suzuka every year and it’s easy to see why. It’s a classic ‘drivers’ circuit’ and its configuration is unusual, demanding and very unforgiving, so putting together a good lap is really satisfying, and all these characteristics make it really popular with both drivers and fans. It’s a difficult circuit to set up the car perfectly for because the track temperatures change so much with the unpredictable weather, but we know this circuit well and will use the Friday sessions to dial the car in to the conditions and get the most out of it.”

#22 Jenson Button

“The Suzuka circuit is incredible – almost in a class of its own on the calendar. It’s as close to a ‘perfect’ track as you can get in terms of having all of the different elements you would want as a driver. It’s fast, technical, difficult, rewarding, and really fun to drive, so it’s up there among the best. My win there in 2011 is definitely one of my favourites because to do well there you have to put so much into it, and when you get a good result it’s the best feeling.”

Event facts
First Japanese Grand Prix 1987
Official slogan There’s no official slogan, but most drivers agree that Suzuka is one of the most challenging racetracks in the world.
Japan's F1 heritage This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Japanese Grand Prix. But Japan’s F1 heritage extends further back, thanks to the commitment of the Honda Motor Company. They entered F1 in 1964 and won their first grand prix in ’65, since when they have taken a total of 75 victories.
Smallest winning margin 0.344s, in 1991. World title protagonists Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell lined up on the front row of the grid, but it was Gerhard Berger who led Ayrton into Turn One. Gerhard disappeared into the distance, leaving Ayrton to hold up Mansell – who crashed at the start of lap 10. Ayrton went on to take the lead, but he slowed exiting the final corner of the race to gift victory to Ayrton.
Sporting legacy Japan’s love of motor racing needs no introduction. Suzuka is a sell-out most years and there is a strong domestic racing scene. But the country is becoming a sporting powerhouse: it will host the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the summer Olympics in 2020.
Did you know? McLaren has won the Japanese Grand Prix nine times, with two of those victories powered by Honda.
Don't forget This year marks the 110th anniversary of Soichiro Honda’s birth.
Fan zone Ali, aged 51, from Tokyo, asks: This is the Japanese Grand Prix and it’s Honda’s home race; do you feel more pressure to get a good result than at other races?” McLaren’s answer: “There’s pressure to perform at every race, so nothing changes in terms of our desire to get a result. But there’s no doubt that our victories at Suzuka in 1988 and ’91, with Honda, were very special and it would be fantastic to get another good result on their home turf this weekend.”

The drivers on: the event

#14 Fernando Alonso

“Japan is an incredible place and a country I always love visiting. The support we receive is phenomenal and makes the whole experience even more special. I love the people, the food and the culture, and our few days there for the Japanese Grand Prix are something I look forward to each year. I hope we can start the weekend on a positive note and keep pushing forward – we’ve maximised our package well over the past few races and it would be fantastic to finish in the points again at the team’s second home race.”

#22 Jenson Button

“The Japanese Grand Prix is always one of my highlights of the year. I love going back to Japan and the fans there make it incredibly special. They give us 110% support throughout the whole week, right from the minute we arrive in Tokyo, and as drivers we really feed off that enthusiasm. As it’s another home race for us, we’ll be very busy in the lead up to the weekend itself, and it’s an important grand prix for the whole team, so I hope we can fight hard and get the best result we can to give something back to the enthusiastic fans.”

 

Hear from the management

Eric Boullier

“I know I can speak for the whole team when I talk about the Japanese Grand Prix being one of the most important milestones in the Formula 1 calendar for everyone at McLaren-Honda. It marks the end of the sequence of races in east Asia and, with Silverstone, a venue that very much feels like a second home.

“Suzuka circuit is steeped in a huge amount of racing history, and one that McLaren-Honda has played a significant part in, both as one team and as individual entities. Its fast, flowing corners and technical demands mean it fully deserves its legendary status and, combined with the unrivalled support we receive from the ever-enthusiastic Japanese fans, the warm hospitality and fascinating culture, it’s easy to see why we look forward to returning to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix each year.

“Our double points finish in Sepang was great encouragement and reward for the relentless hard work happening behind the scenes in Woking and Sakura, and we’ll take this motivation to Suzuka, where we hope to achieve similar results. The race itself is sure to be dramatic – it often is at this prestigious circuit – so we hope to maximise the potential our package has shown recently and put on a good show for the incredible fans.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

“Suzuka is a very special place and an important race weekend, of course for Honda but also for me personally – I have great memories of racing there with Formula 1 in years gone by. I am thankful for all the very knowledgeable and enthusiastic F1 fans, who expect a lot from us, but are very understanding at the same time. I hope that our team's progress encourages more spectators to join us at Suzuka and help increase McLaren-Honda's fan base.

“Suzuka is a track highly rated by the drivers for its technical and complex nature. In order to succeed there, there must be a good balance between the power unit and chassis. We will do our utmost to set up the car to hopefully score more points and be within reach of the top three teams. I hope that we can have a race that we can be proud of, and that our fans can be proud of, too.”

2016 JAPAN GRAND PRIX – PRACTICE

“We need to find something extra tonight”

Today was a largely problem-free day for McLaren-Honda as free practice began at Suzuka, the venerated home of Honda and the Japanese Grand Prix. 

The team evaluated new components throughout the day. While Fernando Alonso suffered a minor spin during FP1, and Jenson locked up on his Option-tyre flyer, both drivers gathered useful data, which will be duly crunched this evening ahead of tomorrow’s important qualifying session.

Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-04
FP1 1m35.003s (+2.572s) 10 laps 9th
FP2 1m33.985s (+1.735s) 37 laps 8th
We’re not yet happy with the set-up and we need to do some more work this evening.

“It’s been a tough day, generally. Our most important objective for this afternoon was to understand the compounds across the length of a long-run, and we did that. Nonetheless, we’re not yet happy with the set-up and we need to do some more work this evening.

“We’re still investigating the cause of this morning’s spin – it looks like there were some aerodynamic issues with the rear wing. Luckily, we didn’t damage the car and could continue running until the end of FP1.

“We need to find something extra tonight – let’s just hope it doesn’t rain in FP3 tomorrow as we need to understand the changes we make tonight ahead of qualifying and the race.

“Getting into Q3 could be quite difficult now.”

Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
FP1 1m35.677s (+3.246s) 24 laps 13th
FP2 1m34.398s (+2.148s) 29 laps 16th
I’d love it to rain – that would help us have a chance of a good result here

“On single-lap pace, the car doesn’t actually look too bad – I just didn’t get a great lap this afternoon. But if we can get a good lap together – which we’ll hopefully do tomorrow – we may be able to get into the top 10.

“However, our long-run pace is more of an issue – and that’s something we need to solve as it’s usually a forte of mine, and it wasn’t today. The degradation is significant, we’re some way off, and we’re looking into the reasons why. I think there’s something not quite right, as opposed to there being a set-up issue; but hopefully we can fix it by tomorrow.

“I’d love it to rain – that would help us have a chance of a good result here.”

Eric Boullier
Both drivers worked hard to improve balance and driveability

“It’s always fantastic to arrive at Suzuka: the colour, the fans, the banners, the gifts, they all add up to making the experience special every single time. This year is no different, and it’s been extremely encouraging to see the rising number of people wearing McLaren-Honda caps and T-shirts in the grandstands today.

“Turning our attention to the racetrack itself, Fernando suffered a small ‘off’ during the morning’s session – an unexpected lack of grip between the two Spoon corners caused him to lose the rear end and skim the barriers. Fortunately, the damage was minimal – just a broken rear-wing end-plate – and caused minimal delay.

“In the afternoon, both drivers worked hard to improve balance and driveability. While not completely successful, the changes enabled us to make progress, and we go into the evening looking to improve our cars’ set-up further ahead of tomorrow’s qualifying session.”

Yusuke Hasegawa
It's tricky to know where we stand after Friday running because of the changeable track conditions

“The fans here at Suzuka have given us such a warm welcome, and I am very happy to be back at our home race in Japan.

“As usual, it's tricky to know where we stand after Friday running because of the changeable track conditions during the weekend, and the testing of various set-ups on both cars.

“Fernando was happier with his balance and we were able to run stable lap times, so we can say that he had a fairly decent Friday’s running. Jenson was less satisfied, especially with the tyre conditions, but his time gap to Fernando was not so off, so we are expecting him to improve during tomorrow’s running.”

2016 JAPAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING

“We’ve been struggling with high-speed and straight-line performance”

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will start 15th and 17th after a tough and disappointing qualifying session at Suzuka.

Since the MP4-31 is less well-suited to the long straights and mid- to high-speed corners of the Japanese track, the team’s hopes for points tomorrow rest on wet or unpredictable weather during the race.

Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-04
FP3 11th 1m33.714s (+1.622s) 12 laps
Q1 16th 1m32.819s On Options
Q2 15th overall 1m32.689s On Options
I’ll be attacking tomorrow – I have nothing to lose

“After some strong weekends, where we made it into Q3 and were able to fight for points, qualifying 15th and 17th is not the best place to be starting Honda’s home grand prix.

“So far, we just haven’t been able to find the speed in the car this weekend. We’ve been struggling with high-speed and straight-line performance too, so it was difficult to know which way to go in terms of downforce and balance.

“It looks like our performance is changing from circuit to circuit, and we need to analyse exactly why we seem to be underperforming here.

“Unless it rains tomorrow, it’ll be difficult for us to recover enough positions in the race in order to score points. But I’ll be attacking tomorrow – I have nothing to lose.”

Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
FP3 19th 1m34.548s (+2.456s) 11 laps
Q1 17th overall 1m32.851s On Options
It’s been a tough weekend so far

“It’s been a tough weekend so far. I switched over to Fernando’s set-up this morning after failing to find a balance on Friday – my car just wasn’t working.

“To be that close to Fernando – just three-hundredths off his best time in Q1 – after the weekend we’ve had so far, really wasn’t too horrific. Our lap-time today is simply a fair reflection of how fast our car is around here – and that meant I went out in Q1.

“Our package works best in lower-speed corners and under heavy braking; Suzuka has lots of mid to high-speed corners and long bends – plus long straights – which are all trickier for us.”

Eric Boullier
We’ll do our best tomorrow in an effort to score world championship points

“Clearly, we’re disappointed to have qualified only 15th and 17th here at Suzuka, host circuit to Honda’s home race.  

“Having said that, both Fernando and Jenson drove good laps, and ended up separated by just a few hundredths of a second. Sadly, today, that was the difference between progressing to Q2 and not doing so, which is why Jenson failed by the very narrowest of margins.

“Suzuka is a great racetrack – a dramatic and challenging one in fact – but the truth is that our car is ill-suited to its long straights and mid- to high-speed corners.

“As always, we’ll do our best tomorrow in an effort to score world championship points, but to be honest it’ll probably be an uphill struggle.”

Yusuke Hasegawa
We are looking forward to tomorrow’s race strategy and management

“Today’s qualifying result was disappointing, with Fernando P15 and Jenson P17. Suzuka Circuit is a very difficult track to pull out a great lap unless both the chassis and power unit were perfectly well-balanced, so I think we were just lacking that as a team today to pull off a Q3 lap.

“However, it was a very tight session and we are not far off in lap-times to the Q3 runners, so we are looking forward to tomorrow’s race strategy and management, and continue to push for better results.”

2016 JAPAN GRAND PRIX – RACE

“We will accept today’s result, analyse the data and regroup”

The Japanese Grand Prix was a very disappointing race for the McLaren-Honda partnership.

Fernando Alonso put up a spirited battle to take the fight into the midfield, but he was never in a position to challenge for points. He eventually finished 15th.

Jenson Button started 22nd on the grid after the team elected to change his power unit components before the race, incurring a penalty. Starting so far back meant that his potential was limited, and, despite pulling off a couple of satisfying passing moves, he finished only 18th.

Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-04
Started 15th Finished 16th
Fastest lap 1m38.208s Lap 29 +3.090s, 19th
Pit-stops Two Lap 9 (2.35s) Lap 27 (2.64s)
Tyres Option Back-up Back-up
I know our car is in fact much more competitive than we were able to show today

“Our race today reflected the whole weekend: it was just anonymous.

“To finish 16th and 18th today is a rather nasty surprise, especially after finishing seventh in Singapore, and seventh and ninth in Malaysia, just last weekend.

“I hope this was an exceptional and unique event, and that we’ll return to business as usual at the next race, in Austin. “It was clear that the layout of the track didn’t suit our package – we lacked downforce through the faster corners.

“I know our car is in fact much more competitive than we were able to show today, and I’m obviously disappointed about putting on such a poor show at Honda’s home race. But we’ll head back home, analyse what happened, and bounce back from this disappointment.”

Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
Started 22nd Finished 18th
Fastest lap 1m37.177s Lap 39 +2.059s, 9th
Pit-stops Two Lap 19 (3.74s) Lap 36 (2.66s)
Tyres Options Back-up Back-up
I still had some fun out there – a few little battles

“I made a poor start – the [power unit] components in the back of the car were all-new, so I got massive wheelspin and was therefore somewhat left behind on the start-line. Then it was really difficult to get past the Manors – they’d started the race on the Option tyre, and I was on the Back-Up, so it was hard to make a move stick.

“I eventually got past them though and, despite racing with the backmarkers, I still had some fun out there – a few little battles – but we were a long way behind the points-scorers.

“It’s been a very tough weekend – it’s a shame that Suzuka is our bogey track because it’s our second home. Still, we have to take the rough with the smooth: we haven’t been quick here, but we hope to be quicker at the next race.”

Eric Boullier
I want to pay tribute to the Suzuka fans, who are amongst the most devoted and enthusiastic in the world

“There’s no point denying that we’re thoroughly disappointed, because we are.

“Having scored points with both cars last weekend in Malaysia, to finish 16th and 18th here in Japan is hard to take, frankly.

“However, such is the esprit de corps and will to win that now characterise all who work for both McLaren and Honda, as one unified racing force, that we’ll put this forgettable weekend behind us straight away and refocus our attentions and ambitions on the next race: the United States Grand Prix at Austin.   

“But before we do so, I want to pay tribute to the Suzuka fans, who are amongst the most devoted and enthusiastic in the world. As ever, they came out in force today – many of them in support of their home team, McLaren-Honda – and we would dearly love to have been able to give them something better to cheer about than in the end we did.

“Next year we will.”

Yusuke Hasegawa
Suzuka circuit is a very difficult place at which to gain positions

“We expected a difficult race today, as the results of Friday and Saturday were less than ideal, and the Suzuka circuit is a very difficult place at which to gain positions unless you start from a good grid slot. 

“Also, we weren’t able to gain places at the start, so, for the majority of the race, both drivers had to battle at the back of the field, and weren’t close to the points-scoring positions.

“In this long F1 calendar, we have good and bad results that we have to cope with, but the results of this weekend were very disappointing, especially knowing that there were so many fans here to support us. 

“We will accept the results today, analyse the data, regroup and hope to return to scoring points at the next race, in the USA.”