Reports

Japanese F1 Grand Prix

2017 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX – SET UP

Suzuka was built by the Honda Motor Company in 1962. Its innovative figure-of-eight design was the brainchild of Dutchman John Hugenholtz and the layout has changed little over the years. The biggest alterations came in the early ’80s, when a chicane was added at the end of the lap and the Degner curve was made into two separate corners. This year’s race is the 29th Japanese Grand Prix to be staged at the track

NEED TO KNOW

Race title 2017 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix
Circuit name Suzuka International Racing Course
First race 1987

TRAVEL

City Suzuka
Time zone CET+7 / BST+8
Population 200,000
Surprising fact More than 70 per cent of Japan is mountainous. The landscape includes more than 200 volcanoes, the highest of which is Mount Fuji (3,776 metres). Situated at the base of Mt Fuji is Fuji Speedway, which staged the Japanese Grand Prix in 1976/’77 and 2007/’08
Local speciality Japan has more Michelin-starred restaurants than France, so it will come as no surprise that there are many culinary delights awaiting fans. Traditional Japanese cuisine is based around rice with miso soup; to make miso, all you need is some cubed tofu, soy sauce, miso paste and spring onions
Weather Average daytime temperatures in October are 21 degrees and there’s a 35 per cent chance of rain. Humidity is relatively high, making this a tough physical challenge for the drivers

Track

Track length 5.807km / 3.608 miles
2016 pole position Nico Rosberg - 1:30.647s
2016 winner Nico Rosberg, 53 laps - 1:26:43.333s
2016 fastest lap Sebastian Vettel - 1:35.118s (lap 36)
Lap record 1:31.540s (Kimi Räikkönen, 2005)
Tyre choice Red Supersoft | Yellow Soft | White Medium
Distance to Turn One 350m / 0.217 miles
Longest straight 900m / 0.559 miles (on the approach to Turn 16)
Top speed 320kmh / 199mph (on the approach to Turn 16)
Full throttle 65 per cent. The longest period of full throttle is 16s, on the approach to Turn 16
Brake wear Low. Only 10 per cent of the lap is spent braking
Fuel consumption 1.8kg per lap, which is average
ERS demands Medium. With only one heavy braking zone, into Turn 16, it’s a challenge to harvest enough braking energy around the lap
Gear changes 42 per lap / 2226 per race

RACE

Laps 53 laps
Start time 14:00hrs local / 06:00hrs BST / 07:00hrs CET
Grid advantage Pole position is on the outside of the grid, on the racing line. There is more grip available there, but it’s a downhill start and a lot can be won and lost on how the driver releases the brake pedal
DRS There is one DRS zone, on the approach to Turn One
Don't put the kettle on... Two pitstops, on or about laps 15 and 35, has been the winning dry-weather strategy for the last few years. But Pirelli has gone one step softer with their compound choices this year and that could force drivers to make an extra stop
Pitlane length/Pitstops 413m/0.257 miles (It takes 20s to make a stop)
Safety Car 60 per cent. The track is narrow, the barriers are close and accidents usually take place at high speed, resulting in a lot of debris
Watch out for... The fans, who are passionate and knowledgeable. If it rains heavily, the track’s undulations produce rivers and aquaplaning is a real danger

THE DRIVERS

FERNANDO ALONSO

“Suzuka is definitely one of my favourite tracks on the calendar, and along with a lot of the other drivers I always look forward to racing in Japan every year. It’s one of the classics and its configuration is completely unique. It has a bit of everything – it’s demanding, fast, and a big challenge for a driver and for the engineers, so it’s the perfect racer’s circuit. 

“It’s an important race for us given our connections with Japan, and for me personally it’s a special place. I’ve always found Japanese culture fascinating and the incredible support from the fans make this race weekend one of the most exciting and crazy of the season. I always try to make the most of our time there, make a couple of trips to the must-see places in Tokyo and really get a feel for this incredible location. 

“I’ve had a couple of difficult races recently, so I’m looking forward to getting back on track and working with my engineers to turn our fortunes around. I feel that we’ve definitely had the pace there in the car – and Stoffel has been able to demonstrate what we’re capable of – but bad luck and struggles in traffic have meant we haven’t been able to score the points we’d hoped for on my side. Both of us will be pushing hard for the Japanese contingent of our team, our partners and of course our fans, and I hope we can finally show the progress we’re making with our car.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

“After two really positive races, I’m looking forward to heading back to Japan. It’s one of my favourite countries and I always enjoy spending time there. The culture, food and people make it really special, and for a long time I’ve been looking forward to experiencing the Suzuka circuit in a Formula 1 car for the first time.

“For me, Singapore and Malaysia were a real boost, and we were really able to get on top of every session and maximise what we had available in our package. We know there has been potential all season, but for one reason or another we weren’t able to show it – so having two strong results back-to-back has been really encouraging and I’m keen to see how we will do in Japan. 

“It’s a much tougher circuit for our car than Sepang, and requires a lot more outright power. The advantage is that I won’t be coming to this circuit fresh this weekend, as I’ve tested and raced at Suzuka a few times before – the last time I was there I won in Super Formula. I’m working very hard with my engineers and we’ll be putting in the same level of preparation for this race, so I hope we can keep pushing forward and have another strong weekend.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Everyone at McLaren Honda is excited to return to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix, in a country that has effectively become our second home. Suzuka is one of the most iconic tracks on the entire calendar, and of course an important venue for us and our partner Honda. Naturally, our aim is to do everything we can to support both them and our amazing fans there, who are among the most passionate of any country we visit all over the world. 

“After some encouraging signs in the past couple of races, we would like to continue the progress we are making and, particularly at this special race for the whole team, enjoy a strong result on both sides of the garage. Our spirit is strong, and we’re working hard together to maximise every race weekend in an effort to make a dent on the constructors’ championship before the end of the year. 

“We know Suzuka won’t be the easiest track on which to shine, but every team up and down the paddock loves it for its formidable twists and turns, and its unique set of challenges that make it all the more rewarding to get right. We’re all aware of its characteristically power-dependent nature, but there are technical sections, such as the flow of corners in Sector One, where our package should be better able to show it strengths, and it’ll be good to see just how fast these 2017 cars go on this track.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“After having another positive weekend in Malaysia, we have built up good momentum heading to our home grand prix in Japan. 

“We always enjoy going back to our home circuit and being waited for by warm and cheerful Japanese fans. The atmosphere encourages us a lot and we hope we can give them a great race. 

“Many drivers mention Suzuka as one of their favourite circuits, and I think this is because it has both technical and power-hungry features. For engineers, it’s a very exciting track as we are able to show our ability in terms of finding the perfect set-up, although we also find it very challenging. The balance of the car will be very important, so we need to make sure we set up the drivability in accordance with McLaren’s chassis requirements. 

“It will be our last Japanese Grand Prix as McLaren Honda, therefore it is a special race for the team. I myself have strong feelings for this race and I‘m hoping to make it as memorable as possible for both the team and fans. “

2017 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE

"IT FEELS SPECIAL AROUND HERE"

Both McLaren Honda drivers made a solid start to their Japanese Grand Prix weekend, despite finishing this morning’s FP1 session not completely satisfied with the balance of their MCL32s.  

A torrential rain shower in FP2 rendered the afternoon’s session a near-complete washout, with only five drivers establishing a lap-time in the wet conditions.

While neither Fernando nor Stoffel set a time, they both ran a couple of incomplete laps to evaluate set-up changes ahead of qualifying tomorrow, which is currently expected to be drier.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-02
FP1 1:31.235s (+2.069s) 19 laps 12th
FP2 No time 2 laps 11th
FP3 1:30.414 (+1.369s) 13 laps 8th

 “As predicted, we had a Friday with only one dry session, so we tried different things in the first session, and did as many laps as we could.

“In FP2, it was raining too hard so we couldn’t do much. We did a few laps at the end of the session, when it had stopped raining, but there wasn’t much purpose in running in the wet as it looks like it’ll be dry in the race, and probably qualifying too.

“The car was behaving well on a circuit where performance is mainly expressed in the fast corners of the first sector. It feels special because there’s so much grip out there.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

#SV2 MCL32-03
FP1 1:21.202s (+2.036s) 24 laps 10th
FP2 No time 1 lap 14th
FP3 1:30.770 (+1.715s) 18 laps 12th

“So far, it’s quite difficult to know what to expect, especially as today’s running was very limited. FP1 was quite normal, without any trouble, but we only got to do an installation lap in the rain during FP2.

“The weather will be key tomorrow – it looks like it’ll be a dry race on Sunday, so qualifying will be super-important. Looking at the weather radar for tomorrow, it's still a bit difficult to predict, it should potentially be dry in quali tomorrow.

“The car felt nice around here. Suzuka’s a high-speed circuit with lots of direction changes and, especially with with the downforce and wider tyres we have this year, they’re very impressive in the first sector;very exciting to drive.

“Whatever happens, we’ll make the best of it this weekend.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“As ever, at Suzuka, the weather can make things difficult – and this afternoon’s FP2 effectively became a complete washout due to the heavy rain. Luckily, we managed to get a few exploratory laps under out belts, which was useful for evaluating a few systems checks, but, like everyone else, we’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.

“Both drivers were relatively happy with their cars during this morning’s dry FP1 session – but, again, they’ve highlighted a few shortcomings which we’re still working to cure ahead of qualifying tomorrow.

“Nevertheless, I think we’ve made a solid start to the weekend.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“We have been looking forward to having our home Grand Prix at Suzuka. However, it was disappointing that we lost so much track time due to the rain today.

“With such a complex circuit layout, car set-up is key. Therefore, we will look to analyse the data that we were able to gather from today's session together with McLaren tonight.

“I’d like to thank all the home fans who visited the circuit in such poor weather conditions. It was great to see so much support. We hope to show them a good result in tomorrow's qualifying.”

2017 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING

“WE CAN DEFINITELY RACE FROM THIS POSITION”

Despite qualifying 11th, Stoffel Vandoorne will start tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix from ninth position – taking advantage of three drivers ahead of him who earned grid penalties.

It means the young Belgian will get to have his cake and eat it, starting inside the top 10, but with the benefit of a choice of tyres as he didn’t make it into the top-10 Q3 shootout.

On the flip side, Fernando Alonso, who qualified 10th, will start 20th as his mechanics were forced to break last night’s curfew and fit a host of new PU components, a necessity that earned him a 35-place grid penalty.

Qualifying 11th and starting ninth; qualifying 10th and starting 20th, we’ll do our utmost to ensure both drivers move forward in the race.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-02
Q1 1:30.525s (12th) Option tyre
Q2 1:29.749s (10th) Option tyre
Q3 1:30.687s (10th - will start 20th due to a 35-place PU grid penalty) Option tyre

“Knowing that we’d be starting last after changing the engine last night, meant qualifying wasn’t too important for us. Still, despite the penalty, we wanted to have a normal qualifying session and push; we have so many fans here – so many Honda supporters – and I think we succeeded and did a decent job.

“Of course, the race will be much different, starting form the back it’ll be quite difficult to gain any advantage, but we’ll try to do the best we can to close up to the top 10.

“Points would have been a difficult target even on a normal weekend, but since we’re starting last, on a track with so many high-speed corners where you can’t easily follow the cars in front, we’ll need a lot of action in front of us if we want to make up some positions.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

#SV2 MCL32-03
Q1 1:30.654s (13th) Option tyre
Q2 1:29.778s (11th - will start ninth due to grid penalties for Fernando, Kimi Raikkonen & Sergio Perez) Option tyre

“That was actually a pretty good session for me. Not getting through into Q3 isn’t actually that bad because it means I can start the race on a new tyre tomorrow. Starting from eight/ninth is pretty decent, and, on a new tyre, it should make for a good day.

"The limited running we’ve had so far this weekend has been the same for everyone, but we’re usually pretty strong at working out what the tyres are going to do, how long they’re going to last, and how to manage them efficiently. We’ll definitely be looking to benefit from that tomorrow.

“It still looks quite hard to decide between a one- and two-stop strategy, so we’ll also try to use that to our advantage. We’re not in a bad place – we can definitely race from this position.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Once again, it’s encouraging to see both drivers fighting for position on the fringes of the top 10 – it shows the progress we’ve made this year to be in the thick of it. It’s also gratifying to see how closely matched our drivers are – Fernando and Stoffel were split by just 0.029s at the end of Q2, so it’s pretty evident that neither is leaving much out there on track.

“By lining up ninth, but with the benefit of choosing his starting tyre for the race, Stoffel is perfectly placed for an advantageous strategy tomorrow. He’s driven extremely well all weekend, and this is a solid underlining of his pace.

“With a 35-place grid penalty, Fernando was always limited by what he could ultimately achieve in qualifying. But 10th position was a nice reward for us all. He’ll be starting at the back tomorrow, but he’s famously done that before at Suzuka and stunned everyone with his pace.

“At this place, you wouldn’t rule out something similar happening tomorrow - anything can happen around here.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“Thankfully the heavy showers we had yesterday stopped overnight, and we had drying, almost sunny, conditions throughout today.

“Both drivers did a good job today in qualifying, and Fernando succeeded to go through to Q3 while Stoffel secured P11 just missing out on Q3.

“As for Fernando, we detected hydraulic issue on his PU yesterday after the session, and we decided to change his PU overnight. It is disappointing that we’ll now start our home grand prix from the back of the grid due to the penalties incurred for the change.

“However, the set-up of both cars has gone well, and I am hopeful for a good performance tomorrow. Furthermore, Stoffel has a strong history around this track, winning last year in the Japanese Super Formula series, and I’m sure Fernando will show his usual determination and fight his way through the pack.

“We will do our best job tomorrow for all of our fantastic fans, and hopefully we can reward their support with a nice haul of points!”

2017 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX – RACE

"WE DESERVED THAT POINT - WE FOUGHT FOR IT"

The McLaren Honda team left Suzuka empty handed after a frustrating Japanese Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso battling to a spirited 11th position, and Stoffel Vandoorne following him home 14th.

It was a race that never truly came together for either driver: Fernando’s grid penalties left him at the back of the grid. And while he climbed through the field remorselessly, it wasn’t easy to overtake, and he narrowly failed to make it into the top 10, despite a fierce chasedown of Felipe Massa in the final laps.

Stoffel’s race came undone at the second corner when he tangled with Kimi Raikkonen. It dropped him down the order and left him picking up the pieces for the rest of the afternoon. His engineers opted for a two-stop strategy, but it still wasn’t enough to help him vault the cars ahead.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-02
Started 20th
Finished 11th
Fastest lap 1:35.111s (lap 45) +1.967s (12th)
Pit stops One - lap 25 (4.030s) Option > Prime

“We started 20th and we finished 11th, with a good recovery, with only one pit-stop, and starting on a used set of tyres. That was a pretty huge effort from everyone on the team. After the penalty on Friday night, due to the engine change, I think we deserved that one point – we fought hard for it.

“It was an unlucky situation with Felipe towards the end of the race. He was struggling a lot with his tyres when the Virtual Safety Car came out. That meant he could breathe a little bit during those laps. Then, in the last two laps, the leaders of the race caught up with us, and Felipe again missed out on an attack, and ultimately took the point for 10th place.

“We’ll try again in Austin. Hopefully with no penalties. And from our usual grid position. And with some better luck…”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

#SV2 MCL32-03
Started 9th
Finished 14th
Fastest lap 1:33.724s (lap 49) +0.580s (4th)
Pit stops Two - lap 9 (2.72s) and lap 34 (2.74s) Option > Prime > Option

“We’ve had a couple of good races; but today’s was one to forget, really.

“I made a reasonable start, then, as we went into Turn Two, and everyone was trying to find some space, I got hit by Kimi. I don’t think it was intentional, it was just cars being in the wrong places at the wrong time.

“My afternoon was compromised from that point – I fell to the back, and drove my own race to the flag. Nonetheless Suzuka is a very special place, so it’s just a shame we couldn’t get a good result for all the thousands of fans in the grandstands today.

“The team deserves a bit of a break after this tough Asian triple-header. They’ve done a fantastic job in the past three races, now it’s time to go back to Europe and hit back hard in the final four races.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Today was just not our day, despite two strong and relentless drives from Fernando and Stoffel. After the difficulties of qualifying, Fernando drove with fearsome commitment today, but was unlucky to walk away without a point, despite a stirring chase of Felipe.

“Stoffel’s race was compromised at Turn Two, when he was pushed down the order after being hit by Kimi. But that’s what happens in racing, sometimes, and he too pushed hard for the remainder of the afternoon.

“Still, on the whole, this Asian triple-header has been a positive one for the whole team. We’ve scored some useful points, and I certainly think that we come out of it stronger as a team than when we went in. We’ll definitely put that momentum to good use in the final four races.

“Finally, I want to pay tribute to two important groups of people.

“First, to the whole team for their indefatigable spirit and hard work over five gruelling weeks overseas. Theirs has been a tremendous effort, and I am remarkably grateful for their sheer effort and commitment. 

“Second, I want to pay my regards, as ever, to the remarkable Suzuka fans. Their spirit, and enthusiasm is incredibly inspiring, and, while we couldn’t reward them with a strong result today, we’re grateful for their support, their passion for McLaren Honda, and for Formula 1 as a whole.

“We’ll push hard in these final four races with a renewed momentum and confidence.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“It was disappointing that we were unable to finish in the points in our final home grand prix as McLaren Honda.

“Fernando started his race from the back of the grid but he maintained a competitive pace with the cars running ahead. He just narrowly missed out on 10th place after chasing down Massa in the closing laps. I think he had the pace to score points today, so it’s a shame.    

“Stoffel started his race from ninth but he lost his position due to an unfortunate incident at Turn Two immediately after the start of the race. Luckily, he didn’t have any significant damage and was able to continue on, but it was a difficult race and very much damage-limitation for the remaining laps.

“This is our home grand prix, so we obviously have very strong feelings for this race. I want to say a huge thank-you to all of the fans that turned out to support us and also to the team who worked tirelessly throughout the weekend – it is a shame they weren’t rewarded with any points, but we still have four races left this season and we’ll continue to battle to the end.”