Haas F1 Team are looking forward to moving on from a disastrous pair of races in southeast Asia on the streets of Singapore and at Sepang circuit outside Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia as the F1 calendar arrives in the Land of The Rising Sun, Japan.
The Japanese Grand Prix Sunday at Suzuka Circuit this weekend marks the last of a three-race stretch through the Far East. Despite recent disappointments, (3 DNF’s out of 4 finishes) the Suzuka Circuit offers a reprieve for Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez.
Grosjean led 26 laps in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix before finishing third behind the dominant Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. And in last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, Grosjean finished in the points with a solid seventh-place effort.
Gutiérrez scored the first points of his Formula One career when he finished seventh at Suzuka during his rookie season in 2013. The affable driver has been knocking on the door of another point-paying result all year long, with five 11th-place finishes in the last 12 races.
Grosjean and Gutiérrez look forward to Suzuka, and not just because it’s their next opportunity to displace the late-season misfortune that has befallen them. Suzuka is a driver’s track, where racecars can be pushed to the absolute limit even without being stuck to the track via maximum downforce.
Five races still remain in 2016, giving Haas F1 Team five more opportunities to solidify its position among its far more established counterparts.
This will be the sixth Japanese Grand Prix for Grosjean. He has started P4 twice and has a P3 podium finish in 2013.
Romain Grosjean – Driver #8 VF-16
You’ve been quoted as saying that Suzuka is your most favorite track in the world. Why?
“It’s always difficult to say exactly why. I think it’s the flow, the corners, the high-speed nature of the track. There’s a risk as well with all the gravel and the narrow parts of the circuit. Overall though, it’s not one thing, and sometimes you don’t know why you like something, you just do.”
You led 26 laps in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka before finishing third. That is the most laps you’ve led at any Formula One venue. Talk about that race and how you were able to run out front for so long.
“I was fourth on the grid and made a really good start. I led from the first corner. Then Red Bull played its strategy. They put one car on a two-stop (strategy) and the other on a three-stop strategy. We led 26 laps, but we lost position to them. It was great, though. I remember telling myself to not go out as all the world’s TVs were on me. It was a great feeling to be leading. I loved it. I remember going to the train station after the race and it was packed with all the fans. It was hectic, but memorable.”
There seems to be a delicate balance at Suzuka in regard to downforce. Too much and you go slowly down the straights. Too little and you won’t have the confidence to attack the track’s twists and turns. Obviously, the level of downforce is predicated on how comfortable you are at speed. How do you achieve this balance?
“It’s one of those tracks where you need quite a lot of downforce and a really good car in the high-speed corners. There are some important low-speed ones as well. It’s about getting the right confidence in being able to push to the limit in those tricky sector-one turns. It’s not an easy track to set up the car, but definitely a really good one to be on.”
Gutiérrez has competed in the Japanese Grand Prix twice before with a P7 points scoring finish in 2013.
Esteban Gutiérrez – Driver #21 VF-16
Suzuka is home to your last point-scoring finish – a seventh-place result in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. You’ve been knocking on the door of a point-paying finish all season, with five 11th-place finishes to prove it. How hungry are you to finally score some points and what will it take to go from just knocking on the door of a top-10 finish to kicking that door down?
“I’m extremely hungry to get a top-10 finish. Everyone on the team is pushing very hard for it. The crew is very motivated. Everyone keeps the same approach even though it can be sometimes a little bit frustrating, but instead of the frustration, it’s even more motivation for us to do a better job and get into the top-10. We have been extracting the most from the car and we expect to keep doing it.”
Understeer through the esses between turns three and seven is often at the top of the to-do list at Suzuka. How do you address understeer and at what point does a change to help the car in one section of the track hurt it in another section?
“It’s all about where you spend most of your time, and most of your time is spent in sector one in the corners. There is a lot of cornering at Suzuka, so you focus on having a good car there and the rest you try to cope with it. You want an optimal setup for the first sector.”
Would you call Suzuka a driver’s track?
“Yes, I would. It’s a very nice track. It’s a track every driver enjoys but, obviously, it depends upon having a good car. It’s a track that I enjoy a lot.”
Can the driver make more of a difference at Suzuka than at some other tracks?
“The driver can make a difference because Suzuka requires a lot of precision. You have a lot of sequences of corners, so the more precise you can be and the more aggressive you can be, the quicker you’ll be into the corners. You want to be very precise without losing the rhythm.”
Guenther Steiner – Team Principal
Even though it is Haas F1 Team’s first season and it’s been very productive, is it disappointing to have the kinds of issues you experienced in Singapore and Malaysia come about so late in the year?
“It’s not like we’ve been having these problems. We’re just having them now. We just need to deal with them and continue finding solutions. This is a time for us to show how strong we are. We’ve faced adversity before. We always dig our way out of it. We get things done because we just keep working. And the only way to get out of the situations we’ve been in is to keep working. You can say that you are unlucky, but you make your own luck. When these things happen you analyze what took place, prevent that it happens again and never give up.”
High-speed stability in regard to mechanical stiffness and aerodynamic balance seem to be the key to success at Suzuka. What do you do to achieve that?
“You can’t do a lot more than what your car has already, and we are pretty confident that what we’ve got is working well. We just need to find a balance for the weekend. Japan is high speed and there are some challenging corners, but it’s a nice place to be and I hope we can find a good setup and show what we can do.”
Power is another important and obvious aspect to a successful race weekend at Suzuka. You received the most recent upgrade from Ferrari at Monza. How has it performed and how crucial is it to have at a track where we’ll see some of the highest speeds of the season?
“Power is always important, but much more important at races like Spa, Monza and Suzuka. The latest update from Ferrari was very good. It helped us a lot at Spa and Monza. We got into Q3 in Monza thanks to the power upgrade from Ferrari. I think it will help us in Suzuka as long as we find a good balance for the car.”
There seems to be a delicate balance at Suzuka in regard to downforce. Too much and you go slowly down the straights. Too little and the driver won’t have the confidence to attack the track’s twists and turns. Obviously, the level of downforce is predicated on how comfortable the driver is at speed. How do you find this balance between the needs of the car and the needs of the driver?
“It’s one of those things that go hand-in-hand. Once you find the quickest way around the track by balancing top-end speed versus downforce, the driver is quite happy because he wants to be quickest around the track. For them, the happiest is when they get a good lap time.”
Pirelli is bringing three tire compounds to Suzuka:
- P Zero Orange hard – less grip, less wear (used for long-race stints)
- P Zero White medium – more grip, medium wear (used for shorter-race stints and for initial portion of qualifying)
- P Zero Yellow soft – highest amount of grip, highest amount of wear (used for qualifying and select race situations)
Two of the three available compounds must be used during the race. Teams are able to decide when they want to run which compound, adding an element of strategy to the race. A driver can also use all three sets of Pirelli tires in the race, if they so desire.
Pirelli provides each driver 13 sets of dry tires for the race weekend. Of those 13 sets, drivers and their teams can choose the specifications of 10 of those sets from the three compounds Pirelli selected. The remaining three sets are defined by Pirelli – two mandatory tire specifications for the race (one set of P Zero Orange hards and one set of P Zero White mediums) and one mandatory specification for Q3 (one set of P Zero Yellow softs).
Haas F1 Team’s drivers have selected the following amounts:
- Grosjean: three sets of P Zero Orange hards, three sets of P White mediums and seven sets of P Zero Yellow softs
- Gutiérrez: two sets of P Zero Orange hards, four sets of P Zero White mediums and seven sets of P Zero Yellow softs
Image courtesy of Haas F1 Media via Twitter
Eric Barnes @ebarnes442