— Nick Cassidy (@NickCassidy_) April 21, 2019
With live coverage finally in our neck of the woods, available on YouTube rather than a suspect stream, there’s every reason to be watching Super Formula this season. And if today’s first round at Suzuka, one of the all-time great Grand Prix circuits, was anything to go by, with Nick Cassidy storming through the field to win and attrition aplenty, it’ll be worth getting into.
The race started with Tadasuke Makino, formerly of F2, cementing his lead ahead of the battling Alex Palou. The opening laps remained fairly static, with few successful moves until Lap 7, when Cassidy, who qualified 12th, pitted for soft tyres. This would turn out to be a masterstroke, as only a few laps later, both 18 year old debutant Tristan Charpentier and stalwart Ryo Hirakawa went off at 130R and into the barriers, bringing out the first safety car.
This was where the madness kicked in. Palou, who had been straining to get past Makino at the start, was slapped with a drive-through penalty and served it just before the Safety Car was deployed, but the field bunching up did alleviate some of the damage. Dan Ticktum was slow to get into his pit box due to his Mugen team double-stacking, and a mechanic even acrobatically jumped over Cassidy’s car to change the wheels as quickly as possible.
The famous Super Formula pitstop…watch the front tyre changer closely.
— Motorsport.com (@Motorsport) April 21, 2019
Yuhi Sekiguchi’s car appeared to momentarily stop in the pitlane before he was able to get it going, but a lap later he pulled back into the pits and became the third of what would turn out to be a long list of retirees. Meanwhile, Cassidy was on the charge, his perfectly-timed pitstop jumping him up into 5th before he dispatched first Makino then Yuji Kunimoto to place himself 3rd. Shortly after, the safety car was out again: Kazuki Nakajima beached his TOM’S Toyota into the Degner 1 gravel, with a distracted Harrison Newey then following him into retirement at Degner 2.
Five retirements within 15 laps just signals the frantic drama Super Formula is good for, and a second safety car three laps later when Hiroaki Ishiura pulled into the pits and Palou’s machine gave up on him only furthered that point. From then on, Cassidy was into a prime position to win a race which looked for all the world yesterday evening to be an exercise in damage limitation. Kamui Kobayashi, the on-track leader, would have to pit again to use a different compound.
A third safety car was brought out this time by Makino, who’s car suffered a right-rear wheel nut failure and sent him into the gravel beside the run up to 130R. Makino would prove, finally, to be the last of the retirements, but there were still twists and turns up the road with Kobayashi trying to find the perfect slot to pit in, Cassidy managing to keep within arms’ reach, and the others jostling for podium/lower positions. Ticktum began to fall down the field, his airbox lighting glowing red (this signals a lack of attack mode – versus green for full, and blue for halfway used) and tyres appearing to be spent.
The final laps proved to be the killer for Kobayashi’s hopes of a strong finish. The late Safety Cars prevented the ex-Sauber F1 driver from banking a good result on a happy hunting ground for him, finishing tenth. Cassidy took the on-track lead on the final lap, and Kenta Yamashita was kept at bay in the end by Naoki Yamamoto, last season’s title winner. Cassidy lost that title by a point, but already, he’s taken first blood and cemented a troubling marker for his rivals.