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The Japanese Grand Prix marks the fifth to last event in the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship, and fifth-place Haas F1 Team is eyeing Sunday’s race at the 5.807-kilometer (3.608-mile), 18-turn Suzuka Circuit as a strong opportunity to take fourth place in the constructors’ standings before heading home for the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Haas F1 Team comes into Japan trailing fourth-place Renault by 11 points while holding a 22-point advantage over sixth-place McLaren. The third-year American team has tallied 80 points so far this year, easily outpacing its point total from the two previous seasons combined – 29 points in its inaugural 2016 campaign and 47 points last year.

As the Japanese Grand Prix looms, drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen have their eyes pointedly set on Renault and, more specifically, its fourth-place standing in the constructors’ ranks. Renault has it and Haas F1 Team wants it. It’s been a relentless battle, which makes Suzuka an appropriate venue for another round of jousting as the track serves up a relentless flow of corners that drivers find both challenging and rewarding.

Grosjean calls Suzuka his “most favorite track in the world” and Magnussen terms it “a driver’s track”. The duo scored Haas F1 Team’s second double-points result in last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, with Magnussen finishing eighth and Grosjean right behind in ninth. It was Magnussen’s best finish in three career Formula One starts at Suzuka and Grosjean’s third top-10 effort at the track, a history highlighted by his performance in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix where Grosjean led 26 laps before finishing third behind the dominant Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

Perhaps the reason Grosjean and Magnussen enjoy Suzuka so much is that they can push their racecars to the absolute limit without being stuck to the track via maximum downforce.

The layout of Suzuka is a figure-eight, and it is the only track in Formula One with such a configuration. A bridge overtop the straight that links turns nine (Degner 2) and 10 is a signature of the track, with drivers nearing 330 kph (205 mph) as they go across the bridge through turn 15, better known as 130R, so named because of its 130-meter radius.

The first sector of the track caters to a car’s aerodynamic efficiency, while the second sector rewards horsepower. The entire course features every kind of corner, and its relatively old asphalt surface provides a high level of grip, which combined with high lateral loads through the corners accelerates tire wear. As such, Pirelli has brought its White medium, Yellow soft and Red supersoft compounds to Japan as the island nation becomes acceleration nation.

While the end of the Formula One season is in sight, the sun is a long ways from setting. And with this weekend’s event in the land of the rising sun, Haas F1 Team seeks more points to further its rise to the top of the midfield.

Günther Steiner

You confirmed your driver lineup before the Russian Grand Prix, with Grosjean and Magnussen returning for another season. How helpful is it to have your driver lineup set and not a distraction as you battle for fourth in the constructors’ standings?

“It’s the best it can be. You know what you’re doing, everybody knows what we’re doing, and we can focus on trying to get fourth place in the constructors’ standings. There are no negatives, only positives.”

Haas F1 Team has made great strides from last year to this year. How much of that is attributable to having a consistent driver lineup, and do you expect it to deliver continued dividends in 2019?

“It’s difficult to say how much it influences, but for sure it is helpful. Consistency for a team is very good, provided you have the right consistency in the quality of the people. Anything new you do, people need to adapt, and there is a learning period which normally means it’s not taking you forward. At best, it keeps you where you are. It takes time to gel and to work together in any position in the team, especially with the drivers.”

You go from one of the smoothest tracks in Formula One – the Sochi Autodrom – to one of the roughest tracks in Suzuka Circuit. How does the weathered asphalt of Suzuka change your preparation in comparison to what you did for Sochi?

“Nothing changes. We take the data from Suzuka and use it for our preparations. We have all the data from the racetracks. We just adapt our simulations to whatever tires are used and whatever the track surface is.”

After two straight races where the softest tire in Pirelli’s lineup was used – the Pink hypersoft – we’re back to a more traditional White medium, Yellow soft and Red supersoft tire combination. After struggling to sort how much longevity you could get from a set of hypersofts, is it advantageous to get back to a tire lineup you know well where each tire compound is only a step away from one another in terms of grip level?

“With tires, it’s not as easy as this. The track surface is in play, and where the tire works is a second component. It’s not saying they are now close together again and it’s better, it’s different from track to track. You cannot compare one with the other.”

Is tire management more of a factor at Suzuka than it was at Sochi because the surface is more abrasive? If so, how do you manage your tires at Suzuka?

“We don’t know that yet. It depends on how the tires work on Friday. When we test in FP1 and FP2, then we know what we have to do. At this moment in time, it’s very difficult to predict.”

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.”

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.”

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 mainly about how your car is set up from the beginning. You can always get a little understeer, but then you introduce oversteer into the other parts of the track. We will see how we end up.”

With all the investment that goes on in Formula One, is the investment a team has made in its driver lineup perhaps best on display at Suzuka?

“Absolutely. You need to be a brave man around Suzuka. You’re at high speed and when you go off, sometimes it’s not a soft landing. You need to be brave, but you also need to be very technical to set the car up. Suzuka is definitely a track that tests driver skill.”

Beyond the racetrack, what is most often talked about at Suzuka is the passion its fans have. Can you describe the atmosphere at the track and the fervency Japanese fans have for Formula One?

“I think it’s very special. If you are a fan at Suzuka, you are a diehard fan. They will be lining up outside. It’s quite amazing how much they love it. I think a lot of people look forward to it because it’s so different from anywhere else.”

Japan has some fantastic and unique cuisine. What is your favorite?

“Any sushi or sashimi. I look forward to it.”

When you leave Japan you’ll be gearing up for your home race – the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Where do you want Haas F1 Team to be at that time and what will your thoughts be on that long flight back to North Carolina?

“Hopefully on the flight back, I can think about a lot of points. That always puts your spirits high – when you fly home and you bring something back. We’ve never had a strong United States Grand Prix. I know everyone wants this to happen – to have the American team having a strong home race. Everybody’s working hard for that. Hopefully, this year we can pull it off.”

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1 Team confirmed its driver lineup before the Russian Grand Prix, with you and Magnussen returning for another season. How helpful is it to have your future set and not a distraction as you battle for fourth in the constructors’ standings?

“It’s always good to know what your future’s like. For us, it’s great that it’s been confirmed. It’s a positive thing. We’re looking forward to the future.”

Haas F1 Team has made great strides from last year to this year. How much of that is attributable to having a consistent driver lineup, and do you expect that to deliver continued dividends in 2019?

“There is the driver lineup, which is important, and there is the engineering group, which is getting stronger and stronger and gaining more experience. Altogether, that means today we’re in a much better situation.”

You go from one of the smoothest tracks in Formula One – the Sochi Autodrom – to one of the roughest tracks in Suzuka Circuit. How does the weathered asphalt of Suzuka change your preparation in comparison to what you did for Sochi?

“Sochi is a particular racetrack – not one of my favorites. Suzuka is definitely my favorite. I always look forward to going there. We want to do well everywhere. We’re going to fight as hard as we can everywhere to get those points and try to beat Renault.”

After two straight races where the softest tire in Pirelli’s lineup was used – the Pink hypersoft – we’re back to a more traditional White medium, Yellow soft and Red supersoft tire combination. After struggling to sort how much longevity you could get from a set of hypersofts, is it advantageous to get back to a tire lineup you know well where each tire compound is only a step away from one another in terms of grip level?

“I don’t know. We’ll find out in Suzuka. Definitely the hypersoft is a great qualifying tire, but not such a good tire for the race.”

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. Those are 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.”

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 a fine line. If you start getting understeer too early, you’re out of the phase quite early onto turns three, four, five, six, seven and eight. If you start with oversteer, it’s bad as well. There’s a fine line in having the right balance there, and to not be too far off what you should have in the low-speed corners as well.”

Would you call Suzuka a driver’s track?

“Definitely.”

Can the driver make more of a difference at Suzuka than at some other tracks?

“Not really, unfortunately. It’s about finding the right balance with the car. Your car’s performance dictates your performance at the end. It’s more or less the same everywhere. You can try to drive around and be quite consistent more easily than at other tracks.”

Where are the overtaking opportunities at Suzuka?

“Definitely at turn one with the DRS. There’s also big braking at the chicane at the last corner. There’s the middle hairpin too where you can have a go on the braking.”

What is your favorite part about Suzuka?

“Very difficult to pick just one, but I’ll go for sector one.”

Describe a lap around Suzuka.

“Turns one and two are very high-speed on entry. They’re long corners with a tricky exit. Sector one has a flow of corners where you really want to keep the perfect line all the way through, with the tricky one being turn seven and eight going up the hill on traction. Then you have a double right-hand corner, very high-speed one, very tricky exit curb in between. Then you go underneath the bridge with big braking into the hairpin. Traction is always important in going to Spoon corners. Same stuff here as turn one – very high-speed entry, going down to the second part with a very important exit which then leads to the big backstraight. Then it’s 130R flat out followed by big braking for the last chicane with a very tricky throttle application.”

Beyond the racetrack, what is most often talked about at Suzuka is the passion its fans have. Can you describe the atmosphere at the track and the fervency Japanese fans have for Formula One?

“It’s a pretty crazy atmosphere from Thursday onward. All the grandstands are full. After the race, they’re still there watching the replays of the grand prix on the big screens. They always have really cool fashions on display, with some crazy accessories. They love Formula One and they’re very passionate. It’s a very electric atmosphere. It’s great to see that passion and so many people cheering for teams like us.”

Japan has some fantastic and unique cuisine. What is your favorite?

“When we speak about Japan, everyone brings up sushi first. There’s much more to the country than just that. There’s some great meat, great fish. The techniques there are very different than French gastronomy. It’s very delicate. I love it.”

When you leave Japan you’ll be gearing up for Haas F1 Team’s home race – the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Where do you want Haas F1 Team to be heading into that event?

“I would love to get there and be fourth in the contructors’ championship and strengthen our advantage over the others.”

Kevin Magnussen

Haas F1 Team confirmed its driver lineup before the Russian Grand Prix, with you and Grosjean returning for another season. How helpful is it to have your future set and not a distraction as you battle for fourth in the constructors’ standings?

“It’s just nice to know I have a few more years here with Haas F1 Team. I’m looking forward to that challenge and continuing the relationship that we’ve built over the last two years.”

Haas F1 Team has made great strides from last year to this year. How much of that is attributable to having a consistent driver lineup, and do you expect that to deliver continued dividends in 2019?

“I hope that Romain and I can continue our work together and help the team move even further forward. Hopefully, we can achieve greater success year by year.”

After two straight races where the softest tire in Pirelli’s lineup was used – the Pink hypersoft – we’re back to a more traditional White medium, Yellow soft and Red supersoft tire combination. After struggling to sort how much longevity you could get from a set of hypersofts, is it advantageous to get back to a tire lineup you know well where each tire compound is only a step away from one another in terms of grip level?

“I don’t think it’s something we really pay that much attention to. I mean, we obviously pay attention to getting the tires working, but there’s not one compound that is harder or easier than the other, so it doesn’t really matter for us.”

Is tire management more of a factor at Suzuka than it was at Sochi because the surface is more abrasive? If so, how do you manage your tires at Suzuka?

“It’s not really any worse because we’ve got harder tires, so that compensates for that. Of course, when you’ve got that jump in compound as in the previous races, that qualifying tire may not be very good for the race. There might be an advantage to qualifying on one of the harder compounds, which in Suzuka won’t be an issue. That’s the biggest difference.”

Many drivers claim Suzuka as their favorite track in Formula One. Are you one of them?

“I’m definitely one of them. It’s just a great circuit. It’s extremely fast, and you have the section in sector one with all the esses – that feels amazing going through there in a Formula One car. You have the fastest corner in the world, as well in 130R.”

Would you call Suzuka a driver’s track?

“Absolutely. It’s a real driver’s track with high-speed corners where you need to really push the car.”

Can the driver make more of a difference at Suzuka than at some other tracks?

“I mean, a little bit more, but Formula One doesn’t work like that anymore. We’re all going pretty much to the limit of the cars.”

Where are the overtaking opportunities at Suzuka?

“It’s not the easiest track to overtake. I guess turn one is a good one – probably the best one.”

What is your favorite part about Suzuka?

“Probably the first sector.”

Describe a lap around Suzuka.

“It’s twisty and quite tight and fast.”

Beyond the racetrack, what is most often talked about at Suzuka is the passion its fans have. Can you describe the atmosphere at the track and the fervency Japanese fans have for Formula One?

“It’s a great atmosphere there. The Japanese fans are amazing. They really get into it.”

Japan has some fantastic and unique cuisine. What is your favorite?

“I love sushi.”

When you leave Japan you’ll be gearing up for Haas F1 Team’s home race – the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Where do you want Haas F1 Team to be heading into that event?

“I want us to be as far forward as possible. It’s a really cool race and I love being in America. I’m going there straight from Japan to have a bit of time off in America and to drive around. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the year. Being on an American team simply adds to the experience and makes it even more special.”


2 October 2018 - 11h24, by Olivier Ferret 



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