Japan 2018 - GP Preview - Renault F1
We always knew the Russian Grand Prix would be challenging, but we target top ten finishes for both cars at every Grand Prix and it’s disappointing to leave a race weekend without points.
In Sochi, we established a clear strategic plan. It didn’t pay off in the race due to a number of circumstances; some in our control, some not, but that’s racing and we continue to learn and progress as a team week on week.
Five races remain in 2018. Five races to define our season and to meet our objective of finishing fourth in the Constructors’ Championship. We’ve defended it since Spain, and now we have to see it through to Abu Dhabi. We set high standards in the first part of the year and that’s what we set out to achieve at every race.
Japan is next up. It’s a special Grand Prix on the Formula 1 calendar, a race loved by fans, teams and drivers alike. Our goal will be to get both cars back in the points, as always, and we now need to mobilise everything to realise this.
With five races left in 2018 the team heads to Japan, with continued ambition. Chassis Technical Director Nick Chester discusses the challenges of Suzuka and what it will take to stay ahead in fourth place.
What’s there to say about Suzuka?
Suzuka is an interesting track. It’s a handling circuit, especially through the first sector, which is quite high-speed with a lot of changes of direction. Good stability, a medium to high downforce balance and a good front end is required to give the drivers a predictable car which still has good change of direction. Suzuka has a couple of fast straights like the run down to turn one, and the one leading into 130R. There’s a balance to strike as we need enough wing in order to get the car pinned down for sector one and the early part of sector two without being too slow on the straights.
What’s Suzuka like for a modern Formula 1 car?
The first sector especially will be very quick this year. It was fast last year in this generation of car, but with more tyre grip and a high level of downforce, sector one will be impressive.
What’s the verdict on the tyre choice?
Pirelli will provide something more durable for Japan with the Medium, Soft and Supersoft tyres. They should be better in the race than in Russia, for example, where we saw a lot of degradation and wear on the softer compounds. I’d expect most teams to run the Supersoft and Soft in the race. These tyres are more graining resistant than the Ultrasoft or Hypersoft.
How’s the mood in the camp after Sochi?
It’s always disappointing not to score points and when we reflect on the weekend, as ever, there are things which we could have done better. We had a poor Q1 and we made the decision to not run in Q2. That’s an unusual situation to be in, but with free tyre choice for eleventh place on the grid, it becomes something to think about. It’s a function of the regulations. We could have done a better job in the race, which might have given Nico some points. Carlos had extensive damage to the floor and sidepod vane and that lost him a second per lap. He couldn’t do much, but he drove a good race in a very difficult car.
Will there be anything new for Suzuka?
We don’t have anything major planned, as the races are a week apart. We’ll try and fly out a new-spec floor after Carlos’ incident. We have a couple of smaller parts for the races beyond that.
How can you edge ahead in fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship?
We have to try and get everything out of the car. We need to make sure we have the best balance, plan and execute the best strategy and take the best approach to qualifying. There isn’t so much more we can bring at this point in the year in terms of development, it’s about trying to get everything out of each race. We remain confident.
After falling short of the points in Russia, Nico Hülkenberg heads to Japan in a determined mood, as he gears up to take on a Suzuka circuit, which brings him a lot of pleasure.
What makes the Japanese Grand Prix so special?
Japan is a very special Grand Prix. The fans make it an incredible experience and they are so enthusiastic at any time of day, even if it rains! They are super supportive and energetic and it’s cool to say ‘Kon’nichiwa’ to them when we arrive at the track. It’s certainly one of the race weekends I look forward to. It’s a circuit I enjoy racing at and my record around Suzuka has been quite consistent in the past, so I’ll be aiming to add more points to the tally this weekend.
What’s a lap of Suzuka like to drive?
Suzuka is built for drivers as it ticks all the boxes. It’s such an amazing track behind the wheel – especially in a modern Formula 1 car - and it’s certainly one of the best circuits out there. It has a good flow to it, with some cool corner combinations, elevation changes and it’s quite physical too with a lot of G on the body and neck. There are some areas of the lap where you need to be quite aggressive and brave, but that’s the fun of it.
Which areas of the circuit are the most difficult?
I find Degner One quite tricky as the apex sticks out and if you touch it too much it sends you wide and before you know it, you’re in the gravel and into the wall; there’s not much time to recover from that! The Spoon curve can also be tough to get right, as it’s a double left-hander, off-camber and the car can feel loose as you fight the balance. But it’s an important corner, as the long straight leads off it, so a good exit is required.
What’s the verdict after Russia?
Clearly, it was a disappointing result as we aim for points at every race. We gave it a go on a different strategy to our direct competitors and I was pretty happy with the long opening stint. We were in contention, but unfortunately it didn’t work out and we fell short. But we have a great opportunity to go again in Japan and get ourselves back into the points.
A damaged floor and sidepod vane quashed Carlos Sainz’s hopes of a positive result in Sochi as he aims for an immediate bounce back at one of his favourite Grand Prix circuits, Suzuka.
Where does the Japanese Grand Prix rank on your favourites list?
Japan is for sure one of my favourite race weekends. Everything in Japan is great: the racing history, the track layout, the passion of the fans, the Japanese culture, it’s so unique and a really exciting race weekend. The fans are truly amazing there. They are very polite, enthusiastic and innovative, and it’s a pleasure to meet them and sign autographs for them. They always bring presents too, which is nice and they are clever with some of the surprises. I’ve even received a signed Spanish flag from the fans in the past as a way of sending me a ‘good luck’ message.
Do you like the Japanese food?
I like my food, especially the Japanese cuisine. Sushi is one of my favourite things to eat, and you can have it almost anywhere nowadays. But the Sushi in Japan is a different story. There are a couple of nice restaurants near Suzuka where I like to eat each year. Another dish I like is kobe beef, it’s a nice flavour and melts in the mouth. Japan is a good weekend on the calendar in more ways than one!
And what’s there to say about the circuit itself?
The circuit is a lot of fun to drive, a proper drivers’ circuit where our ability and skill are put to the test. Sector one is extremely physical, especially with the modern, high-downforce cars, and the never-ending right, left, right, left esses. The Degners are challenging to get right with gravel traps waiting for you on the outside. The long, Spoon curve is vital as it opens up the long-straight, which then feeds into 130R – a fast corner taken flat-out. It’s a cool lap to drive, and probably one of the best on the calendar. Nailing a qualifying lap is so rewarding at Suzuka, it’s one of the best feelings out there.
How do you reflect on Sochi?
I have mixed thoughts after Sochi. On Friday, after missing FP1, I felt quite good with the car straight away in FP2. Qualifying was all about strategy and finally on Sunday I had a strong start off the line, but unfortunately, I got hit on lap one and that was the end of our chances. We fought to the end with a damaged car, but these things happen in Formula 1. I’m keen to move on and focus on Japan this weekend. We have the chance to race again immediately, on a circuit I like, so we’ll be aiming for a strong haul of points!