It’s in Asia, it’s name starts with an “S,” and it also boasts a Big Wheel overlooking the track, but that’s where the similarities between Formula 1’s last appointment in Singapore and its next one in Suzuka begin and end.
While Singapore is a tricky, twisty street circuit, Suzuka is one of the finest examples of a true road course, with fast flowing turns, mixed in with a few idiosyncratic corners like the never-ending hairpin and the final chicane. “In Singapore, I think Mercedes probably had a bit more pace in hand, so that brought the front of the grid a bit closer together than normal,” says Scuderia Ferrari’s Technical Director, James Allison. “Also, it’s a track where the engine has a smaller effect compared with nearly all of the other tracks this year, so that provided another opportunity for the field to close up a bit. And finally, the nature of the corners at Singapore are also sensitive to the amount of mechanical grip that you can get from your package. That’s certainly an area where Ferrari has been working recently and it allowed us to have a rather better weekend.”
In another words, Japan is likely to be a more probing test for the F14 T. “Suzuka is a track where the importance of having horsepower is just a little bit less than the average for the year, so while power is not super important here, it’s not unimportant either,” continues Allison. “But it’s a track where a good handling chassis with a high amount of downforce is rewarded very strongly. Cars which score well on both those points will of course be right up at the front. But it gives some space to prosper to a car which is sweet handling and reasonable on downforce. Suzuka is one of the all-time great circuits, with some of the most challenging corners, one of the biggest tests of the car in the whole year, because it doesn’t just ask of the car that it can go well in the fast “S” complex in the first sector of the track, but there are also slow corners, long straights and all manner of ways to reveal the weakness of either the car or the driver. A team that comes back from Suzuka having done well knows that they are a good team with a strong package.” Tyre management will also play a key role as usual: because of the abrasive nature of the track surface, the long corners and the many rapid changes of direction, which generate a lot of lateral energy, Pirelli will be bringing its hardest compounds, the Hard and the Medium. Although not a deal breaker, the F14 T usually performs best on softer rubber.
As to the Scuderia’s goals for this weekend, our Technical Director reckons they are twofold. “We left Singapore with some satisfaction that areas we’d been working on the car, to improve its mechanical grip for example, appear to be paying off for us,” concludes the Englishman. “So we go to Suzuka and the remaining races determined to close the gap to Williams and then try and actually pull ahead of them, with the aim of securing a third place in the championship. We also plan to learn what lessons we can during the remainder of this season, to help guide us for the following year.