Interview with Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado
Lovin' Spoonful — Romain Grosjean
Why do you love the Japanese Grand Prix so much?
Suzuka is probably my favourite track in the world and for many, many reasons. Of course last year holds a great memory as I led the race for a while. Also, my engineer (Ayao Komatsu) is Japanese, so it is nice for him to be in his home country. But mainly I love it so much because the track is a massive challenge and also the spectators are so passionate about F1. There is not a single corner on the track that is not a big challenge. When you finish a lap at Suzuka you really appreciate it because you know both the car and you have been really tested. You can be proud if you have got the maximum from everything.
What are the specific challenges of Suzuka?
It is the kind of track that you find time and improvements, however small, all of the time. It is a very special race track in this respect. Sector one is unbelievable and after you have finished it you can breathe a little bit…but not for long. There is no margin for error with very little run-off area and the track is quite narrow, especially at the top of the hill. I love it. Every metre of the Suzuka track is special and every metre a challenge. The Spoon Curve is especially fantastic, a real thrill to drive in an F1 car.
Where is best for overtaking opportunities at Suzuka?
There are a few good areas like the first corner, but only if you get a good exit from the last chicane. But probably the best one is in to the chicane itself, after the long back straight and 130R. If you get a tow here you can get inside under braking. There is also a small chance at the hairpin and maybe in to Spoon Curve too, but you have to be brave and usually rely on the guy in front to co-operate. Suzuka is quite a narrow track so it is not that easy to overtake, but it is a great challenge and very satisfying when you manage to execute one.
What about the whole experience of being in Japan?
You have to mention the fans. They certainly are special and unique. Suzuka is probably the only place we go to where you arrive at the track on a Thursday and the grandstands are almost full! They replay the race afterwards once, twice, three times and the fans stay at the track until we have gone home. They are brilliant fans, very loyal and knowledgeable about the sport. It is in their culture now and you can’t imagine a Grand Prix not happening in Japan. We have to have a race there anyway because I like to receive my mini-Romain every year from the fans. Fantastic!
What are your feelings now after the Singapore weekend?
Things were better for us in the race. Once the frustrations of qualifying were out of the way I was able to focus on aiming for the points. We were on schedule to have a good fight for this outcome when the safety car came out and this lost us momentum. The soft tyres took too long to come in. It was a shame but another finish was something positive.
The downforce levels at Suzuka are similar to Barcelona. Can you see a repeat of our strongest race so far this year?
I would love that but we will have to wait and see. Suzuka is a track that highlights the good aspects of a chassis. I hope that we can be in a position where we have a realistic chance of some points positions. At Suzuka the driver can make a difference to some extent, especially through sector one, so I will be hugely pumped up to make sure we are in the best position possible to add to our points tally.
Riding the Rollercoaster — Pastor Maldonado
How much do you look forward to racing in Japan?
Very much indeed. It is always nice to know you are going to be challenged by a circuit. If everything gets hooked-up then Suzuka is a pleasure. I really hope we can have a good weekend because at Suzuka it makes it even more of a pleasure to get it right. I think that for a driver it is at least comparable with Spa, maybe even better on some corners. I just love racing at Suzuka and indeed in Japan as a whole.
What are the highlights of driving a lap at Suzuka?
There are so many. The start of the lap is incredible with the sweeps up the hill, right-left-right-left. It is really fast and you need a very good and nimble car to change direction quickly. They are really challenging corners where you need maximum concentration and bravery. The run-off is quite small, so it is really satisfying to get them right. When I first drove this track in 2011 it was a big deal for me because I knew that I could find a lot more time in the car. The corners are like this because you never get them 100% right the first time, you learn and learn which is what a great race track should be like I think. Then you have the Spoon Curve which is magnificent and 130R which is still challenging despite being flat-out now. All in all a great, great circuit and with some really steep gradients too. Almost a perfect track!
What is the best memory you have from Suzuka?
Well apart from the first time I actually drove the circuit, it was when I had a really good race in 2012. I qualified down in 14th but managed to overtake quite a few and get some points for eighth position. I remember having a good fight with Nico Hülkenberg in the Force India all race long.
Looking back at Singapore there seemed to be renewed promise?
Yes, the race was good. We had a decent race but again we were a little unlucky. At the end of the day to be fighting for points consistently and on merit is much better than some of the races we have had this year. The potential is there for us to add to our points tally, so I am confident we can achieve this soon.
How are you feeling as the 2014 season enters the final few races?
On the whole good. I am confident we can finish the season off in a good way which will give us some great momentum for the new season in 2015. Obviously it has been a difficult year but the important thing is that we are still united as a team and emerge stronger. From what I see and learn the 2015 car looks like being a very good package. There is a lot to look forward to for sure. The team at Enstone are more determined than ever to succeed and I can say 100% that I have the same outlook. We will have very high motivation for the winter in terms of preparation and then testing in the New Year.
Finally, noodles or sushi?
Both for me! I love Japanese food. Very tasty, very healthy and fresh. Almost made for a racing driver. Delicious.
Lotus F1 Team