The FIA Formula One World Championship remains in the Far East for round 16 of the 18-round series. The next stop on the calendar will be the Japanese Grand Prix, held at the Fuji Speedway close to Japan's highest mountain, Mount Fuji. F1 ...
The FIA Formula One World Championship remains in the Far East for round 16 of the 18-round series. The next stop on the calendar will be the Japanese Grand Prix, held at the Fuji Speedway close to Japan's highest mountain, Mount Fuji.
F1 returned to Fuji for the first time in 30 years last season. The speedway brought the first Formula 1 race to Japan at the end of the 1976 season, but lost the championship to Suzuka after two events. In 2003 the circuit was closed down to accommodate a major reprofiling using a new design from Hermann Tilke. Reopened in 2005, the track now features a tight, technical section and also the longest straight of the championship at 1.5km.
The Force India Formula One Team will be looking to carry its momentum forward to Japan, where its predecessors, Spyker, scored their first point in 2007.
Dr Vijay Mallya, chairman and managing director Singapore was a difficult weekend for the team in many respects, but can you take some positives away from the race?
I am a great optimist. In any situation there are positives and, even though you cannot gloss over problems, you really need to build on the good parts and make sure that the negatives are not repeated. Yes, we were off the pace in some sessions. Yes, we didn't get two cars to the finish, but as a team we functioned very well. Accidents can, and always will, happen but getting Fisi's car out again and then getting him to the finish, having run in third place, was an achievement. It was a tough weekend for everyone, but we all pulled together. That's the sign of a good team.
What do you expect from the team in Japan?
The same I expect every time we go racing - reliability, dedication, enthusiasm and passion. I understand it's difficult, but Formula 1 is so competitive now that you can't let your game slip for one second. Of course I'd like to see points and Q2, but let's be realistic.
It's now almost exactly one year to the day that you finalised the purchase of the Spyker Formula One Team. Will this be a time for reflection?
There are always times for reflection - the day I first came to the factory, the first time I saw Force India colours on the car, the first time I stepped into the garage as a team owner. Although these milestones always give us a chance to look back and think, we have to look forwards rather than backwards. We have strong foundations, but we need to build on them now. We always said this would be a tough year, but we've got to deliver now.
How has the team been received back home in India?
When I announced our intention to buy the team, the TV audience figures exploded and print media went wild. I've never seen so many headlines on Formula 1 in India! Normally cricket is the only sporting event that makes the front pages, but now it's also motorsport. I'm pleased to say that the interest has been sustained. More media than ever - and I'm not just talking smaller, specialised press, but also national newspapers with a circulation of millions - are covering F1 and are really behind the team. The general public too has embraced Force India. We're here, we're competing on a world class stage and we are holding our own - every Indian can be proud that we've done that.
It's been a hectic time of the year for you personally, with international Kingfisher route launches, new products and a very busy F1 schedule. Is it difficult to juggle all the commitments?
I believe that if you have good management teams in place that the day to day matters take care of themselves. We have launched new routes and this obviously takes some input from my side, but I am quite happy with how I manage my time. I think it's important for me to be there as a figurehead as my team find it motivating, but I don't want to be there looking over everyone's shoulders all the time. I have to leave them to do what they do best and take decisions when I need too. I'm in charge at the end of the day, but I don't need to make my presence felt at all times.
Colin Kolles, team principal
At this point last year the season was entering it's closing stages, but we've still got three races to go now. How do you keep the team's momentum going until the end of the championship?
It does seem like it has been a very long season! Japan was two weeks earlier in 2007 and the last race was the middle of October, so we still have some way to go. All the same, we are working to the end of the season as there are still chances there and I don't think anyone would be satisfied if we didn't get any points on board. Obviously we have to try the maximum to score points.You won't find anyone giving up just yet.
Japan last year was a very special event for the team. What are your memories of this?
It was amazing how something that other teams seem to take for granted - just one point - really lifted morale. Japan was also a special place last year for another reason as we were entering the final stages of due diligence with the Mol and Mallya partnership. This secured the team for the long future, so I have very good memories of this race.
How much do you think the team has progressed since this point?
We have progressed in so many different ways. Commercially, we have a real marketable product and are a viable sponsorship prospect in a huge market. The company is financially in safe waters. In terms of performance, although the package improved, we have not achieved our targets. This makes us even work harder to achieve the targets in the near future.
Where do you think the differences have occurred?
I don't think you can underestimate the value of having security. Everyone involved knows that you can talk long-term, rather than just in six months or even a year and this has really helped us move forward - we can now try and put in place long-term partnerships and plans which are paying off.
Mike Gascoyne, chief technical officer
From an engineering perspective, what challenges does Fuji present for the team?
Fuji is a unique circuit in having a very, very long straight - the longest on the calendar - but the new part of the circuit is very tight with lots of slow corners so it's very much a balance between getting the straightline speed without compromising the need for speed on the rest of the circuit. We'll obviously run a compromise set-up as you need a balance of what is going to give you a quick lap time in the slower sections with being able to overtake or defend your position on the straight.
The weather in Japan could be very changeable. The team has shown in previous races it isn't afraid to take a chance. Do you think this could also be an opportunity for the team?
The weather at this time of year can be, as we saw last year, very wet and this did play into our hands in 2007 when Adrian drove a great race in the wet conditions. We will have our normal weather predictions and radars to monitor incoming weather, but it can be very variable. This flexibility is something we will factor into our normal race preparation.
Will there be any new developments for this race, or looking forward to China and Brazil?
We have no real developments planned for the final three races. I think most of the other teams now, going to the flyaway races, will have a pretty standard configuration and will be focussing on next season when the rules will be substantially different. All our engineering effort is now going into 2009.
Just over a year ago, Spyker - Force India's predecessors - scored their first points at this race. How do you think the team has moved forward from this point?
This time last year with Spyker we scored our first point and I think we still hope to do this before the end of the year as Force India. We would be very disappointed not to do that as we have been a much more competitive outfit this year. Formula 1 is just very close now. We have strengthened the engineering side of the team and have invested in the facilities at the factory and at the wind tunnel, so although it's frustrating not to have had better results as a team, we are in a much stronger position than we were this time last year.
How have you spent the break between Singapore and Fuji?
Between races I went over to Bali for some warm weather training as with so little time between Singapore and Japan it didn't really make any sense to come back to Europe. Even though we were mostly working on European time in Singapore, to return to my home and then come back would be a long trip and you'd still have to adapt to the time difference once you got to Japan. This way, I can have a couple of days' break, do some training and adapt slowly to Asian time.
How would you view the challenge of the Fuji Speedway?
I have raced in Fuji a lot, perhaps more than any other driver in F1 as I spent a year doing Japanese Formula 3 in 2006. I had so many races there that year that it feels like my home track! It's not an easy circuit, there are some particular corners where you have to be smooth and not push too hard and of course there is that long, long straight. This means you'll have to have a compromise set-up to make sure that you don't lose time on the straight, but you need to have a higher level through the slower middle and last sector. Another factor you need to watch is the weather, although after last year I don't think I need to tell anyone about that one!
Last year you scored your first point in F1 at the track - it must hold some good memories for you.
Yes, absolutely. Already the track was special for me as I had spent so much time there and still have friends in the area. Last year we also had a lot of fans coming to our garage as they obviously supported Sakon [Yamamoto] and knew me from F3. The race itself was very difficult. The conditions were tough as visibility was so bad but in very difficult circumstances I think we made some good decisions and could do a lot of fighting. When I crossed the line I thought I was actually 9th, which was slightly disappointing as we were so close to getting that point. Then the team told me that I should have been 8th as Tonio, who was then racing for Toro Rosso, had passed under yellow and should have been given a penalty. At that point I really didn't want to believe I could have scored a point - we needed to go through so many discussions. When I heard of course I was delighted as I think we deserved this point after all the hard work that year and we finally got it.
Do you think you could repeat this result?
For sure this is what you have to hope for, but it's more difficult than ever this year. We had a tough event in Singapore, but we are so close to the pace that it only takes for one team to have a difficult time and we could be up there. Of course you can't rely on other teams, you have to make sure you are on top form yourself, so let's see.
How would you review the Singapore event?
It was actually a fantastic event, the organisers did a very good job. The atmosphere around the track was great as there were just so many people that it made it feel like you were racing in a stadium. Actually racing under lights didn't feel very different to racing at any other time of day, the interesting part was getting adapted to sleeping during the day and staying awake through the night. I didn't have too much trouble though, so if there are more night races it wouldn't be a problem for me!
And the race?
From our perspective, the race weekend was quite difficult but I really think everyone did a fantastic job to get the car to the finish after the problems on Saturday. We ran third for a time, so even though we ultimately didn't get any points we can't be unhappy with the overall performance of the team given the circumstances. It just shows how professional everyone is here.
What are your thoughts on going to Japan?
I like going to Japan to race, there's a very unique atmosphere there as the fans are always really knowledgable and passionate, and I have a large fan club there! Fuji is an interesting circuit, with the combination of slow corners with that very long straight. It's very different from Suzuka, which was a real drivers' circuit, but it's still a challenge, particularly if conditions are wet. Japan in general has been a good event for me as I've finished nine out of the 11 times there, twice on the podium. I also came 5th last year in very difficult race.
Would you like to make any predictions on this year's event?
After the last race in Singapore, I think you can't predict any outcome! In my career I don't think I've seen a season that's been so full of twists and unpredictable conditions and results. For us, we have to do what we have been doing - concentrating on our performance, making no mistakes and getting to the end of the race.
-credit: force india