Eddie Irvine: Once again Eddie Irvine worked a little Suzuka magic, earning the best grid position either he or the Jaguar Racing team has had since July. While he didn't quite match the sixth he achieved in Brazil and France, seventh was a very...
Once again Eddie Irvine worked a little Suzuka magic, earning the best grid position either he or the Jaguar Racing team has had since July. While he didn't quite match the sixth he achieved in Brazil and France, seventh was a very creditable result on a track that is demanding on both man and machine.
Despite a problem with a faulty brake disc, Eddie's initial run of 1m37.393s put him second behind David Coulthard, and by a substantial margin. While Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello had yet to make a run, it was nevertheless a clear indication that Eddie had already got the R1 well dialled-in to the Suzuka track.
Later, he improved to 1m36.899s, which kept him fifth for quite a while. Jenson Button then knocked him down to sixth, and in the very last seconds, after Eddie had finished his runs, the other Williams of Ralf Schumacher pushed Eddie down to seventh by just 0.111s. Nevertheless, Eddie was quite satisfied with the performance.
"I couldn't have gone much quicker," he said. "At first I thought I could, because I was a little bit slow on the entry to a couple of corners, so I tried going in a little bit quicker in, but I just slid and was a bit slower. So really that was as quick as I reckon we could go. On a perfect lap we could have been ahead of the Williams-BMWs, but who gets a perfect lap round here?"
Eddie says the explanation for the improvement is quite straightforward, and that the R1 behaves much better on the softer tyres Bridgestone has brought for the race.
"Soft tyres and more downforce just transforms this car. Also at Silverstone last week we had a good test. I did two days there, and we probably found 0.3s aerodynamically, just going over things that we'd gone over before with Luciano (Burti). We weren't 100 per cent sure so we went back on a couple of things, and I'm sure we found time doing that. The handling here is good. There is a problem with the last corner, and we know what that is, but we can't fix it. On the rest of the circuit the car is fine."
Now the focus turns towards the race. Eddie has finished in the points in every grand prix he's ever run at Suzuka, apart from 1996, when he was turfed out of fourth by Gerhard Berger's Benetton. Eddie usually makes a good start here, and is a specialist at gaining ground by running round the outside through the first and second corners. "Seventh is a good place to be. The outside is a lot better than the inside line. We'll just have to wait and see. "
After showing so well at Indianapolis a fortnight ago, Johnny Herbert was again on good form at Suzuka, a track he has always enjoyed. He qualified 10th, frustrated by the fact that an improvement of just 0.087s would have put him eighth, ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve.
Nevertheless, it was a creditable performance, which has left him with a chance of securing his first points of the year, especially if some of the leading cars hit trouble in what is often a demanding race with a high level of attrition.
"I was not very happy at all this morning with the balance" reported Johnny, "but we went back a couple of steps to what I ran earlier and it was better straight away. But I just couldn't dial out enough understeer, especially through the Esses, the second Degner, and the last part of Spoon. You don't want understeer here, and unfortunately I had just enough to scrub off a little speed and not carry it through the corner. We're in the right ballpark, but a couple of tenths would have been nice, and bumped us up to eighth. But it's not too bad."
Johnny had been troubled by traction problems earlier in the weekend, which cost time out of the chicane. "I won't say we were better today, but the weather was a little bit cooler and we use the tyres a little bit differently in qualifying. It wasn't perfect, but it was okay."
Securing a good result on a track where driving ability counts has come as a big end of season boost for Johnny. "It's always good to come here, because it's such a great track to drive. It's got such a lot of challenging corners, which is good. You've got to have a good balance, or you don't have a flow, and if you don't have a flow, you don't have a time. It's also a circuit that can be really tough if you don't have a good car!"
And what about a point or two in his penultimate race?
"We should have had one or two points in the USA, but we didn't get that. Hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow, but again it's going to be down to the balance and being able to look after the tyres. But it would be wonderful. It would be great to end the season that way. That's what I want to do. ”