Toyota's Ralf Schumacher looks back over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend Q: Pole position on Toyota's home ground at Suzuka. That must have been very satisfying for you? Pole winner Ralf Schumacher celebrates. Photo by xpb.cc. Ralf...
Toyota's Ralf Schumacher looks back over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend
Q: Pole position on Toyota's home ground at Suzuka. That must have been very satisfying for you?
Ralf Schumacher: It was extremely satisfying to get pole in Suzuka for Toyota's home grand prix! After the last test at Jerez the team made the decision to take the TF105B to Suzuka and it was a great start for the car. It feels quite a bit different from the standard car and so I did more laps on Friday than I normally would. I felt that we were in pretty good shape right from the beginning.
Q: Was it a risk taking the revised car to Japan?
RS: Yes and no. It was a sensible decision because our chances of overtaking Ferrari to finish third in the constructors' championship were pretty slim and as the TF105B will form the basis of our winter testing programme and of next year's car, it made sense to gather some data from the final two races.
On top of that, we knew that the car would prove more consistent over a race distance. The only downside was that we obviously did not have as many spares for the 105B and logistically it could have been a bit difficult coping with something unforeseen at the flyaway races. But we knew we had the standard TF105s to fall back on and so it made sense.
Q: Do you have a special feeling for Suzuka?
RS: Yes, it's my favourite track. Drivers tend not to like developing 'favourite' circuits because we have to do a professional job on all of them, but Suzuka is such a fast and challenging track that it definitely gives you an extra special buzz when you get it right.
Q: What is so special about it?
RS: It is both fast and technical and it rewards commitment from the driver. The section known as 'The Esses', which is basically all the way from the exit of Turn 2 to Turn 7, is tremendous to drive, one of the most challenging sequences of corners anywhere on the F1 schedule. If you make any kind of mistake early in the sequence, you pay for it all the way to the end, and you are in that section for quite a long time.
Q: How much did the planned three-stop strategy help you get pole?
RS: Well obviously a lighter fuel load helps but we looked at it carefully and decided that it was also a good move from the point of view of race strategy. We knew that qualifying was going to be on a damp or wet track and in those conditions fuel effect is even more significant.
We also knew that we were close enough to the pace that we stood a chance of qualifying first or second, which was crucial to making the strategy work. It put the pressure on but we decided to be aggressive. The surface was really slippery and the car had a lot of oversteer. It was a fine line between pushing hard enough and overdoing it, but happily I made it work.
Q: How much did the early Safety Car unravel your plans?
RS: Totally. It was a disaster for us. We were aware that there has quite often been Safety Cars early in the race at Suzuka but we were hoping that there wouldn't be. And certainly not such a long Safety Car period. It did seem to take an awful long time to get my ex team mate's damaged car out of the way and we were following the Safety Car all the way to the end of lap 7!
Q: Especially frustrating for you after such a good start?
RS: Exactly. I was confident that I would beat Jenson Button into Turn 1 and I got a great start. I managed to open up a 2s gap on the first lap and things were looking pretty good. Of course it was crucial to my strategy that I opened up as big an advantage as possible on my light fuel load so that I didn't drop too far back into the traffic when I made my first pit stop.
The Safety Car meant that all my two-stopping rivals were able to cruise around at my pace, taking away all the benefits of our strategy. The longer the Safety Car stayed out, the worse it became.
Q: Did you think about changing to a two-stop strategy after that?
RS: The team looked into it but the damage was already done. I was obviously going to fall much further back into traffic than if I'd been able to run at my own pace and then with a heavy fuel load it was unlikely that I would have been able to make progress. We stuck with the three-stop and at least I was able to drive hard throughout and salvage a point. But that wasn't exactly the result we wanted. We had been aiming at the podium.
Q: How do you feel about finishing the season in China?
RS: It has been a long year, at 19 races the biggest calendar in F1 history. But in a way that has been balanced by having a better season than expected. For Toyota to finish so close to the defending champions in just its fourth season is a good effort from everyone in Cologne and everyone in Japan.
It will be nice for everyone to have a short break after China but then we will be back at it again, full throttle, trying to perform even more strongly next year. The Chinese have done an incredible job with their facilities and I just hope we can put on as good a show for them as we did for the Japanese!