The FIA Formula One World Championship now goes into its closing stages, with the next stop on the calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix, being round 15 of the 17-event series. The race will be held at the Fuji Speedway, the first time the circuit has...
The FIA Formula One World Championship now goes into its closing stages, with the next stop on the calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix, being round 15 of the 17-event series. The race will be held at the Fuji Speedway, the first time the circuit has held the Japanese round of the championship since 1977.
As such, many teams and drivers have no experience of the track, however the Etihad Aldar Spyker Formula One Team holds one advantage; both race drivers Adrian Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto have extensive experience of racing at the circuit from their time in Japanese Formula 3 and Formula Nippon.
Set against the stunningly atmospheric backdrop of Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, the speedway brought the first Formula 1 race to Japan at the end of the 1976 season. It later lost the championship to Suzuka, and in 2003 the circuit was closed down to accommodate a major reprofiling of the track 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 last round of the championship at Spa was a storming race for the Etihad Aldar Spyker team with Adrian Sutil fighting hard to get to 12th position on his first stint and eventually finishing 14th. With the advantage of 'local' knowledge and a new aero upgrade scheduled for Fuji, the team will be hoping for the same, or better, step in performance.
Colin Kolles, team principal and managing director:
Q: We have now finished the European part of the season. How would you view the team's performance at this point of the year?
CK: At the moment everything is very positive on the technical side. As you know, our chief technical officer and technical director have worked very hard on introducing the new B-spec, the fundamental basis for our new car in 2008 from a mechanical point of view. We have more to look forward to this year too; more aerodynamic updates over the next races that should bring us closer to the front runners and make it possible for us to finish in front of other cars as we did in Spa.
Q: The new technical structure you put in place at the beginning of the year has now had almost one full season together. Is this also a contributing factor to the team's progress?
CK: We are now seeing the results of three years of hard work to give the team a stable basis. When the Jordan era ended the team was not in the best state, so it took a bit of time to restore the team's confidence, bring in new people and put in place certain procedures and strategies. I think we have now managed to stabilise the team and to put in systems for the engineers to be able to improve the car.
We are now working 24 hours a day in the wind tunnel, our own tunnel has been upgraded with the latest technology to a 50% tunnel and with these facilities we can really move on. Mike Gascoyne has brought a lot of knowledge to the team and to have one experienced leader counts a lot. I am pleased with how everything has progressed this year.
Q: Commercially, is the team looking more stable now?
CK: We are now in the process of due diligence to complete the sale of the team from Spyker Cars N.V to a new consortium involving Michiel Mol and Vijay Mallya. This deal has been agreed in principle and will be finalised on 29 September. Basically with this we expect a new step on the financial side with increased stability.
Q: You have just signed upcoming driver Roldan Rodriguez to a test driver role. What made you choose Roldan and how will he fit in with the team?
CK: Several aspects impressed us about Roldan at his shakedown in Silverstone. It was not a long run, but he showed very professional behaviour. He got used to the car very quickly and and we were pleased to sign him as our test driver. Roldan will be with the team in China and Brazil to observe how the team works in race conditions, to see how we do things, attend engineers' meetings and so on.
Q: How important are young drivers to the team?
CK: Our strategy has changed from the first year of Midland; we now want to bring on good quality young drivers and then work together to bring in sponsors. I come from Formula 3 and know when to spot a good talent. There are several important items that will make me look at a young driver; talent, professionalism and their potential use as a marketing platform - you have to be able to sell a driver to sponsors, which will ultimately help the team move forward.
When we signed Adrian Sutil on a long term contract as a test driver we knew he did not have the largest budget to bring to the team, but through his hard work and talent he attracted sponsors who helped him and now he is an established GP driver and one of the most interesting drivers on the grid.
Q: Has there been any decision about 2008 drivers yet?
CK: We are under no pressure to make a decision about 2008 drivers at present. Adrian Sutil has a long-term contract with the team and both he and the team would like him to stay next year, but we are in no hurry to announce our second driver. We have just launched the new B-spec car that is really starting to demonstrate a step forward in pace and reliability. Our focus now is on achieving our aims in 2007.
Mike Gascoyne, chief technical officer:
Q: Were you satisfied with the results of the Belgian GP?
MG: The whole team was certainly buoyed by the progress in Spa. In Qualifying we were stronger, and without a small error on his quickest lap Adrian could have finished even higher up the order. We then converted that on race day into a good performance. Adrian in particular had a fantastic race, with the only disappointment not being able to get past Coulthard on his one-stop strategy, which cost us a couple of places. Nevertheless we very clearly showed the step forward with the B-spec car, which has given a lift for the whole team.
Q: The Qualifying pace in particular was better than in previous races, with Adrian just missing out on Q2 by less than half a second.
MG: I think we still need to work on it, but there was a definite improvement. Adrian is undoubtedly getting more comfortable with the car and almost getting the most out of it in Qualifying and Sakon getting more used to the car. People forget that we still have two very inexperienced drivers mostly going to circuits for the first time, but in Japan we should have an advantage as both drivers have a lot of experience of the circuit. The other drivers don't have any experience of the track so the playing field should be more level.
Q: This is the first time that the team has been to Fuji Speedway though. From an engineering point of view, how do you prepare for circuits you have never visited before?
MG: Obviously we don't have historical data to refer to, but we are able to perform a lot of simulation work back in the factory. The most difficult aspect is knowing which kerbs you can run and not run over, so it is difficult to be totally prepared. This undoubtedly means more work on the Friday and you will see people doing more laps than they usually do.
Q: Do you have any new updates on the car for the Japanese Grand Prix?
MG: Yes, we do. We have new aero parts coming through for Japan. As we stated at the launch of the new B-spec car, the debut was only the start of the process. We have new rear wings, amendments on the front wing and now there will be new parts from at every race until the end of the season.
Q: 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 be an opportunity for the team?
MG: I don't think we have taken any risky strategies, we've just chosen the right ones and made the right calls when it mattered. We proved that we can think on our feet, and we will be trying to do that in coming races. If the weather does prove to be changeable, we know as a team that we can take advantage.
Q: Fuji is almost a circuit of two halves; the longest straight of the season at 1.5km and then a tight technical section. Is this going to be a challenge for the team?
MG: Fuji is a very long circuit with a long straight, but the rest of the lap requires more downforce so set-up will always be a compromise. However we know that the B-spec has significantly less drag than the old car and we know that this will help us in Fuji, plus China and Brazil. In Spa we had good straightline speed and were one of the fastest cars, which enabled us to take so many people on the opening lap, so if we get the set-up right, we could be in the same position.
Q: What are your aims for this race?
MG: I think we need to be racing the group with the updates we have got. We want to be competitively racing and if the circumstances come about when we can steal a point that would be a fitting end to the season and a reward for everyone's hard work. I think we can be really confident going into next year.