Max and Alex turn their attention towards the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.
A home grand prix is something pretty special for any team or driver. Sure, it comes with it’s own peculiar set of challenges in terms of the intensity of the build-up, the increased media demands and the weight of expectation but all of those things are mitigated by the passion of a home crowd and by the desire to perform well in front of the fans whose vocal and colourful presence gives everyone in the garage and in the car a massive lift.
For the Team that means the huge crowds at our factory’s local track, Silverstone and the massive support we get at our home away from home, the Red Bull Ring in Austria (particularly from Max’s orange army). This weekend, though, we’re claiming a third home race – Suzuka, home for our power unit partner Honda.
Japan has some of the most passionate F1 fans on the planet and a sizeable portion of the Suzuka crowd will be there to wave the flag for Honda. We’ve always had incredible support in Japan, too, and over the years we’ve racked up more podium finishes at the figure-eight shaped circuit than at almost any other track. Indeed, our 12 podiums in Japan are only matched by our total in Singapore.
So with those things in mind we’re marking this weekend down as an extra home grand prix. There’s a big weekend in prospect, but as with all battles on home soil our drivers are up for the fight…
Two podiums in two years at Suzuka – you must be looking at this weekend in Japan as a great opportunity to taste some champagne once again?
I’m really looking forward to going back to Suzuka as it’s a special place for me. I made my Formula One debut there in a practice session when I had just turned 17 and it’s a memory I’ll never forget. I’ve had a lot of good results at Suzuka with second and third place podiums but never a win, so obviously we would love to go one step higher.
As a circuit, Suzuka is a tough nut to crack, though. How tricky is it?
It’s a lot of fun to drive and I really enjoy it, but I also love Suzuka in general. The circuit is very historic and also very narrow and fast, so it’s important to use all of the track. You need to find the right balance and have a good flow between Turns 3, 4, 5 & 6 because if you take one corner wrong, you’re in the wrong position for the next sequence.
What are you expecting this weekend?
Ferrari will be very strong as they have so much power and will be fast on the straights but our car will be quick in the corners so hopefully we can gain some time there. The Japanese fans are very passionate about the sport and it’s always great to see so many of them at the track supporting us, but this year’s Japanese Grand Prix will be even more special as we are with Honda for their home race. We’ve had some great results with Honda already this year and it won’t be easy at Suzuka but we will of course deliver the best performance possible for the Japanese fans.”
Suzuka is one of those circuits reckoned to be a real test of a driver’s mettle and your first taste of it is going to be an F1 car. Are you excited by the challenge?
I’m really excited as it’s going to be my first Japanese Grand Prix. I have raced at the track once before but only in karts, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like in an F1 car. The main circuit looks really fun and it’s the track I’ve been looking forward to most this year.
It’s Honda’s home race, so does that come with extra pressure?
It’s obviously a big weekend for us as it’s Honda’s home race so we’re hoping for a good result for the fans. We were in Tokyo at the beginning of the year and already I could feel a lot of support from the locals. I remember hearing about how passionate the fans are but I still couldn’t believe the amount of people that we met and the gifts we received. Max said to me it was nothing compared to what we see and experience at the Grand Prix, so I’m getting my signing pens at the ready!
You’re going there in good form though with two fifth place bookending a couple of sixth places over the last four races?
Last time out in Russia, it was a good comeback from the pit lane to finish P5, but hopefully I can have a smoother weekend and a better starting position so I can fight towards the front.