“Suzuka is one of the classics that has changed very little since the start ”
Three races into his LRGP race driver career, Bruno is chomping at the bit to return to the cockpit at one of his favourite tracks – Suzuka.
What was your verdict on the weekend you had in Singapore?
For me personally it was quite a positive weekend. In this latest stage of my learning curve, I managed to cut out any mistakes which is positive. I had a very full programme working with engineers, and the work I’m doing with them is getting better and better. Despite the Marina Bay Circuit not being a track where the R31 is naturally at ease, I was still able to notice an improvement in my relationship with the car, and I feel there is a discernible direction in which we are going. I’m becoming more ingratiated with the team and with the car, which gives me comfort as I look forward to the next race.
Having got three races under your belt, do you feel you are now on more of an even keel with the other drivers?
Not yet. Undoubtedly they (the other drivers) still have the upper hand because they have completed more races than me. So far, I’ve driven at three very different circuits so far in very different conditions, and Suzuka will be another of the traditional races where I have limited experience. I’m learning and catching-up with the other drivers on the grid, but they have a considerable amount more experience than I do, and greater knowledge about the tyres too.
The Japanese Grand Prix – word has it Suzuka’s one of your favourite circuits…
You’re right, it’s one of my favourites. The blend of high and mid speed corners makes it a very stimulating track. It’s one of the classics that has changed very little since the start. I’m really looking forward to driving there, and I’m confident that I can put my name back on the points board for the team.
Is it a circuit that should suit the car better than Singapore?
Yes, I’m convinced that will be the case. The low-speed nature of Singapore made it the worst circuit for us in terms of performance. That hurt us a little bit, but with the updates we have planned for Suzuka we should be strong there, and hopefully will be able to get both cars in the points again – that’s where we belong.
We are entering the closing stages of the season – what do you expect?
My main objective is to add more points to my name. If we can still add to the car a little bit here and there, that will help. We need to stay ahead of the teams behind us, in particular Force India. If we can close the gap to Mercedes GP in fourth, that would be a real boost for the team but primarily we must hold on to fifth position and keep the opposition at bay.
“Suzuka may be a famous circuit but it’s also quite a tricky one”
Vitaly prepares himself for the speedy track of Suzuka – a polar opposite of the tight and twisting Marina Bay Circuit.
What are your feelings after a disappointing night race in Singapore…
It was a challenging weekend for us and frustrating not to see our hard work translated into results. We didn’t perform at our usual level. We now need to show what we can do in the final five races.
How did you spend your time in between Singapore and Japan – did you go back to England?
Yes, I came back straight after the race. I went through my usual training routines, before returning to England to visit the factory, meet with my engineers and discuss what happened in Singapore. Of course, we have also been preparing for Suzuka and the engineers have given me some data from last year to look at, which should help stand me in good stead.
Are you excited about going to Suzuka, one of the classic tracks on the calendar?
Suzuka may be a famous circuit but it’s also quite a tricky one. Everyone knows it well, and all motorsport fans love it. I’ve only been to Suzuka once before, but racing there really is quite special. The track tests drivers in every way possible; it is challenging and very, very fast. If you count the number of high-speed corners that are taken in fourth gear or above, there are more than any other circuit on the calendar. The first sector is incredible: the ‘s’ curves are like a rollercoaster, flipping the g-forces from side to side through very long corners, and it’s tough to keep the correct line, particularly because if you get one corner wrong, you really suffer in the other corners.
How do you expect to perform in Suzuka?
I hope the car will be strong there. It’s important to have confidence in the high-speed corners because if your confidence is down you can lose a lot of lap time. There is a very small margin for error because there are very few run-off areas, so as soon as you make a mistake, you are in the gravel. Often, when you are outside the car you don’t realise that the drivers are making errors, because you see them put a wheel over the kerb and onto the run-off area, before they come straight back on track. But Suzuka doesn’t work like that – if you go off with one wheel, you don’t come back. It’s one of the most fearsome tracks, but when you get it right it gives you immense satisfaction.
Eric Boullier interview – ‘A word with the boss’
Eric looks forward to Suzuka, a circuit he considers on a par with Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Monza.
Singapore must still be a painful memory for you…
Yes, but to be honest we’ve all put this experience behind us. We fully understand why we performed so poorly and the explanation is simple: slow corners in the 60-100km/h range just don’t do it for the R31. It is written in its DNA. We could have worked three weeks on the set-up but we would not have found a second in laptime. This is what we know, and our mid-term mission is to make sure that we solve this issue with the R32 which should not be a problem.
What is the shorter-term mission?
Things should get better for us on quicker tracks and Suzuka is one of them. In Japan, we expect to return to the level of performance we saw in Belgium and Italy. Our mission will be to focus on getting both cars into Q3. From then on, the weekend should be pretty straightforward.
Are you happy with Bruno and Vitaly’s level of performance so far?
Yes, neither of them had a clear race in Singapore but this was not the main issue for us. The car was a much bigger worry. Bruno is learning fast. He’s always asking the engineers to push him, he wants to increase his knowledge and get better. He also loves the technical aspect of the job. This is the right approach. He’s a very friendly person and everybody in the team likes him. Vitaly has scored 34 points since the beginning of the season. We have all seen how much he has improved since last year and he keeps getting better. As a driver there is always a little something to be gained here and there. He also gets on very well with Bruno. Both of them were at the factory after Singapore, meeting their engineers, and the way they collaborate in order to make the whole team better is very good to see.
There have been some changes to the race team recently following Steve Nielsen’s departure – how is it structured now?
It’s very simple. Part of what were Steve’s responsibilities will be taken over by Alan Permane, who is now Track Operations Director. In addition, John Wickham is part of our team and further changes will be announced shortly. I expect this transition to be very smooth.
Suzuka is one of the drivers’ favourite tracks – would it mean something special to perform well there?
Suzuka is one of the big names in F1. It is up there with Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Monza. We’ve seen so many amazing races there. I still remember, as a teenager, waking up early to watch the battling between Prost and Senna on TV at the end of the 80’s. The fans in Suzuka are quite incredible, too. Bruno is very popular there, so he will have quite a lot of autographs to sign!
James Allison – Tech Talk
”I expect the R31 to be much more in the hunt than in Singapore”
James expects the R31 to be far more at home in the fast corners of Suzuka than it was at the intricate Marina Bay Circuit
What can be learnt from the Singapore Grand Prix?
It is much harder to say with any precision just what it is about our car that can impact performance at these low speed tracks. Neither is it clear why Singapore was notably worse than either Monaco or Hungary. We know from our experiments with rear blowing exhausts earlier in the year that they do offer a lot more rear downforce – especially at high rear ride heights. We know that slow speed tracks allow the rear to be held up high in all the corners and we know that rear downforce is a prized asset for coping with the traction demand at these tracks. We also know that the forward exhaust, by contrast, performs more strongly once the rear ride height starts to compress – something that cannot be avoided in medium and high speed corners. It is probably reasonable to conclude that this is the basic mechanism behind the way that we shed so much competitiveness at slow speed tracks. Our car is very sensitive and extremely unforgiving of even the slightest geometric misalignment. We were plagued by rear wing and floor issues that all seem to be even more sensitive at very low speeds than they are at the higher speeds where our car is more comfortable.
Will LRGP be rid of these problems with the R32?
Of course. Each of these problems can be engineered out of the R32. However, at this stage of the season it is much harder to address these underlying problems for the R31.
The Japanese GP comes next – do you expect the R31 to be competitive at Suzuka?
I expect us to be much more in the hunt than we were in Singapore. There are just two slow corners at Suzuka, and the R31 is much more at home on flowing, faster tracks. I will be disappointed if we are not in the top 10 cars in qualifying to give us an opportunity to exorcise the disappointment of Singapore. We ought to be able to get the car back into the points. We need to – Force India is starting to breathe down our neck and we need a few good results to stay ahead.
Suzuka – what challenges does it present?
Suzuka, like Spa, is one of F1’s classic tracks. It is popular with the drivers who relish the test of nerve and skill posed by the ‘s’ curves, Turn 1 and R130. These last two will be particularly interesting in 2011 to see whether anyone dares make it through them in qualifying with their DRS system activated. We are long overdue a wet Suzuka race– we have had a wet session every year since 2005 and yet surprisingly, all the races have been dry for over 10 years!