Toyotas Pascal Vasselon on Suzuka 04 Oct 2006
Suzuka might be one of the easiest circuits for brakes, but the Japanese track compensates with a variety of other engineering challenges. From its intricate layout to the tough combination of long straights and low-speed corners, Suzuka demands a great deal in terms of set-up. After a tough race in China, Toyotas Pascal Vasselon explains the teams strategy for the weekend ahead
Q: Is Suzuka, as Toyota's home race, a special event?
Pascal Vasselon: The pressure is on at every single race but we still try to raise our level for Suzuka. Obviously we will have a lot of Toyota spectators there and we want to give them something they can be proud of, which gives us extra motivation.
Q: Do you agree with Suzuka's reputation as a real driver's circuit?
PV: When you talk to drivers they have two circuits which are outstanding for them: Suzuka and Spa. The drivers just love Suzuka and it's true that it's a very challenging place where technique is massively important. It's such a difficult circuit that you do have Suzuka specialists, definitely. The Japanese drivers are especially strong because they have spent so much time there. Knowing the intricacies of the circuit often means a driver can achieve a better result at Suzuka.
Q: Is that especially true in the wet?
PV: Absolutely, because a key point for a driver is to know where the puddles are and the lines where there is less standing water. Suzuka is very tough and very challenging.
Q: So Ralf Schumachers experience there should stand him in good stead?
PV: Ralf had his schooling in cars with downforce at Suzuka when he started in Formula Nippon in the mid nineties, so he has strong experience, which is a big help, yes.
Q: What are the most significant considerations, set-up wise?
PV: You need a good high-speed balance because there are a lot of medium and high speed changes of direction. Grip is always massively important, of course, but in Suzuka you might even compromise a little bit of grip in order to get a better balance. Handling is very important and the driver needs to feel confident, which ultimately gives you lap time.
Q: Do you need good braking stability at the chicane?
PV: You do, but actually Suzuka is one of the two lightest circuits on brakes overall, because you don't have the combination long straight/low-speed corner which hurts the brakes. You also have good brake cooling because the average speed is quite high. So it's light on brakes and tough on tyres.
Q: Because of the high speeds?
PV: Yes. In terms of tyre demands it is very similar to Silverstone, one step gentler but still with rubber from the hard end of the range. The limitations are usually dictated by front tyre performance.
Q: Is it tough for engines too?
PV: I'd say it's a circuit in the average in term of engine power influence on lap time: 10 bhp gives you around 0.17 seconds.
Q: What are your thoughts about it being Suzuka's last race, then Fuji?
PV: I'm very aware of the Suzuka history but I also really enjoy the challenge of discovering new circuits. When we went to Bahrain, Shanghai and Turkey, I found it both interesting and challenging to attack a new venue.
Q: What do you know about Fuji?
PV: It's an interesting new challenge where we will have even more Toyota people watching us! The circuit has changed quite a lot because it has been effectively redesigned for Formula One racing. I have a lot of personal experience at Fuji from other categories of racing. In GTs and Super Touring I have probably been there more than 20 times.
Q: You had some problems in China. How do you expect Toyota to perform in Suzuka?
PV: In normal conditions, Suzuka well suits the characteristics of our car. Silverstone mirrors Suzuka in so many ways and we were competitive there. Obviously our experiences in the last two wet-weather races have been quite difficult and we are chasing some tyre grip in these conditions. For sure, if we have wet conditions in Suzuka we will expect a tough weekend. But we have been working and thinking hard with Bridgestone about the right compound decisions for Japan and we still expect to see improvements if we get it right.
Q: You had some aerodynamic developments in China. Were they difficult to evaluate?
PV: In the circumstances, with wet qualifying conditions and then traffic in the race, that was certainly the case. It was hard to know where you were because conditions changed throughout every practice session and the race and we came away without any firm conclusions. The only thing we can say is that the drivers were very pleased with the handling and the balance even if events conspired against them.
Q: Will you have any further developments for Suzuka?
PV: We will have a few bits coming for Suzuka, yes. One extra week is not that much but it is the last rush of the season! We will then fully focus on next year's car.