Group 1: Ayao Komatsu, Andrew Shovlin and Jonathan Eddolls.
Ayao, I feel we should definitely start with you. In engineering terms, local hero, home race for you. We saw you signing autographs yesterday. Just tell us how different is this race for you?
Ayao Komatsu: It is very different, because those Japanese fans are amazing. I think last year, with COVID, they still couldn't do the pit-lane walk - but this year they could, and it's so good to see the kids. They always have primary school kids preparing gifts for every team. It's amazing, I think the atmosphere is great. It's good!
And what about your memories of Suzuka. How long have you been coming here. Not just in a work capacity, did you come as a kid to watch the race?
AK: No, I'm from Tokyo and I never actually came to watch a Formula 1 race before - but watching it on TV, in the Senna vs Prost era, so I've got memories of the Chicane crash and the Turn 1 crash. So that's how I got into it. That's the first memory I have.
That's what made you want to come into Formula 1? The crash between Senna and Prost?
AK: Basically, yeah!
Let's talk about performance. Throw it back to Singapore, first of all. How pleasantly surprised were you by the pace of the car there? Both guys getting into Q3 and Kevin getting that P10.
AK: I think understanding our car's weakness and strengths, Singapore we expected to be more competitive but my hope before coming to Singapore was to get at least one car into Q3. I thought if we did a really good job we could get both cars into Q3 but Kevin's P6, we definitely weren't expecting that, so it was better than expected.
Kevin has two fastest laps in Singapore, he got the P10 of course in the race on Sunday. Why does he go so well around Marina Bay?
AK: I think a couple of reasons. His driving style is very strong on braking and entry and on some of the other circuits where the car is experiencing some combined entry, he struggles with that more, whereas in Singapore, that kind of circuit, his strength on the corner entry pays quite a lot, because the cornering phase is quite short, so he's always been strong there.
What about Suzuka this weekend then? First of all, how is the return to harder tyre compounds affecting the car?
AK: I don't think the return to the harder compounds itself affects the car. It's actually more the type of corners we have here. So, that's where possibly the weakness of the VF-23 might get exposed. Corners like T11, 13-14, those corners. That's where we really need to manage. So, it's not the tyres, it's more of the cornering characteristics.
Tell us a little bit more about this year's car. Why has it proved so difficult to tame?
AK: You mean tame as in race performance? When you've got brand new tyres, extra grip, you can mask lots of weakness of the car, whereas when you do a long run in a race stint, those little weaknesses you can mask in qualifying, those get completely exposed - and it's cumulative. So the characteristic you can survive for one lap or three laps, or five laps becomes very apparent, and that's the weakness. Why is it difficult? Because I think the concept of the car we've got, we've been trying to develop it, trying to make it better but we haven't been really finding the solution. So yeah, that's why it's been quite difficult.
So, how much hope do you have for the upgrade that you're bringing to Austin in a couple of races' time?
AK: Austin, it's a huge push from the factory to get there. It's quite a bi update package, but in terms of putting on outright pace, it's not that really, if you like. It's more we're doing it, and it's a different concept, so we learn as much as possible as well, so to do that learning in this year ahead of launching next year's car is quite big. So, I cannot say for certain in terms of out-right quali performance or race pace performance that we're going to go X-amount quicker but, in terms of learning, and having different characteristics of the car, I think we have done quite a lot. So, it is very important that we do this.
How extensive are the changes going to be on the car? Can we refer to it as a B-spec car? Is it that different?
AK: I think, officially, we're not really expressing it as a B-Spec car. It's a bodywork change, sidepod inlet, floor, so it's pretty extensive. We're not doing front wing or rear wing but the aero characteristics are very different to what we've got here.
Jeddolls, let's come to you now. You've got the local hero in one of your cars. Just how different is this race for Yuki, and the team?
Jonathan Eddolls: It's very special for him and that comes off onto us as well. Just coming in, in the morning, in the van, the queues of the fans - I'm sure you had the same - cheering and waving and it's fantastic - and that's just the entrance, coming in. And then the fans in the grandstands. Yesterday, we had so many people in the pit lane giving gifts to everyone. Fairly random gifts and quite a range of different ones - but it gives the whole team a boost, and particularly Yuki off the back of a couple of difficult races. To come here, home race, and to have that as a start to the weekend has been a good boost.
As you say it has been a couple of difficult races for Yuki. He hasn't done a lap at either Monza or Singapore. How much frustration is coming in do you feel?
JE: I mean, he's frustrated at the time, for sure. But he's very good at putting that behind him. So, the frustration from Monza he was able to put behind him and really focus on Singapore. And I think we saw in Qualifying, the performance was there. We couldn't quite get it together in Q2 for him. And then again, some frustration in the race with the collision. But again, coming here, we just tackle each event step-by-step. So that frustration has been put behind and we focus now on trying to extract the maximum from the package this weekend.
Well, there were upgrades in Singapore. FP1 looks like you've hit the ground running here. What can you tell us about the performance?
JE: Yeah, I mean, obviously, Singapore, we had quite a big update. Everything looked to be working as expected there, the performance was there. Singapore is one of those special circuits where it's quite hard, particularly on the aero side, to validate 100 per cent the package and everything is as expected. So, coming here, it's a much easier track to understand if everything's working. So far, the data analysis live was all as expected and I think the performance has shown it looks like we are taking a bit of a step forwards. Yeah, it's only FP1 and with many different run plans, and we've got the extra tyres here, some were using them at different times, but I think the signs are positive.
Let's talk about Liam Lawson. Now, what has impressed you about him in the three races he's done?
JE: I think probably how level-headed he is. How solid he's been and how he's not let the pressure get to him - because it's obviously a big jump for him. I think, stepping in on the Friday night in Netherlands, when it was forecast rain, the next day, was a bit of a shock to him. But he quickly got over that, got up to speed with the car, the tyres, difficult race, difficult conditions. But I think the thing that's most impressed me is how solid he is. In qualifying, he's just chipping away, building it up step-by-step. We focus on like a weekend plan, aiming for that lap in qualifying. And I think Singapore, another difficult track, he'd not been there before, we used the three sets in Q1, just to ensure that he got there. And then he did a solid Q2. And I think the other point in the race he was keeping some fast cars at bay. And you felt confident that he could do that for a while. So yeah, I think the whole team has been very impressed with him.
You say he's solid, what is his feedback like?
JE: So, the feedback is very, very good in terms of the car and what he needs. Obviously, Formula 1 racing is new, so during the race, the information still is flowing more towards him than it is to us, as expected. But I think in terms of his feedback of the general characteristics of the car, how the tyres are behaving, it's very good.
And what can you tell us about Daniel Ricciardo's recovery, recuperation? When are you expecting him back?
JE: Well, we all saw him in Singapore. He's still going through that recovery phase. I'd say we're still talking a while away. So, I wouldn't want to put a target on it. The recovery is going well. We've got some simulator work planned before a return. And I think from our side and his side, there's no rush to get him back too early. The worst thing would be to come back before it's properly healed and cause any issues. So yeah, watch this space.
And Jonathan, you've got a really nice problem. You've got three really capable drivers, but only two seats for next year.
JE: Yeah, it makes it a tough one. Yeah. Well, I think nothing is official yet on what's going to happen for next year. But I think probably there'll be an announcement at some stage.
Check out our Friday gallery from Suzuka here.