Renault F1 Team has shown strong speed since the summer break. Chassis Technical Director Nick Chester looks at how to realise this potential in the final races of the season.
Is Suzuka a popular track with the drivers and team?
Nick Chester: The drivers enjoy the circuit as it's a good, old school racing track. Many regard it as one of the best tracks on the calendar. It's very long at 5.807km, with lots of elevation changes, long straights ending in tight chicanes or hairpins and interesting corners. It's a challenge to get right, requiring strong front-end grip for Sector 1 with high speed change of direction but with enough stability to give driver confidence. It's also a track with high sensitivity to drag and engine power and the choice of rear wing can be a difficult compromise. Off-track it's also pretty popular, the atmosphere is always incredible!
What do you make of Suzuka Circuit from a technical perspective?
NC: The Esses in Sector 1 are particularly notorious as the cars sweep through them. There's no problem with tyre warm-up and we will use the harder end of the Pirelli tyre compounds, also used at two other high-speed tracks, Silverstone and Barcelona. It's quite power sensitive as there are three long periods of long throttle; the straight through 130R, the pit straight and the curve between Spoon and the hairpin. It's not very high downforce due to the straights, and also fairly easy on the brakes.
With just five races left on the calendar, are there any new developments coming on the 2019 car now?
NC: We are bringing a new front wing to Suzuka. We also have a new chassis wing - externally the changes are pretty subtle, but we expect more downforce and grip as a result.
What do you like about the Japanese Grand Prix?
Nico Hulkenberg: Japan is a unique Grand Prix and one of the races I look forward to during the year. Everything about it makes it special. The track is one of the best, the fans are very passionate and amongst the most enthusiastic of the season and it's just a special weekend. Rain or dry, day and night the fans are there to support you and that's really nice to experience.
What makes Suzuka a favourite amongst drivers?
NH: Suzuka is a circuit I've always enjoyed racing at. Most drivers love it there because it brings so many challenges. In these modern Formula 1 cars, it's incredible to drive. It flows sector by sector, has elevation changes and some amazing corners like the Degners, Spoon and 130R. It's also quite physical on the body there with the repeated changes of direction. It's a real drivers' lap where you have to be absolutely on it to do well.
What's the feeling in the team after Singapore and Russia?
NH: It's obvious we missed out on points in Singapore and Russia and that's frustrating given our competitive pace and qualifying positions. We're still in the battle for fourth. We have to focus race by race and extract everything from the weekend. Our Sunday's especially have to be cleaner, but that's down to a range of factors: on my side, on the team's side and some things we can't control. We have to target big points in Japan.
Daniel Ricciardo left Russia frustrated after his race ended early. The Australian is keen to push that to one side, as he eyes up Japan as another opportunity to bring home some points.
How special is Japan?
Daniel Ricciardo: There's no place like Japan. The whole culture there is just cool, unique and is a very interesting experience. The food is amazing and the people are crazy, but in a good way. The fans at the track are very full on, but also loyal, respectful and bring you nice gifts and photographs; that's fun to see!
What's Suzuka like behind the wheel of a modern Formula 1 car?
DR: Suzuka has some old school characteristics, which I really enjoy. It's fast and flowing, while also quite raw and bumpy. I like the corner combinations at Suzuka. It's up there with one of the best circuits as it has a bit of everything and that's we love. The first sector climbs uphill and snakes a bit with the left, right, left. Sector two is a little more technical and then the final sector features 130R which is big and brave. It's almost a rollercoaster lap: back and forth, up and down. I like that feeling.
What's your verdict on the last two races?
DR: Leaving without points from the last two races is disappointing and probably not what we deserve. We have been looking quick and should have scored much more than we did. We can't reflect too much on it, all we can do is focus on Japan and ensuring we do a good job there. It's important we come away with something to keep in the race for fourth. We know it's going to be tough, but we won't give up.