What makes the Japanese Grand Prix so special?
Nico Hulkenberg: Japan is a very special Grand Prix. The fans make it an incredible experience and they are so enthusiastic at any time of day, even if it rains! They are super supportive and energetic and it’s cool to say ‘Kon’nichiwa’ to them when we arrive at the track. It’s certainly one of the race weekends I look forward to. It’s a circuit I enjoy racing at and my record around Suzuka has been quite consistent in the past, so I’ll be aiming to add more points to the tally this weekend.
What’s a lap of Suzuka like to drive?
NH: Suzuka is built for drivers as it ticks all the boxes. It’s such an amazing track behind the wheel – especially in a modern Formula 1 car – and it’s certainly one of the best circuits out there. It has a good flow to it, with some cool corner combinations, elevation changes and it’s quite physical too with a lot of G on the body and neck. There are some areas of the lap where you need to be quite aggressive and brave, but that’s the fun of it.
Which areas of the circuit are the most difficult?
NH: I find Degner One quite tricky as the apex sticks out and if you touch it too much it sends you wide and before you know it, you’re in the gravel and into the wall; there’s not much time to recover from that! The Spoon curve can also be tough to get right, as it’s a double left-hander, off-camber and the car can feel loose as you fight the balance. But it’s an important corner, as the long straight leads off it, so a good exit is required.
What’s the verdict after Russia?
NH: Clearly, it was a disappointing result as we aim for points at every race. We gave it a go on a different strategy to our direct competitors and I was pretty happy with the long opening stint. We were in contention, but unfortunately it didn’t work out and we fell short. But we have a great opportunity to go again in Japan and get ourselves back into the points.
Where does the Japanese Grand Prix rank on your favourites list?
Carlos Sainz: Japan is for sure one of my favourite race weekends. Everything in Japan is great: the racing history, the track layout, the passion of the fans, the Japanese culture, it’s so unique and a really exciting race weekend. The fans are truly amazing there. They are very polite, enthusiastic and innovative, and it’s a pleasure to meet them and sign autographs for them. They always bring presents too, which is nice and they are clever with some of the surprises. I’ve even received a signed Spanish flag from the fans in the past as a way of sending me a ‘good luck’ message.
Do you like the Japanese food?
CS: I like my food, especially the Japanese cuisine. Sushi is one of my favourite things to eat, and you can have it almost anywhere nowadays. But the Sushi in Japan is a different story. There are a couple of nice restaurants near Suzuka where I like to eat each year. Another dish I like is kobe beef, it’s a nice flavour and melts in the mouth. Japan is a good weekend on the calendar in more ways than one!
And what’s there to say about the circuit itself?
CS: The circuit is a lot of fun to drive, a proper drivers’ circuit where our ability and skill are put to the test. Sector one is extremely physical, especially with the modern, high-downforce cars, and the never-ending right, left, right, left esses. The Degners are challenging to get right with gravel traps waiting for you on the outside. The long, Spoon curve is vital as it opens up the long-straight, which then feeds into 130R – a fast corner taken flat-out. It’s a cool lap to drive, and probably one of the best on the calendar. Nailing a qualifying lap is so rewarding at Suzuka, it’s one of the best feelings out there.
How do you reflect on Sochi?
CS: I have mixed thoughts after Sochi. On Friday, after missing FP1, I felt quite good with the car straight away in FP2. Qualifying was all about strategy and finally on Sunday I had a strong start off the line, but unfortunately, I got hit on lap one and that was the end of our chances. We fought to the end with a damaged car, but these things happen in Formula 1. I’m keen to move on and focus on Japan this weekend. We have the chance to race again immediately, on a circuit I like, so we’ll be aiming for a strong haul of points!