Suzuka is old-school. It's been nipped and tucked over the years, but this is essentially the same place as when the original Honda test track opened in 1962 and the same layout as F1 cars faced when they first came here in 1987. TV doesn't do it justice.
The track is a narrow – very narrow, by modern standards – ribbon of tarmac running through lush, subtropical forest. It has dips and cambers, and the corners range from slow to ultra-fast – and each has a character of its own. It's a tough place to get right but doing so is appreciated by an incredible audience.
Ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, Team Principal Mike Krack reflects on this, a tough weekend in Singapore, and how we're embracing and celebrating the spirit of the samurai.
This is Mike on…
A frustrating weekend in Singapore
"I'm always a little careful with the highs and lows of motorsport. Whenever we're enjoying the high points of the season, we have to accept they're going to be counter-balanced by a low. Singapore was the first time this year we didn't score points, but I'm not getting too down about it.
"Of course, we only fielded one car, and post-race we discovered the extent of the damage Fernando had sustained. Having analysed what Fernando had to contend with, which we think was costing him significant laptime, we're a lot more positive about our performance. Fernando's comment about it being 'undriveable' was probably right!"
A first-class response
"We took the decision together on Sunday to withdraw Lance from the race. Before that, the team in the garage had put in a huge effort to build up a new car around the spare chassis. Singapore isn't the place you'd pick to pull an all-nighter but the work was needed to be done and the response was absolutely first-class. It isn't a wasted effort – if we didn't do it in Singapore, we'd have been doing it at Suzuka. Having it ready gave us a bit more margin and recovery time this week.
"Lance is in good shape. Usually, I don't talk to the drivers at the start of the week because I think it can be counter-productive, especially in the middle of double- or triple-headers, when I'd rather they had time to rest, rather than fielding calls – but this week I've been in touch with Lance and he's ready to go and in good spirits."
"Preparing the car before leaving Singapore, gave the crew a chance to extend our travel day and spend some time in Tokyo. One of our Japanese engineers organised a bit of sightseeing in Tokyo and a restaurant trip.
"I heard Pedro de la Rosa displayed some hidden karaoke talent on Tuesday night, before they all came down to Suzuka by train on Wednesday morning. Everybody has worked very hard, everybody is going to work very hard again, and it’s good that they get a little bit of downtime to relax. It’s well deserved."
"Meanwhile, the work goes on for the engineering team and those back in the UK. It's a strange transition: on Monday and Tuesday, we do everything on UK time, which means video calls late into the night here in Japan.
"On Wednesday we made the shift – because by that point we have to be on Suzuka time. We had our Wednesday briefing at midday here, which meant everyone back at base was in Mission Control at 04:00. They're fully in Japanese mode now – but it's a big effort."
A spectator sport
"Having Lance back in the car is going to be a highlight for us at Suzuka – but there are plenty of others. We have a huge crowd at Suzuka, which is always a highlight. Japan's F1 fans are special. We get great support everywhere we go but it is different here. Fantastic atmosphere and a really deep appreciation of the sport.
"I love that the grandstands stay full well into the evening, just because spectators want to watch the teams working in the garages. They sit in the dark, the garages are illuminated and they just watch us working. Last year I took a picture: you'd think it was right before the beginning of Qualifying. It's not 20 people; it's 20,000. It's one of the reasons everyone loves coming here.
"Another reason is the track. It's just a fantastic circuit. It's the only genuine figure-eight circuit on the F1 calendar and it's really challenging. Challenging for the tyres, for the car, for the drivers and difficult compromises for the engineers."
The spirit of the samurai
"One of the things that always strikes us about the crowd at Suzuka is their resilience. This is a track where the weather can be unkind, but it doesn't do anything to dampen the enthusiasm. It's an attitude we've adopted in the team. Everyone knows Fernando's affinity with the samurai code, and we've embraced it on a collective level on our journey.
"This week we're celebrating the spirit of the samurai, inspired by Fernando, extolling the virtues of courage, discipline and boundless energy, as we continue down this path we hope will lead us to becoming World Championship contenders in the future.
"We've picked a good week for this because it has been tough – and not just at the track. Just one of many examples is the huge effort at the AMR Technology Campus last week to get us a spare front wing ready and sent out to Singapore… then one got destroyed on track and we asked the team at home to dig deep again. There's no frustration, just enthusiasm. The focus and dedication is really good to see."
The driver mindset: Pedro on instinct, connecting with the car, and mastering SuzukaRead Now
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