Technical insight with Pascal Vasselon - Japan The Panasonic Toyota Racing team travels to Japan for it's home race at the Fuji Speedway. Last season, the race was spiced up by torrential rains which only made the Fuji challenge more difficult for the drivers. Pascal Vasselon gives us some technical insight in the Japanese race.
What did you learn from Fuji Speedway last year? "I had been there many times with GT and Touring cars but it was my first experience of the lay-out change. It has every type of corner; slow, medium and high speed, plus a very long straight. In terms of setting up the car it is challenging because you have to be able to deal with all these situations, although in general you can say that the track requires medium downforce. Depending on what the driver prefers you might move a bit higher or a bit lower but it is broadly medium downforce. It is medium grip and it shows no special severities in terms of tires or brakes. One other thing we learnt last year was that the weather, clearly, can be awful! Fuji Speedway has a long history of terrible race conditions and last year provided confirmation that at that time of the year we can have very heavy and constant rain. Even if it doesn't rain we expect quite low temperatures and we are geared for that type of Grand Prix."
Does the wet weather last year mean the team is lacking information on dry running? "We had some running in the dry so we know pretty much what to expect. Obviously we didn't run a full weekend on dry tires but we have enough information and based on that the soft and medium Bridgestone Potenza tires should be in the right ball park."
Does Toyota make any special preparations for Fuji Speedway? "We are always asked if we prepare specially for Fuji Speedway but, if we did, I guess you could say we were neglecting the other races, which is not the case! Yes it is massively important to us but you can't go for a Fuji special engine or anything like that during an engine freeze. And as far as other developments go, it would make no sense for us to delay the introduction of new parts until Fuji because that would mean compromising our package for other races."
So is there anything new on the car for this race? "Fuji Speedway is a track which requires our baseline aero configuration. We have put a lot of effort into developing our baseline package throughout the season and we have produced some upgrades for this race. We call it our Fuji package but in fact some bits are already on the car and the most recent items can be used at all the last three Grands Prix of the season. It should help us."
How do you go about predicting the weather on a race weekend? "All teams receive a weather forecast from the FIA and in addition we have our own weather forecaster who gives us more information. We all make big efforts to improve the prediction but we have to be aware that it is still just a prediction and cannot be 100% reliable. We saw that again at Monza where, at a key point in the race, all the teams had a prediction of 30 minutes of rain which never came. We have to accept that whatever the investment is in terms of weather predictions, we cannot fully rely on it and have to base our judgment on what actually happens."
How was visibility for the drivers last year? "I think we had cases where the visibility in Fuji last year and also Monza a few weeks ago, was worse than Singapore at night! It was very difficult with the spray last year but Formula 1 still puts on a show in these conditions and we just have to get on with it."
If you are expecting rain, how much of a wet set-up can you put on? "If rain seems likely you always give yourself a set-up window which will help deliver performance on a wet track but you have to be careful not to adopt a set-up which would be completely uncompetitive in the dry, simply because even in a wet race there is a chance of a dry period. Nowadays it is extremely unusual to commit to a wet set-up because of the parc fermé regulations, which mean you basically race with the same set-up you qualified with. Given that, it is very unlikely you would have complete confidence on a Saturday afternoon that rain will come the following day. Basically with the parc fermé regulations you can change the front flap angle and tire pressures. Then when the race starts you can do what you want so at your first pit stop you could decide to go to high downforce, change the rear wing, change the front nose but the problem is the time, which is why nobody does it."
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