Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Returning to Tragedy and the Japanese GP

Formula 1 is on the second half of rare back-to-back race weekends, following the Singapore GP with another in the Pacific region as the series heads to Japan. A bit of a pall hovers over the event, as the track, Suzuka, is where Jules Bianchi suffered the accident that put him in a coma and ultimately led to his death. The drivers are all aware of this aspect, and the fans have already begun showing their feelings with memorials around the track.

Almost fittingly, rain soaked the track for the first two practices. While the forecast for the race is supposed to be a sunny one, the wet track was the big element in Bianchi skidding off and crashing into a crane… a crane that had been in the process of removing another car that had slid off in the same area. One of the big improvements this time around is improved drainage in the hopes that incidents like the one last year will not reoccur.  

Perhaps, if you believe in otherworldly things at play, the weather is working a mood cycle for the weekend. Rainy and grey to start, but a sunny conclusion, allowing drivers, teams, and fans to be sent off with a better emotional disposition after dealing with the lingering spector of the dangers of the sport.  

The rain caused many teams to forego spending much time on the track, and it almost seemed as though the drivers took laps just to honor the crowd who were present. While Valterri Bottas may have held off, in a strategic move to save his rain tyres should they be needed, Fernando Alonso made sure to get out in the second practice after the team swapped out engine components in his McLaren-Honda, surely in a nod to the home crowd.

Of course, the data gathered from running in the rain is tantamount to useless, as Lewis Hamilton stated. But maybe just getting cars on the track was the key, almost in a nod to reassurance to everyone involved.  

Odds & Sods

  • Is Mercedes primed to rule again after a dismal race at Singapore? Sure looks like it. When the weather finally cleared for the third practice session, lo and behold, look who sat atop the leaderboard: Nico Rosberg and Hamilton. It looks as though the tyre combination and the slow track in Singapore caused the silver arrow organization to just flat-out miss the set-up. With Mercedes locking down the front row for the race and holding a five-tenths of a second advantage, the Japanese Grand Prix is likely to return to the rest of the season’s form.  
  • At this point it seems to be the worst-kept secret in the garage: That Romain Grosjean will be moving to Haas F1 next year. The question left to be answered is who his teammate will be, though Esteban Gutierrez seems to be the frontrunner.  
  • Lotus continues to endure through financial hardships. With the team in essence bankrupt, they are doing everything they can to stay afloat. Pastor Maldonado, who is signed for next year, brings with him $36 million when the next season begins – monies that the team is hoping to be advanced in order to keep running this season. Thus, it is no surprise that Renault is taking a hard look at purchasing the team.  
  • Alonso, either you are in a Mercedes or you are frustrated. For Mclaren, that’s one thing, but the frustrations have ultimately led to a chasm between Red Bull and Renault, one that will bring their full separation at the end of year. Daniel Ricciardo even recently complained that he just wanted a competitive engine, as the organization looks to be getting supplied by Ferrari next year. Yet there are still grumblings within the Red Bull organization about the fairness between the Ferrari works engine being better than those leased out. While it’s understandable for Red Bull to want to protect themselves on the grid, they are quickly becoming a malcontented, bratty child. Two years of being uncompetitive has soured the outlook of the team, and Dieter Mateschitz continues to wonder if the investment in F1 is worth it. Unlike other teams, the Red Bull cars are nothing but rolling billboards meant to sell an energy drink. Hence, it’s all about ROI; which is also the reason that Toro Rosso might be running Honda engines next year, as Ferrari does not want to supply both teams.
  • American driver Alexander Rossi debuted in F1 with Manor last weekend at Singapore and earned a respectable 14th-place finish for a team that runs at the back of the field. Call it all a learning experience. There were rumors that Rossi might be going to Haas F1 for the 2016 season, tying together two American entities, but that has been shot down.    
  • Daniil Kvyat crashed wildly during qualifying as he hit the hairpin turn on his flying lap. He nicked the grass near the apex, grass presumed to still be damp, and crashed into the safety barrier, causing he and his Red Bull car to flip and disintegrate. While the crash looked brutal, Kvyat raised a thumbs up and walked away.  

The Track

Suzuka came into existence in 1962, basically as a test track for Honda. Beginning in 1963, it began hosting grand prix, but has done so in a somewhat inconsistent fashion, alternating with the Fuji track at times, and the Japanese Grand Prix being left off the schedule altogether at others. Since 2009, however, the race has stayed at Suzuka, an 18-turn, 3.6-mile track.  Hamilton is the defending race winner, and also won in 2007, but Sebastian Vettel has four wins to his credit. One thing to note is the elevation changes, which adds to the difficulties in cornering. 

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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J. Smith

USA in F1 is something I will really get behind. Thank you Haas for stepping up and taking this country to the world stage of racing. Now if we could only get Chevy or Ford power under the cowling and Kyle Larson behind the wheel. I’m already a fan of Grosjean, he’s always seemed to be able to out perform whoever his teammate is at the time. Now I’d like to know what color and paint scheme we’ll have.


Even though evidence suggests that Singapore was a one off, the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari does appear to have closed.
As far as Ferrari supplying Red Bull with engines next year, would they want to? Red Bull’s constant attacks on Renault’s engines this year, btw: the same company that supplied the engines when they were winning four championships in a row, are bound to have raised warning flags with other suppliers. And since Ferrari is committed to Haas next year what about Manor?
That plucky little team, rescued from bankruptcy has been soldiering on with 2014 spec Ferrari engines all year. Assuming they can continue into next year what engines will they have in the back?
And McLaren- Honda hasn’t exactly been a raging success story this year either.
Nowhere else but F1 do you see this kind of drama.

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