Our week in Japan was a very busy one for several reasons, some of them under our control, some in the lap of the weather gods. Last year, our first season with Honda, we already found out just how passionate everyone is about our partnership when we visited various factories and facilities owned by the famous Japanese company. This year was no different and Pierre and Daniil got an enthusiastic welcome everywhere, from the three factories they visited to the public event held in Honda’s head office in Tokyo.
The final visit on Wednesday was to the Honda factory actually in Suzuka and from then on, we assumed we would be tackling a normal race weekend. However, typhoon Hagibis – ironically the name means speed – had different ideas. But before the rain and wind made the headlines, Toro Rosso was definitely making some of its own on Friday, because out on track alongside Daniil Kvyat was Naoki Yamamoto. Naoki san did everything we could have expected of a reigning Japanese Super Formula and Super GT champion with an excellent knowledge of Suzuka circuit, completing more laps than any other driver in FP1, while posting competitive lap times. From the media scrum that surrounded him afterwards you’d have thought he’d won Sunday’s race!
Later on the Friday, the organisers took to the decision to cancel all track activity on Saturday as the typhoon was meant to do its worst. It was incredible watching the circuit staff as well as all the teams going through the procedures to make everything safe, from removing the pit stop equipment, to tying down the pit wall perch, shutting the garage doors front and back, placing sandbags to stop water running in and also securing the hospitality units which are basically tents at this track. On top of that, much of the TV compound was dismantled and the start light tower was taken down. In the end, Saturday in Suzuka was very wet and windy, too dangerous for any on-track action, but actually the worst of the typhoon bypassed the area, although it did serious damage to other parts of the Mie Prefecture.
We’d seen it all before in Suzuka, with FP3 cancelled and qualifying taking place on Sunday morning. It made for a very busy schedule, but at least the team had a few hours to relax on Saturday. The Frenchman had an excellent qualifying to start ninth. Daniil had a tougher day after struggling in qualifying, but as always, on Sunday afternoon he fought hard to move up a couple of places by the end of the race. In between qualifying and the race, our two drivers and Verstappen and Albon all stopped on the Drivers’ Parade in front of the Honda grandstand at Turn 2. It was quite a sight, packed with 12,000 fans, all wearing identical caps and waving identical flags every times the quartet of drivers came round in the race. In the Grand Prix, the 17th of the season, Pierre produced an exceptional drive to bring home some valuable points by finishing eighth. There was something of a mix up with the circuit lights and the chequered flag light was actually shown after only 52 of the 53 laps had been completed. And it was on the 53rd lap that Pierre and Sergio Perez had a coming together that the stewards later decided needed no further action. It would have been unusual if either driver had been given a penalty on what was effectively the slowing down lap.
We are in the final stretch now, with just four races remaining, but the pressure keeps up on the travel front as we head back from the Far East to our base in Faenza, before going further west for three races in the Americas, starting with Mexico in a fortnight’s time.