Suzuka has a further magic ingredient in the form of the fans: if the ones in Brazil are the noisiest and those in Italy the most passionate, then the ones at Suzuka are the most wonderfully eccentric. What else can you call a fan who was walking around dressed from head to toe in an Ayrton Senna replica suit and helmet, or another fan who had a car on his cap that actually featured a working DRS on its rear wing!
The fans are also very generous, waiting for ages near the paddock entrance to give us gifts of biscuits and chocolates and there were plenty of hand-made cards for our drivers and one fan had made "Origami" caps for both of them. It was interesting to see that, although this was only Pierre Gasly's second ever Formula 1 Grand Prix, the fans knew exactly who he was, because of the time he has spent racing in Japan this year.
Our French driver's familiarity with this track meant that the lack of running on Friday due to bad weather was less of a penalty than it might have been for an outright Suzuka rookie. Carlos Sainz was unlucky to get caught out by a kerb and had what looked like a very big accident in FP1, but the driver reckoned it wasn't actually as bad as it seemed from his vantage point in the cockpit. It still gave our guys plenty of work to do and well done to them for having a car ready for Carlos to drive on Friday afternoon. We were not looking as competitive as we would have liked and the bad weather hampered plans to keep developing the aero updates we had brought to Malaysia. Come Saturday and we effectively had one car trying to qualify as well as possible in the case of Pierre and the other focusing more on the race as Carlos would have to serve a grid penalty here.
Race day brought the warmest weather of the weekend, hot enough that previous tyre data would not be that accurate and the perfect conditions also wiped out any chance of clever wet-race strategies to move us up the order. Late on Saturday night came the news that Carlos would be heading to his new team earlier than expected, so that Sunday in Suzuka would be his final race for us, after over two seasons in Toro Rosso colours. He vowed that he would try everything possible to sign off on a high note. Sadly he tried maybe just a little bit too hard! In his own words, "I was trying to risk everything at the start to try and gain some positions." He found there was very little grip as he attempted to go round the outside of some cars at Turn 6 and spun off. Pierre made it to the flag in 13th place. A point might have been on the agenda for our Frenchman, but any chance of that was lost when he needed an extra pit stop because of a flat-spotted tyre.
After the race, there was no time for sentimental goodbyes for Carlos as the team was rushing to the airport for the long flight home to Italy. But Spanish TV did pop into our hospitality to present Sainz with a "French For Dummies" book to help him communicate with his new team members!
There's never a dull moment in the Toro Rosso camp and in a few days we will be heading to Austin and the Circuit of the Americas for the USA Grand Prix, when we will be tackling another back-to-back pairing, with the Mexican GP just around the corner.