Our drivers prepared for our Japanese trip by trying their hand at making sushi in the Honda hospitality unit on Thursday in Russia. Their efforts could best be described as mixed! "People ate it and no one died," was Pierre's assessment of his culinary skills with raw fish.
What else can we tell you about the weekend? Well, Sochi seems to have evolved considerably since last year. Five years on from our first visit, the place has much more life to it and there was a larger than usual enthusiastic Russian crowd. We've certainly done our part to please them as we've officially announced Daniil Kvyat returning to the fold from 2019. As usual in F1, nothing stays secret for very long, so you could read about our favourite Russian returning to the team even before we got to Sochi. Everyone in our team is looking forward to working with him again. Currently, he is a development driver with Scuderia Ferrari, which involves plenty of time in the simulator and that will prove to be valuable experience when he takes over Pierre Gasly's seat next year.
A Sochi-Suzuka back-to-back was a new experience for everyone in F1, and it involved some convoluted travel plans to connect two towns that are a long way from capital or major cities with international flights. Many of the drivers like to enjoy a couple of days and nights in the bright lights of Tokyo, but Brendon and Pierre had a much busier schedule. Immediately after touching down in the Japanese capital, they had a long bus journey to Sakura, home to Honda's F1 R&D facility. It was truly impressive, in a rural location, looking very much like the villain's lair in a James Bond movie! Inside the facility, there was plenty of technology that wouldn't look out of place in a science fiction film either, including the impressive Mission Control room, where staff monitor every Grand Prix in real time to relay data and solutions back to the race track.
If that was impressive on the technology front, the next stop on our tour of Honda facilities showed the human scale of Honda's involvement in F1. Over 10,000 people work at Tochigi – most of the work is on road car R&D – and it seemed they had all turned out to see our drivers and Franz Tost. The three men walked down a one kilometre long office corridor, lined on both sides by the staff, all dressed in factory white jacket and trousers, some waving Toro Rosso flags and all of them clapping. A truly unforgettable experience. A visit to a third R&D facility in Wako near Tokyo was squeezed in before the crew headed for Suzuka and on Thursday morning, Franz and our drivers called in at the Honda factory in Suzuka itself. Now it was time for the real work of the weekend to start. Phew!
We looked in pretty good shape on Friday, the chassis and updated PU working well. For Pierre, it was a case of reacquainting himself with a track at which he had raced in the Super Formula category last year, while Brendon was discovering the challenging circuit for the first time. Then came our Super Suzuka Saturday, netting us sixth and seventh places on the grid – our best Qualifying result of the year - with a package that worked well and a strategy that made the most of the intermittent rain.
We knew the race would be a much tougher proposition and so it proved to be, with no points added to our tally. So we bid farewell to Asia for another year, heading west to the Americas for the next three rounds, before the finale in the Middle East.