It was, by Tokyo standards, just a normal Monday night between races. We’d made our way from Malaysia to Japan and stopped off in the capital city for a couple of days of culture. Instead we came face to face with a parrot riding a horse! Like I said, just a normal Monday night in Tokyo.
And it didn’t stop there either. There was a giant snake that seemed intent on eating up an evil alien woman, giant neon motorbikes, robots doing the moonwalk and sharks who I couldn’t quite work out whether they were siding with the goodies or the baddies.
You have to expect a few surprises in Japan. As much as I love going there, and I really do love spending time there, it’s all a bit puzzling and doesn’t quite make sense at times.
A bit like the last few races really. What’s happened to Ferrari? Where has their title challenge gone? Because it has gone, let’s face facts here, they’ve thrown it away in the last four races and whilst the maths says they’ve still got a chance, in reality it’s more likely that the parrot and horse will combine to make some super-hoofed flying creature, than the Prancing Horse will end this year with a trophy or two.
Since Spa, it’s all gone horribly wrong. Beaten soundly on their own asphalt in Monza, they went to Singapore where both drivers contributed to their downfall within the first few hundred metres. Malaysia followed, and after a problem related to the engine on one car dogged them in qualifying, an engine related problem then popped up on the other car minutes before the start of the race. Did Ferrari check over Kimi’s car thoroughly enough once it was returned from Parc Ferme? If they did they were thoroughly unlucky, but there’s a suspicion that their procedures weren’t rigorous enough and they paid the price.
Fast forward to Suzuka and a spark plug issue reared its ugly head. Seb was out after four fruitless laps. I’m not an engine expert but spark plugs have undergone something of a revival in the Turbo Hybrid era and I can understand why a fault with one of them could cause such a loss of power. But you have to ask the question once again as to why the issue wasn’t detected earlier?
Their Chief Engine Designer left suddenly back in July. Technical Chief James Allison had left before the season started, in different circumstances, but has the departure of key members of staff left the Scuderia a little exposed? Especially after a year where they have pushed incredibly hard to take the fight to Mercedes. Or have they lost the title-winning mentality that brought them so much success in the Todt/Brawn/Byrne/Schumacher years? One team member offered the view on Sunday evening that it was exactly the case.
Elsewhere in Suzuka it was great to have Nico Rosberg join us on Sky F1 to add his insight into proceedings. I hope he joins us again in the future. As part of his role representing Robert Kubica, Nico was also quite busy at Williams where the choice, as far as I’m aware, is down to Robert or Paul Di Resta. I know I joke about being PDR’s manager, but for the record I’m not. But I do think he’d be an excellent fit alongside Lance Stroll and it’s a huge shame that his F1 career in the past was cut short.
Sadly for some F1 drivers careers can be very short-lived. Anthony Davidson for instance only had 24 races before Super Aguri stopped racing and he was left looking elsewhere. Jolyon Palmer had 10 more to his name before he announced on Saturday night that the Japanese Grand Prix would be his last race for Renault.
It was a nice touch by the team to let him make the announcement himself, but you do get the feeling behind the scenes that nice touches between team and driver were few and far between this season. Something soured in their relationship and maybe it’s a relief now for both sides that it’s ended 4 races earlier than expected?
So Carlos Sainz now moves to Renault and straight into the firing line, as he’ll be expected to be scoring points straight away. It’s a close battle in the lower midfield and points mean prize money remember! At Toro Rosso, Daniil Kvyat returns for Austin, possibly alongside Pierre Gasly, or if he has to return to Japan for the final round of the Super Formula, I understand that both Sebastian Buemi and former Reserve and Test Driver Brendon Hartley are being lined up to come in as a one-off replacement. Hartley’s name is quite significant given that Porsche are pulling out of the WEC series and he’s looking for a drive somewhere next season. It’s not a forgone conclusion that Daniil Kvyat will definitely be at the team in 2018.
And stand by for a surprise in Austin, as Formula 1’s new owners trial something a little bit different before the start of the race. In a bid to inject a little razzmatazz into proceedings the drivers will be welcomed onto the grid, boxing intro style, and announced to the crowd.
Such is the change to proceedings, the sporting regulations have had to be altered to allow the cars to leave the garages 15 minutes early, and broadcasters will be asking whether their usual grid walks take place or not? Given that no drivers will be around to talk to.
I’ve long argued that race day needs a better build up for the fans in the grandstands and that, at present, the sport does little to generate excitement and a noisy atmosphere before lights out, but I can see what’s being planned causing a mixed response, especially as it seems to have been revealed to the teams at quite a late stage.
Sport is entertainment and as such we all should remember that Formula 1 exists to provide that. If this trial makes more of the drivers appearing as heroes and gladiators marching into battle, then it’s important to consider a more permanent fixture for the future. But I can see what’s being planned not sitting well with the traditionalists, nor the engineers who, rightly so, are more focused on their last minute preparations with their particular driver.
Let’s see how it goes in two weeks’ time then and hope that it’s not a case of ‘let’s get ready to grumble!’ as the 20 heroes are told to ‘start their engines!’