Heikki Kovalainen has tipped F1 2010 newcomer Lotus Racing to produce a good performance in next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix as the team bids to retain its current tenth position in the constructors' rankings all the way to season's end – as the Finn described Suzuka as a track where experience can really make a difference.
Suzuka is one of the most popular outings on the annual F1 calendar, beloved by drivers and fans alike for its demanding challenge that rewards bravery and truly separates the men from the boys. It is an undisputed grand prix classic, with corners such as the legendary Spoon Curve and the ultra-fast 130R sealing the circuit's reputation.
Japan is also a country in which both Kovalainen and team-mate Jarno Trulli have previously excelled, with the former ascending the podium for the first time in his top flight career at Fuji Speedway with a superb second place in treacherous conditions in 2007 – impressively and maturely keeping compatriot and world champion-elect Kimi Raikkonen in a palpably faster Ferrari behind him all the way to the chequered flag – and the latter matching that with an inspired charge to fend off Lewis Hamilton and clinch the runner-up laurels at Suzuka last year.
“Firstly, I want to thank the boys at Williams for their help with the little incident that brought my Singapore Grand Prix to an end,” quipped Kovalainen of his Far-Eastern fire-fighting adventure last weekend. “I've had an amazing response to putting out the fire, and whilst it was clearly the best way to stop what would have been a very dangerous situation if I'd come into the pits, it was a pretty spectacular end to a great race.
“We were racing Michael [Schumacher] and Sébastien [Buemi] for position, and made the right call to fight them as hard as we could. It didn't pay off this time, but not taking the easy option of just getting the car home shows what we're made of, and that's a very good feeling.
“I love Japan – it's a bit mad, but in a really good way. The fans are pretty hardcore – they know more about the drivers than we do – and the track itself is obviously great to race on. I think we'll do pretty well there. It's quick and you need a good rhythm to get the best lap times, but experience and concentration play a big part, and I can't wait to get back in the car!”
“Coming back to Japan is something I'm looking forward to,” agreed Trulli. “I really like the track, and last year I was on the podium in second place. I know we won't be repeating that this year, but I think we'll be okay. Everyone in the team is pumped-up for the final few races, and we want to focus on beating our nearest rivals. We're in a good fight, and the fans are being given some great action to keep an eye on further down the grid, so we'll do our best to reward them.”
Indeed, provided neither Hispania (HRT) nor Virgin succeed in notching up a 12th-place finish or better over the remaining four grands prix, Lotus will be safe in P10 – and corroborating Trulli's assertion that all at the Anglo/Malaysian outfit are 'pumped-up' to end the campaign on a high, chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne affirms that there is not the slightest intention to rest on their laurels.
“Suzuka is a classic race venue, one that really brings out the best in the car and the drivers,” the Englishman underlined. “The team have had a bit of time off to recharge their batteries since Singapore, and I think they'll get to Japan ready to get straight back to work and help us secure tenth place.
“As most of the efforts back at the factory have now been focussed on the 2011 car for several months, we won't be bringing any new updates to Japan, but it's obviously good to see that even though our direct rivals are continuing to update their cars, we can still take the fight to them. Singapore was a great battle, and had Heikki not had to do his fireman act, we would have finished comfortably ahead of Virgin. We want to continue that next weekend, and we're aiming to put in as strong a performance at Suzuka as we did in Singapore.”