As the Formula One circus heads to the iconic figure-of-eight Suzuka Circuit for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, Ferrari Chassis Technical Director James Allison looked back at the last round in Singapore where the battle among the frontrunners looked a lot closer than usual.

Fernando Alonso topped two of the weekend’s three practice sessions and went on to finish fourth, chasing the Red Bull Racing Renaults of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo across the finish line. Teammate Kimi Räikkönen finished eighth in the sister F14T.

“In Singapore, I think Mercedes probably had a bit more pace in hand, so that brought the front of the grid a bit closer together than usual,” Allison summed up afterwards.

“Also, it’s a track where the engine has a smaller effect compared with nearly all the other tracks this year, so that provided another opportunity for the field to close up a bit. The nature of the corners of Singapore are also sensitive to the amount of mechanical grip that you can get from your package [and] that’s certainly an area where Ferrari has been working recently and it allowed us to have a much better weekend.”

In other words, Japan is likely to be another test in unlocking the potential of the F14T – its aero-sensitive nature won’t play to the car’s strengths, but it’s also a ‘driver’s circuit’ where the truly great racers can shine.

“It’s a track where a good handling chassis with a high amount of downforce is rewarded very strongly. Cars which score well on both those points will of course be right at the front. But it gives some space to prosper a car which is sweet handling and reasonable on downforce,” he added.

“Suzuka is one of the all time great circuits, with some of the most challenging corners. One of the biggest tests of the car in the whole year, because it doesn’t just ask of the car that it can go fast in the ‘S’ complex in the first sector of the track, but there are also slow corners, long straights and all manner of ways to reveal the weakness of the car or driver.

“A team that comes back from Suzuka having done well knows that they are a good team with a strong package,” he concluded.

Tyre management will also play a key role as usual. The nature of the track surface, coupled with its long corners and the rapid changes of direction that generate a lot of the lateral energy, will put tyre wear at risk. Pirelli will be bringing its two harder compounds, in the medium and hard tyres.

The F14T has historically performed better on the softer compound of the two, although Allison stressed it was not a deal breaker.

“We go to Suzuka and the remaining races determined to close the gap to the Williams and then try and actually pull ahead of them, with the aim of securing third place in the championship. We also plan to learn what lessons we can during the rest of the season, to help guide us for the following year,” he concluded.

Image via XPB Images

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Michael Terminello

Journalist at MotorsportM8