The wait is finally over, the sure-to-be thrilling final round of Super Formula season takes place on Sunday, with the championship returning to Suzuka, where the Japanese Grand Prix was held only a few weeks ago.
Heading into the final round Japanese hero Naoki Yamamoto (29 points) leads Nick Cassidy (28) by a single point, with hotshot Álex Palou (25) close behind in third. Kenta Yamashita (21) and Kamui Kobayashi (19) are mathematically still in the hunt with a maximum of 14 points up for grabs in qualifying and the race.
Japanese racing in 2019 has been characterised by a back and forth struggle between Cassidy and Yamamoto. Can Cassidy finally bring home the championship or will Yamamoto hold him off to defend his 2018 Super Formula Championship crown?
|Suzuka International Racing Course – Mie Prefecture, Japan|
|Circuit Length||5.807 km / 3.609 mi||Opened||1962|
|Capacity||155,000||Direction||‘Figure of Eight’|
This weekend at Suzuka is set to be yet another exciting one, hosting both the finale of Super Formula and the eighth round of the FIA World Touring Car Cup.
Whilst the WTCR race will be running the course’s East Course configuration, the Super Formula race will run the full circuit, which we last saw in action at the recent Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix.
Suzuka combines both technical corners in the Esses and long straights as drivers push back up the hill after flying out of Spoon Corner in the second sector of the track.
The Japanese circuit has always provided a challenge for racers and with Sunday scheduled to be a cool 22°C with a 40% chance of rain, this weekend’s racing will be no different.
|2019 Super Formula Championship Suzuka Finale – 25-27 October 2019|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 11:00-12:00||Free Practice Session 2
|Qualifying 1 (Group A)||Sat 12:25-12:35||Qualifying 1 (Group B)||Sat 12:45-12:55|
|Qualifying 2||Sat 13:05-13:12||Qualifying 3||Sat 13:22-13:29|
|Warm-Up Session||Sun 08:10-08:45||Race (43 laps / 90min)||Sun 14:00-15:30|
All session times quoted in Japan Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 9:00)
Rewind to 2018
Last year’s finale proved to be a tumultuous one for Nick Cassidy, who entered the race 5 points in front, but failed to win the championship.
Yamamoto captured his tenth Super Formula pole position, which proved to be a sign of good things to come for the then 32-year-old driver. Yamamoto started the race on the soft tyre compound and used them to gain a five-second lead before pitting on Lap 20. At this point, Cassidy took a temporary lead, and would need to work hard in order to pit and still hold first place.
In the end he couldnt quite make the overcut strategy work, but after pitting he staged a dramatic charge in the final 11 laps. He reduced the gap between himself and the championship to just 2 seconds.
On the final lap, a braking mistake from Yamamoto bought the gap between them even closer, but he held back Cassidy’s attack to win the championship, utilising the 3 bonus points received for winning the final round.
The Suzuka Form Guide
With six different race-winners in the season’s six races to-date, who will emerge as the winner on Sunday is truly anyone’s guess.
The gap in points between Yamamoto and Cassidy from this time last year is even closer, and with rookie star Palou still very much in contention the Spanish youngster could well spring a surprise if he can deliver a repeat of his stunning performance at Fuji where he won from pole position.
Cassidy would certainly be wanting to avoid a repeat of last year’s race and best utilise the extra points awarded for the win here at Suzuka. If Cassidy wins Sunday’s race, and goes on to win the Super GT finale in a few weeks’ time, he would not only claim a rare double feat but also earn enough Super License points to qualify for a Formula 1 drive.
However, Yamamoto certainly has other plans for him. The Honda-backed driver is looking to make Sunday a two-peat of Super Formula title wins, and after a recent practice outing for Scuderia Torro Rosso, he too will want to show that he has the credentials to make the grade in F1.
Whilst Palou might seem an unlikely hero in the 2019 Super Formula championship, he sits on 25 points and would claim the championship if he wins Sunday’s race, regardless of where Yamamoto or Cassidy finish. Despite a DNF and a 13th place finish at Sugo, the Spaniard hasn’t placed lower than sixth over the other four events, with a win and two fourth place finishes under his belt. Even if Palou doesn’t win this weekend’s finale, he will certainly be one to watch as he develops as a driver.
Images via Super Formula