The 2019 Super Formula Championship concluded with a spectacular finale at Japan’s famous Suzuka International Circuit.
Whilst Tomoki Nojiri took home the win in the final race to continue the trend of a different driver claiming victory at every race in 2019 – an incredible testament to the introduction of the series’ new car – it’s the story of Nick Cassidy’s road to championship glory that makes him the real winner from Suzuka.
After losing the championship last year by a single point, Cassidy was set to make 2019 the year of the Kiwi. This was quite apparent from the get-go, after he won the season opener at Suzuka.
But behind him was his rival, Naoki Yamamoto, who clinched the victory last season. Yamamoto took second in the first round, and set the tone for the season long battle between the pair.
Yamamoto finished back-to-back second in the next race at Autopolis, with Cassidy only managing eighth place. And after Yamamoto took home the victory at Sugo in the third round, it seemed Cassidy’s championship hopes had fizzled out, with Yamamoto gaining a significant point lead.
But over the next two rounds at Fuji and Motegi we saw a significant dip in Yamamoto’s performance, failing to score any points. This allowed Cassidy to catch up with consecutive third place finishes.
Yamamoto admitted in an interview with Motorsport.com that his work with Torro Rosso this year organising an FP1 session at the Japanese GP made him feel “conflicted” as he was forced to shift his efforts away from Super Formula and Super GT, which can be seen in his results in both series.
During this time, we saw another challenger to the title, young Spaniard Álex Palou. Palou took home a win at Fuji in his maiden Super Formula season. Two more fourth place finishes earned the driver third overall in the championship standings, with induction problems in the final race hampering his ability to make a charge at the title.
Heading into the penultimate round at Okayama, Cassidy had caught up to Yamamoto on points, and the scene was set for two rounds of spectacular racing. Cassidy was now in the lead with the points, and a refocused Yamamoto was ready to defend his championship.
With Cassidy in the lead and Yamamoto in the top ten, things seemed pretty set of Cassidy, but a slow pit stop and battle with Kamui Kobayashi caused a reckless Cassidy to run the inside of a corner clip the grass, sending his SF19 Dallara spinning down into eleventh place, outside of the points. Yamamoto finished that race in seventh, bringing him ahead of Cassidy by a single point.
And like that, we were at the final round, Yamamoto ahead by a single point, eerily like the same time last year when it was Cassidy who was in front by a point.
A dramatic battle ensued, despite never really being in contact, the pressure between Yamamoto and Cassidy was certainly present throughout the race. Cassidy’s pit stop late into the race might be the tensest moment of the season, as it determined who went home with the victory. All the other contenders had faded away, either through technical error or team mistakes. Would the reigning champ defend his title, or would the New Zealander avenge the devastating loss from last year? Well we all know how that turned out.
Regardless, congratulations are in order for all the drivers in Super Formula, with a special congratulations to our 2019 Super Formula Champion, Nick Cassidy!
Images via Super Formula Championship