Felix Rosenqvist will combine his FIA Formula E Championship commitments with an attack on Japan’s Super Formula series in 2017, having agreed a deal to race for Team LeMans in Asia’s top single-seater category.
Rosenqvist joins the Super Formula field at an exciting time for the Japanese championship, which has enjoyed increasing international attention in recent years thanks in part to an appealing set of high-performance technical regulations.
With a combination of 550-bhp turbo engines, spec slick tyres and highly sophisticated aerodynamics, the Super Formula SF14 is the fastest car in the world – barring Formula 1 machinery – around a racing track, subjecting drivers to extreme cornering forces in the process.
The 2017 Super Formula season boosts a 20-car grid, and will pitch Rosenqvist against stiff international competition such as 2011 champion and triple 24 Hours of Le Mans winner André Lotterer (GER), ex-Formula 3 team-mate Nick Cassidy (NZL) and reigning GP2 Series champion Pierre Gasly (FRA).
Rosenqvist will race the #7 Team LeMans entry, joining an impressive list of drivers to have flown the flag for the Toyota-powered outfit. Founded in 1969, its long history in Japanese motor racing has seen the team cross paths with some of the great names of the sport, including Michael and Ralf Schumacher (GER) – running the latter to the 1996 Formula Nippon title.
Q: You’ve been on site in Japan for a few days now. What’s your first impression of the team and Super Formula so far?
FR: The first thing that struck me was the warm reception I received over here. The team has been extremely helpful, trying to integrate me as smoothly as possible, and the same goes for everyone I’ve met. You can tell there’s a massive passion about motor racing here, and while the Japanese and European ways of working are quite different, the objectives are very much the same. There’s a competitive spirit here that really fills the air, and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by that. To come into that environment and slot into the fastest car outside of Formula 1 is just great.
Q: You did a lot of racing last year, and this season will be much the same with a dual programme featuring two high-profile single-seater championships. You really seem convinced about the benefits of a busy schedule?
FR: Absolutely convinced. Just being away from driving over these last few winter months did make me feel a bit rusty. It’s become a priority for me to exercise my sport as often as I can. It’s like everything else; you need to practice, and the more you practice the better you get. Driving is what keeps me alert and adaptable, and in itself it’s also the best way to prepare for the next race. It makes a lot of sense to me.
Q: Why did you choose Super Formula as the complement to your Formula E duties, beside the fact there are no calendar clashes?
FR: First of all, single-seaters are what’s closest to my heart, although I love all forms of racing. That, combined with the extreme performance of the Super Formula cars and the fact that Japan is unknown territory for me, made it tick all the boxes!
Q: Formula E and Super Formula are two very different championships. In Formula E, you race predominantly on narrow street tracks, while in Super Formula you’re flat out on more traditional circuits, with enormous cornering speeds similar to those attained in F1. How will that affect you from a physical point of view?
FR: Yes, they really are two very different series – basically the opposites of each other. The Formula E car has quite heavy steering because it weighs a lot, and also because there is no power steering. In Super Formula, however, you do have power steering, but instead we need to cope with braking and cornering forces of up to 4G. That puts the body under significant stress. It will definitely require more from a physical standpoint. I’m already working on that and I will need to increase my training routine.
Q: You’re yet to turn a lap in the Super Formula car, but can you say anything about how it will potentially suit your driving style?
FR: I get the impression that it’s quite close to Formula 3 in terms of driving, especially with the power/downforce ratio being pretty similar. I’ve been told that the Yokohama tyres we’ll run on are a bit tricky to understand, so I’m guessing the key will be to adapt to them.
Q: Have you done any form of simulator running?
Q: There are turbo engines in Super Formula, and you got some experience of that last year in Indy Lights. Could that knowledge be of any use?
FR: When it comes to turbos, what you want to minimise is the amount of turbo lag. I don’t know how much of that there is in Super Formula, but it was massive in Indy Lights and I consequently suspect it won’t be as big of a deal here.
Q: At this very early stage, what do you see as your main challenge in all of this?
FR: I think it could be a bit of a “hit or miss” situation, coming over here as a European. Not everyone adapts to the environment, the long-haul travel and the working methodology – especially with the language barrier and so on. I’m sure there will be challenges, but so far it’s all been very positive and I personally think it’s a pleasure to work with new and interesting people and cultures.
Q: Super Formula has gained momentum in recent years, with several European top names entering the championship. Last year saw Stoffel Vandoorne take part, for example, while this season you’ll be up against the likes of reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly. Why is it such an appealing series, right now?
FR: I think it’s the combination of extreme performance, tough competition and strong support from the Japanese motor industry. After all, these are the most brutal cars you can drive outside F1, so it’s only natural for people to want to race them.
Q: Testing gets underway on Monday next week at Suzuka. What will you be looking to achieve by then?
FR: That will be a very important test. Very important. I’ll be aiming to get a lot of laps in, staying out of trouble and learning about the car, track and tyres in general. I’m not going to take it too steadily, though. I want to get up to speed quickly to make sure we can spend as much time as possible sorting out the car and working on the set-up.
Q: Anything else you’re particularly looking forward to in this adventure, beside the racing?
FR: The food! I’ve been a fan of Japanese cuisine since a while back, so I’m eager to explore it more in-depth. It’s hard not to enjoy Japan overall – it really is a wonderful country.
Super Formula SF14 – technical specifications
Supply: Dallara Automobili S.p.A (Italy)
Length: 5,268 mm
Width: 1,910 mm
Height: 960 mm
Weight: 660 kg minimum (driver on-board)
Gearbox: Ricardo, 6 forward speed, paddle shift
Brakes: Brembo calipers, Brembo carbon disc
Supply: Toyota and Honda
Capacity: 2,000 cc
Type: Inline-four, direct injection, turbo
Weight: 85 kg minimum
Output: 405kw (550 bhp) and over
Supply: Yokohama Rubber Co., Ltd.