Redemption for Sho Tsuboi? 6 takeaways from Super Formula’s first pre-season test

While European junior series completed their pre-season testing already last week, this week it was time for the Japanese Super Formula Championship to enter a track for the first time in 2022. After a long-awaited return of the Suzuka Fan Appreciation Days, at which all 21 Super Formula drivers showed up for a time trial contest, two days of intense testing work followed. Here are F1 Feeder Series’ six takeaways from that very first Super Formula pre-season test.

By René Oudman

On with the Sho

Where did Sho Tsuboi conclude the 2021 season? We don’t even dare to say it out loud, so we’ll whisper it: he finished fifteenth. As the revelation of the 2020 season, in which Tsuboi won two out of seven races, collecting a brilliant third in the championship, stakes were high for the new P.mu/cerumo – INGING team leader. But while some tipped Tsuboi for the 2021 Super Formula title, the driver was nowhere to be seen last year. In seven outings, he only managed one seventh and one ninth place.

To make matters worse for Tsuboi, rookie teammate Sena Sakaguchi outscored him 35 ½ to 6 – that’s nearly factor six. Needless to say, Tsuboi wants and needs to raise his game in 2022. 

The 26-year old, for whom 2021 wasn’t all doom and gloom – he actually won the SUPER GT title – kickstarted his 2022 campaign in the best possible way. Tsuboi swept the time sheets at Suzuka, clocking fastest times on Monday and Tuesday, logically ending up P1 in the combined timetable. With the 1.35.470 lap produced on Monday morning, Tsuboi would have gotten pole position for both Suzuka rounds last year.

Cool runnings

That lighting quick lap of Tsuboi was possible thanks to weather conditions. It was sunny, slightly breezy (with winds in the tail on the start-finish line) and chilly – the ideal circumstances for a race track on which drivers need to get loads of testing laps in. Suzuka was rubbered in quite good as well, as the aforementioned Fan Appreciation Days had just been held on Saturday and Sunday.

For the 2022 Super Formula drivers, this was the first time to get out on track in their new colors: all drivers were invited to compete in a time trial during the Fan Appreciation Days, in which all drove one quick lap. After a chilly Monday, a minor temperature rise on Tuesday in effect meant slower lap times. 

Hit the gas

It has always been critical for Super Formula drivers to adapt quickly to track and weather circumstances, but for 2022 it will be even more important to get a good lap time in as soon as possible. After fourteen seasons, the Q1-Q2-Q3 qualifying has been changed. There’s no room for Q3 anymore – qualifying will only have a Q1 and a Q2 this year. That puts even more pressure on the drivers’ shoulders, as they can’t be loafing around in Q2 anymore. 

While testing times do not tell the complete story, it seemed like TOM’S driver Ritomo Miyata was one of only few who needed a lot of time to adjust. The 2020 Super Formula Lights champion posted his quickest laps in the afternoon sessions. Miyata was the only driver to do so – Naoki Yamamoto improved his lap time on Monday afternoon as well, but clocked his fastest Tuesday time in the morning session. Sacha Fenestraz, Sena Sakaguchi and Tadasuke Makino worked the other way round, posting their fastest Tuesday times in the afternoon session, after recording their fastest Monday laps in the morning.

Giuliano Alesi | Credit: Super Formula

Mile-eater Club

Under the 2021 race length rules, Super Formula races at Suzuka were 30 laps long. That means Hiroki Otsu nearly drove five complete race distances in only two days’ time, as the new Dandelion recruit worked his backside off at Suzuka, completing no less than 145 laps. Giuliano Alesi and Tadasuke Makino joined Otsu’s mile-eater club by respectively lapping the track 142 and 140 times. 

Bizarre stat: none of the 21 competitors drove less than one-hundred laps, with Carenex Team Impul’s Yuhi Sekiguchi the least productive driver with 106 laps. Rookie and Red Bull junior Ren Sato recorded the most laps in one session, driving around the Suzuka Circuit 46 times (=207 km/166 mi) in only two hours on Tuesday afternoon.

Still a handful

With Tsuboi’s fastest lap only five seconds off Lewis Hamilton’s pole position pace for the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix, it’s clear that Super Formula is still one of the fastest single-seaters on the globe. All that power makes the Dallara SF-19 one of the toughest cars to hustle around a race track and there were quite a few spins. 

Rookie Atsushi Miyake as well as well-known, respected veterans like Kamui Kobayashi, Nobuharu Matsushita and Ryo Hirakawa didn’t manage to keep their cars pointed in the right direction at all times. Add Sacha Fenestraz’s crash on Tuesday morning to the calamity report, and track marshals had to wave a red flag five times during the four sessions. 

Design teams deliver again

How on earth are Japanese designer teams capable of delivering every single time? The Super Formula grid of 2022 actually looks even better than it did in 2021, and that was already a big season for color palette lovers. The new KCMG’s really stand out with their striking yellow-and-green liveries, whereas you cannot miss the now-blue-colored Kondō cars. 

Nakajima Racing has added a lovely touch of pink to their haloes as their main sponsor revamped their image, INGING returned to grey, the Mugen liveries are as good as ever and Kuo Vantelin Team TOM’S switched to an even more sophisticated green and black look. If the races are as good as the liveries, we’re up for a treat this year.

Combined results of the first 2022 Super Formula Pre-season test at Suzuka

PosNameTimeDrivenLaps
1S TSUBOI1.35.470 M/m121
2T NOJIRI1.35.530 M/m131
3H OTSU1.35.653 M/m145
4S FENESTRAZ1.35.707 M/m108
5Y SEKIGUCHI1.35.819 M/m106
6T MAKINO1.35.868 M/m140
7K YAMASHITA1.35.878 M/m112
8T OYU1.35.938 T/m138
9K KOBAYASHI1.35.963 M/m114
10N YAMAMOTO1.36.090 M/a120
11N FUKUZUMI1.36.154 M/m128
12N MATSUSHITA1.36.167 M/m123
13R MIYATA1.36.167 M/a119
14G ALESI1.36.253 M/m142
15K OSHIMA1.36.279 M/m126
16R HIRAKAWA1.36.327 M/m113
17R SATO1.36.442 M/m139
18U SASAHARA1.36.664 M/m133
19Y KUNIMOTO1.36.704 T/m109
20S SAKAGUCHI1.36.759 M/m126
21A MIYAKE1.37.097 T/m130

Header photo credit: Super Formula

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