Japan’s Super Formula offers a fantastic wheel-bashing racing spectacle, pitting some of the world’s greatest young drivers against each other in incredibly close racing. We’ve already spoken to F1 ace Pierre Gasly and 2019 Super Formula champion Nick Cassidy to find out what it’s like to live and compete in Japan, but what does the championship itself have to offer talented young drivers, and how does it differ from other championships around the world? We’ve been speaking to the duo to find out more.
Gasly and Cassidy know a thing or two about Super Formula, with Gasly finishing runner-up in 2017 on his meteoric rise to Formula One, and Cassidy taking the championship in 2019 to complete the ‘triple’ in Japan, adding to his Super GT and Japan Formula 3 crowns.
Even among other categories, however, it’s Super Formula that comes the closest to F1, says Gasly. “Super Formula is really good in terms of downforce. It’s probably the closest series to Formula One in terms of pure downforce on the car, and corner speeds. In terms of power there is quite a big step from Super Formula to Formula One, of course. Now we have over 1,000hp in F1, and there aren’t many series that come close to it, so you will always have a step.”
Learning to handle high levels of downforce can be an eye-opener for young drivers more accustomed to playing on the limit with mechanical grip, but it’s a skill they’ll need to master if they’re to succeed in the world of Formula One, where cars can famously develop enough downforce to drive upside down. It’s not the only skill Super Formula can help drivers to master, however, as setting up the car properly can make all the difference between winning and coming middle or even slipping to the back of the pack.
“I think that setup is one of the most important things in this championship,” Cassidy explains. “We are all professional drivers who are very close on ability, so the setup, in my opinion, can be the defining factor for ultimate performance. I wish that wasn’t the case, but that’s motorsport!”
We are all professional drivers who are very close on ability, so the setup can be the defining factor for ultimate performance
Cassidy was quick to adapt to life in Super Formula and Japan’s other championships, citing his New Zealand heritage as one of the factors that helped him to succeed. “The grass roots racing in New Zealand is very strong,” he adds. “The country’s population is small, but racing at grass roots level is affordable so many young drivers can start. We can also start driving race cars at 13 years old, driving H-pattern gearbox cars, which I believe gives drivers a better understanding of various techniques at a younger age.”
Cassidy has also benefited from racing in other formulas, including Super GT, and points out that this is a rite of passage for many young drivers.
“It’s very common in Japan,” says Cassidy. “We are all professional drivers, driving for our manufacturers. Many people outside I think don’t realise how fast GT500 cars are, basically LMP1 level of performance. Huge downforce, high tire grip, so the driving is not so different to single seaters. I would consider myself mainly a single seater/prototype driver.”
Cassidy may have set the world of Super Formula alight over the past couple of years, but the young driver also has his sights set on other championships outside of Japan, taking part in Formula E’s rookie test earlier this year, and using his skills to set a blistering pace.
“I’ve been quite interested in Formula E for a while,” Cassidy explains. “I think the series has a great place in the world, and in racing. Their objectives and targets as a championship are things that I believe in on a personal level. Yes the cars are really different, so I wasn’t expecting an easy time adapting at all – I’m very pleased with how it went. I believe there will be opportunities here in the future and I’m excited to discover them at a later point.”
It’s easy to see that racing in Super Formula worked out for Gasly, with the experience gained helping him to develop his natural talent and learn the skills necessary to thrive at the very top, but what’s next for Cassidy?
“That’s an interesting question. I find this a year where I am consistently assessing my future, and that will be answered later in 2020. For the meantime though, I’m as motivated as ever to keep winning races and championships.”