Yamamoto: Losing points leads highlights my "weakness"
Naoki Yamamoto says losing a previously-healthy Super Formula championship lead in last weekend's Motegi race has highlighted a “weakness” that he must cure to defend his title.
Yamamoto held a nine-point advantage over chief title rival Nick Cassidy after the opening three rounds of the campaign, during which he won one race and finished second twice.
However, he has finished outside the points in both races since then, allowing an in-form Cassidy to seize the championship lead by one point.
Yamamoto simply appeared to lack pace in a wet race at Fuji, while he couldn’t recover at Motegi after stalling on the formation lap, managing only ninth place.
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The 31-year-old's mid-season slump is reminiscent of 2018, where he similarly conceded a massive points advantage with three lacklustre results before bouncing back to finally win the title with victory in the Suzuka finale.
Speaking after Motegi, the Dandelion driver says he must dig deeper to deliver the results if he’s to win the Super Formula title for the third time in his career.
“Having the championship order reversed at the top isn’t something I wanted,” Yamamoto said. “I realised my weakness again and I understand that I have to work harder [to fight] against strong rivals.
“The end result is all about the effort. The only thing I have to prove is the results, and if I don't have the results, I'll have no power. I want to return to a position where I can show my strength, and win the champion in the remaining two rounds at all costs.
“This time I was in a difficult condition and I had to make some changes - for better or worse. I hope I can make use of this for the next round in Okayama.”
Cassidy qualified only 12th but was able to climb to third with an alternative strategy, ditching the medium tyres on lap four of 51 and going to the end on soft tyres.
The Kiwi’s pace crucially didn’t drop off on worn tyres, as was the case with some front-runners, which meant that he was able to pass both Nirei Fukuzumi and Alex Palou after the duo made their stops late in the race.
“My strategy was all about running in clean air,” Cassidy explained. “But the strategy I chose is of course the slower strategy.
“Because I started on medium tyres, but in my pitstop I need to go to full tank. And obviously the leaders, we have the same age soft tyre, only four laps difference, but it’s the same age, but they are 30kg lighter on fuel.
“So for me to close the gap [with a] 30kg heavier car, you need really amazing speed. But today we had that; I’m thankful to our speed [so] we could get this result.
“I had Alex’s laptime on my pitboard, plus my gap to Alex and then [race winner] Ryo [Hirakawa]. and just making sure I was faster than the leaders, bring the gap down a little bit.
“And I was trying to not be like eight tenths faster because I needed the tyre for the finish. I still I had to do 48 laps on the tyres.
“It was higher at the start not to push too much, but yeah I could easily manage today to [be] four tenths faster than the leaders so we had very, very good pace.”
- All Super Formula races are streamed live and for free on Motorsport.tv.
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