Competing in only his second race weekend in Japan’s premier single-seater series as a substitute for Kazuki Nakajima, Alesi mastered the tricky wet conditions in Autopolis qualifying to beat TOM’S teammate Ritomo Miyata to pole position by just 0.085s.
The heavily-delayed session was interrupted by four red flags and saw weather conditions change by the minute, with Alesi’s time of 1m38.252s coming after the third stoppage.
It marked the 21-year-old’s first pole position in any racing category since the 2015 French Formula 4 championship, as he never qualified on the front row during his five seasons on the Formula 1 support bill in GP3 and Formula 2.
Asked by Motorsport.com about how he felt after ending his pole drought, Alesi said: “I feel over the moon because there were times in GP3 I wasn’t so far from pole, just at the last minute someone beat me to it.
“Today I felt I did the best I could, I was in the best conditions that I’ve ever been in to be able to perform, and the feeling to have delivered when everything is there at your disposal is amazing.
“This really feels like a reward in a way for the tough times in these past few years and the work I’ve put in on myself and the team to assemble this.”
Giuliano Alesi, Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Alesi said he knew he had to take extra risks on the lap that granted him a surprise pole position, knowing that the conditions would deteriorate later in the 40-minute session.
“I did feel that lap it was raining, so I knew it was now or never and I took some risks,” he said.
“It felt more or less the same [in terms of track conditions], just in the third sector I took more risks where I didn’t the run before, and that was where I made up most of the time. Until that, the laptime was about the same, but I made the difference in last sector.”
Alesi is competing in his first season in Japan and had previously never driven at Autopolis, a track that hosted a round of the World SportsCar Championship in 1991 but has since been primarily used for domestic competition.
The French driver said the experience he gained in the supporting Super Formula Lights series, where he is competing full-time this year, helped him gain a better understanding of driving around Autopolis in wet-weather conditions.
He finished second in the SF Lights race that proceded Super Formula behind Atsushi Miyake, and currently holds the same spot in the drivers’ standings.
“It definitely did help me recover the lack of experience on this track compared to the other drivers, especially given the fact it’s my first time in Autopolis,” said Alesi.
“I have little experience with Super Formula, so the Lights race helped me get a feel for where it was dangerous and easy to go off. But during qualifying, when we were all improving, the track was slowly drying up.
“It was just [about] getting as much mileage, that definitely helps. Everything has been helping me, Lights with Super Formula and Super Formula with Lights.”