Interview – Ahead of Russia Grand Prix

By Sylvain Langlois 1 year ago
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You said in Australia that this year’s car is brutal to drive due to the increased speeds and heightened g-force. But after three races, have you become accustomed to how the current car affects your body?

“Yes we have. The first few races yes, you always feel a bit rusty from the winter. But then after three races, now you know what to expect. Some circuits are always more difficult than others, and it depends a lot on how the tires are working. In Bahrain we had quite a big (tire) degradation. That means you lose the grip, and then it’s not as hard as the first lap in the car. I’m pretty sure at some racetracks, like Suzuka, it will be physically demanding, and some others, like Bahrain, it’s a bit less.”

Track records have been broken at every venue this year, emphasizing the drastic increase in speeds. How has this affected your role as a driver? Is there less margin for error because you have to be more precise, more accurate?

“With this year’s car you need to be much more precise, your coordination with your eyes, point of vision and everything else. You need to be more on it. When you turn two-to-three tenths later than you should have, it’s already one meter, whereas in the past it was maybe 50 centimeters. It makes a big difference.”

Coming into the season, there was a question as to how much overtaking was actually possible. Between China and Bahrain, there seemed to be a lot of passing, and you did your fair share, including early in the Bahrain Grand Prix where you were holding off both Toro Rossos and going three-wide with the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and the Force India of Esteban Ocon. Are you surprised at the amount of overtaking opportunities this year and do you feel it puts more of the race in your hands?

“I think overtaking is clearly harder than it was in the past, which is maybe not a bad thing. You have to be a bit more creative in trying to go for it. That’s pretty cool. Again, overtaking at some tracks is going to be very tricky, and others it’s not.”

You’ve said all along that the Haas VF-17 has speed and a good overall balance. How important was it to finally translate what you’ve felt in the car to a point-paying finish at Bahrain?

“It was good to score points in Bahrain. Clearly, we deserved them – since race one, actually. I think the most encouraging fact for now is that the car is performing well everywhere we’ve been. So now we go to Russia, which was a bit of a tough one for us last year. We’ll see if we’ve made progress and if the car is working well at every type of circuit. If so, then pretty much everywhere we could score points.”

The Sochi Autodrom seems to emulate Bahrain in terms of setup. How much of what you learned in Bahrain can be transferred to the Russian Grand Prix?

“A lot will depend on the temperature. The tarmac in Bahrain is very rough. It’s very smooth in Russia. There’s a lot that we need to think about. I think clearly we’ve got a good baseline, so we’re going to keep working on that and keep trying to improve the car and see what we get in Sochi.”

What is your favorite part of the Sochi Autodrom and why?

“I do quite like the fast turn three. It’s a very high-speed corner, flat out, then just going into turn four, coming out of the corner, then braking straight away for turn four. I think the corners flow into each other quite nicely. It’s a good track to drive.”

Is there a specific portion of the Sochi Autodrom that is more challenging than other aspects of the track?

“Yes, there’s the braking after the second straight-line DRS zone. You’re braking with g-forces then going underneath the bridge. It’s very twisty and the tires are having a tough time around there. That’s where you really need to get a good balance.”

Explain a lap around the Sochi Autodrom.

“There’s a very long straight line to start, followed by big braking into a right-hand side corner, taken in third or fourth gear. Then you have the famous turn three, which is flat out in qualifying. Then you go into turn four – you can carry quite good speed into it. The next few corners are very similar. They flow nicely and you enjoy some good speed in the car. Then you go on the backstraight, again with very tricky braking. Then the last section of the track is much slower, in particular the last two corners. The pit entry is also a bit tricky. The finish line is straight at the last corner, so depending if you’re on a qualifying lap or a racing lap, each one is different.”

The Sochi Autodrom runs around the Olympic Village, as Sochi hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Do you follow the Olympics when they take place? Do you have a preference for either the Winter or Summer Olympics, and is there a specific event you like to watch?

“I do follow the Olympics. My grandfather competed twice in the Olympic Games as a skier. The Olympics are something very important to my family. It’s always a pleasure to see where the flame is and sharing in that spirit. Hopefully, we’ll have a good race in Sochi.”

Fernand Grosjean, Romain’s grandfather, was an alpine skier who competed at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland and at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway. In 1948, he finished eighth in the alpine skiiing downhill competition and 16th in the combined event (downhill and slalom). In 1952, he finished 11th in the giant slalom competition. – Ed.

Much has been made of Fernando Alonso opting to compete in the Indianapolis 500 instead of at Monaco. If there’s one race outside of Formula One that you could run, and management approved it, what would it be and why?

“The 24 Hours of Le Mans. That’s the race I want to win before I completely retire. I’m sure I’m going to have some time after Formula One. I’m not in a rush. I’ve raced there once, in 2010, and I fell in love with the whole race. I think it would be great to be a winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”

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