Interview – Ahead of Spain Grand Prix

By Sylvain Langlois 6 months ago
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You said you wanted to wait four races until you determined where Haas F1 Team was in relation to its midfield counterparts. With four races in the books, where does Haas F1 Team stand?

“Generally, if you look at the first three races, we’ve been really consistent, really good. Sochi was a peculiar one. We struggled a little bit with the car. I struggled with my driving. We can analyze a lot from it. I don’t think it’s down to inconsistency, as it was last year, so I would say that I’m pretty pleased with the way we’ve started the year. I’m pleased with where the car is. We’re usually on the border line for getting into Q3. Now the big question is what the updates are going to do? How much of an upgrade are we going to get compared to others? I believe we’re on a good path, but you never know what the others are doing. It’s going to be good to go to Barcelona and see the work we’ve done.”

Much was made about the new cars for this season as they are demonstrably faster with more downforce and much wider tires. Despite the amount of change introduced this year, how normal does the new car feel after four races?

“As we saw in winter testing, and then in Melbourne to begin the season, we got a big surprise with the speed we can carry through the corners with the car. After a few races, though, you forget that and move on to what we have now. There are a few circuits such as the non-permanent ones where it’ll be fast, but most of the other ones, the grip and speed feels normal.”

Last year, finding the proper working range of the tires proved difficult. After racing at four very different venues in four very different environments, how is it to find the proper working range of this year’s tires?

“I think this year’s tires are a bit easier to work. Clearly, the tires are a big key – Russia was a good example, where a driver could do more than 30-something laps on ultrasofts. That’s something we need to analyze and understand a bit better. Generally though, this year’s tires have been better than what they’ve been in the past. They’re easier to work.”

You racked up a lot of laps at Barcelona earlier this year during winter testing. Do you have a higher level of comfortability with the car at Barcelona because you know what to expect?

“Everyone knows Barcelona very well. It’s good to judge which changes we’ve made and how much we’ve developed from winter testing to the race. I think Barcelona is going to be key in the season because it’s the first big update for a lot of drivers and teams. That’s where we need to see what we’ve done, and if it’s good enough or if we want more.”

The data Haas F1 Team had from last year is largely out of date because this year’s car is so different. But Barcelona allows you to have current data thanks to all the time you invested in testing. Granted, all of the other teams have 2017 data from testing too, but how valuable is it to arrive at a grand prix with pertinent data secured only two months ago compared to a year ago?

“It’s going to be better and there are a few things we can compare with winter testing. Again, I think with the updates the cars are going to be so much faster than we were in testing. It’s going to be hard to compare. I’m not watching last year’s data. We’re too far ahead now and it’s too different. It makes it more fun.”

It’s been two months since you tested at Barcelona. How do you expect the track to change between then and now?

“It’s normally much warmer, so the tires work much better. The track itself doesn’t move a lot. We’ve been so many times to Barcelona – we’ve seen it from minus 10 to plus 30 degrees.”

Barcelona marks the first European race on the Formula One schedule. Typically, many teams bring updates to their cars for the Spanish Grand Prix. Does Haas F1 Team have any updates for its cars and what are your expectations with these updates?

“We’ve got some pretty big updates coming. It’s going to be the first big test for us in 2017. The year is going to be mainly driven by updates and the performance it brings to the car. I think the car that was on pole in Melbourne, if you bring it to Abu Dhabi at the end of the year, I’m not even sure you’d make it to Q2. I’m pretty sure you cannot. Updates this year are going to be big, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Between the updates all the teams are expected to bring and the collective knowledge learned about the current car, how different is the Spanish Grand Prix weekend from when teams were in Barcelona two months ago for testing?

“Every grand prix is the same thing. You start the weekend trying to get the basics right. You’re working on setup and, of course, if you’ve got an update, on the first day you’re looking to see if it’s working and doing what it’s meant to do. If that’s the case then great, if not, you have to try and understand why and fine tune it in a certain way.”

Do you have any milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Barcelona?

“I’ve had my only fastest race lap in Formula One at Barcelona. Apart from that, in 2009 in GP2, I won the first race, and in 2011, I had some good overtaking there. It hasn’t always been a brilliant track for me.”

Grosjean’s fastest race lap in Formula One came at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix (1:26.250 on lap 53). It was the first fastest lap for a French driver since Jean Alesi at the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. – Ed.

What is your favorite part of the Barcelona circuit and why?

“I like turns one, two and three because they’re mid-to-high speed corners. It shows how the car is behaving and you really get the feel of the grip.”

With Barcelona’s mix of corners and abrasive surface, how physically demanding is the track in terms of what you have to do behind the wheel?

“It’s a very demanding track because you’ve got some high-speed corners, like the first sector, then you’ve got some very low-speed sections and corners, like the last sector of the track. It’s normally a good judge for the car, showing that you’re capable of having some good downforce at high speed and good mechanical grip in the low-speed turns.”

Describe a lap around Barcelona.

“Barcelona is probably the track you know best in the world. You can name every part of the layout. There’s a long straight, then the first two corners right and left. You carry quite a good speed into them, and then there’s the famous turn three, which you now take flat out. Turn four, there’s usually some front-locking. The hairpin into turn five, going down you don’t see the apex until late, so it’s a tricky corner. Turns seven and eight going up the hill lead to the very high-speed turn nine, which has a new curb on exit. Then you get to the hairpin at turn 10, which is very tricky under braking. Turns 11-15 are almost one corner – as a complex, it’s difficult to get a good flow around those corners. You need to get a good balance there. Turn 16 is the last corner and you want to try to stay as flat-out to prepare for the straight and get a good lap time.”

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