Interview – Before Austria Grand Prix

By Sylvain Langlois 3 months ago
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Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Saturday 24 June 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONZ7661

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was obviously a frustrating experience, but the silver lining in motorsports is that there is always another race weekend. How important is it to hit a reset button in Austria and have a productive, systematic weekend beginning with FP1 and continuing right through the race?

“I think it’s important that we sort out our problems and get back to a decent level. I think there were some positives from Baku, as there always are. There were some negatives, of course, but I’m very much looking forward to going back to Austria. We’ll work on the things we can improve and I’m hoping for a better result. We had a good race there last year. I’m hoping the car works well and it should be a fun track to drive.”

When drivers talk about finding the balance of the car, is it aero balance, mechanical balance, brake balance or a combination of all three?

“It’s a combination of all three. You cannot take one apart. Aero and mechanical balance go together, and the brake balance fine-tunes the car. It’s very difficult to remove one. You work with your philosophy and you set up from there.”

If one of those areas of balance is off, does it have a snowball effect with the rest of the car’s handling? How do you attempt to overcome it?

“Yes, it’s definitely a snowball effect. When you lose, let’s say the aero balance, then you try to compensate with the brake balance going rearward, then the mechanical balance going rearward. Nothing is then putting load on the front tires and, therefore, you’ve got front-locking. It’s about finding the right balance, not putting too much on things, but finding the right compromise because you’re never going to get a full, perfect lap with the car balance.”

Most drivers are creatures of habit, where a similar routine is followed no matter the venue. With Austria marking the beginning of a five-race European stretch that takes us all the way through August, how helpful is it to have some uniformity in that your changing room is the same, your hospitality unit is the same, your debriefing room is the same, etc., because all of our trucks will be at all of these races?

“It’s good that we’ve got all of our own stuff with these races. We have very good equipment. Everything we have is nearly brand new. Not too much really changes on a race weekend though, even on the fly-aways.”

You’re a family man and Geneva is home. How valuable is this stretch of races because the travel time to each venue is so much less intense, allowing you more days at home?

“We’ve been traveling a lot. It’s good to be able to come to the European races. You can arrive at the track on Thursday morning and be home by dinner time on Sunday, which is good for my kids. It also allows us a bit more time to prepare our fitness. You don’t have to get used to jetlag and you know more of the food you’re going to be eating. It really helps us reach our peak performance.”

Because the travel is less intense, does this summer stretch of European races allow you to ratchet up your physical training, or does it simply allow you to get into more of a routine?

“We’ll look to step it up now. When we’re traveling and dealing with time-zone changes and so on, it’s definitely important to keep a routine and still focus on training. We have a bit more time now that we’re on the European circuit. The three-week summer break will also allow us to work hard on fitness. You start with a good level and then you have to work to maintain it. Summer’s great because it’s a bit easier. You can do a lot more outside, which I enjoy.”

What is your favorite form of exercise? Is it running, cycling, weightlifting, or is it more about what you feel like doing on a particular day?

“A lot of it depends on the day and the weather. For example, if it’s 30 degrees (Celsius) then I’m cycling, for sure, not running. It also depends on what time I have available. I like playing tennis as well. Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself and do something quite hard. It can give you a boost for the next race.”

Much was made about the fitness level drivers needed to have this year to handle the heightened g-forces and faster speeds of this new-generation car. Was the strain on the body as much as you expected and after eight races does everything seem pretty normal, despite all the talk of needing to be stronger to drive these cars?

“Personally, I prepared too much for 2017, but it’s better being too prepared than not enough. The cars are much harder, physically, than they were before. They’re great fun to drive. It brings greater challenges. A lot is related to how the tires are working. You can push on the tires, but not as much as you would like. Everything now feels normal. The speed we’re doing in the car feels normal. I guess if we went back to the previous generation of cars, we’d out-brake ourselves every single corner.”

The Red Bull Ring is a relatively short circuit, but its layout covers a wide range of conditions. Is it akin to some other tracks in Formula One or is it unique?

“It’s a funny place to race being in the middle of the mountains. The circuit is very short. The lap time is almost like Monaco. There are some overtaking opportunities. I like going there, and the surrounding area looks a lot like Switzerland.”

Do you have any milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at the Red Bull Ring?

“The first time I raced the Red Bull Ring was in Formula One in 2014. I have no moments there from my time in the junior categories. It’s a track I quite like and I’m very much looking forward to it.”

What is your favorite part of the Red Bull Ring?

“I quite like the middle sector. There are medium- to high-speed corners. The track, in general, has two very different parts. You’ve got turn one and turn two, which are very similar. Both are 90-degree turns with big braking and long, straight lines. You’ve then got the second part, which is more flowing.”

Describe a lap around the Red Bull Ring.

“You start with big braking into turn one, a 90-degree corner. It’s very important to go early on the power. There’s then a long straight line going up to turn two where you brake very late into the corner, and there’s a change of camber. You go flat again after that to turn three. Again, tricky braking there as you’re going downhill. Then you’ve got a double-left corner, medium- to high-speed turns. The last couple of turns are the same as you go up the hill and then down again. It can be pretty tricky, but if you get the grip under the car and a good balance, it can be a lot of fun to drive.”

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