We’re halfway through the season and halfway through Haas F1 Team’s sophomore year. Can you provide an assessment of what the team has achieved so far and what you’d like to accomplish the rest of the year?
“It’s never easy to look back when you’re in the middle of a season at what we’ve achieved. I think the results are speaking for themselves. We’ve already scored as many points as we did in our first season and we’ve been very competitive at a lot of different tracks. We’ve been in Q3 a bunch of times. It’s a big step from last year, but there’s still more that we want to do. As Gene (Haas) would say, there’s no bad team in Formula One. It’s just a constant fight to get better than the others.”
We go from Silverstone – one of the fastest and most flowing circuits in Formula One – to the Hungaroring, which is one of the slowest circuits and also very technical. Does it take a few laps to forget about what you felt in the car at Silverstone, or are you able to just jump into the car and immediately get up to speed, despite the Hungaroring’s drastically different layout?
“You do get back in the car and find the pace straight away. I’ve been competing in Formula One for a few seasons and I know all the circuits and all the characteristics of each layout. It’s not a big deal. I jump in the car and find my rhythm. From there, you can start a good weekend.”
While the Hungaroring is known as a slower racetrack because of its tight layout, is that set to change this year because of the speeds you’re able to achieve with these faster, current-generation cars?
“Yes, probably. It could be a pretty big change from the past. Sector two is going to be flowing and flying. The last two corners are going to be much faster than they were before. I believe the layout, and the way the race will play out will be different. Saying that, overtaking could be a bit of a tough one.”
Will the faster speeds change how you attack certain portions of the Hungaroring?
“You always have to forget what you’re used to from previous years. Now everything is different and the cars are much faster. So yes, you do change your approach. Having done 10 races with the 2017 car, we know where the limits are.”
The Hungaroring is a tight circuit with a lot of corners, which means a lot of braking. You tried new Brembo brakes in practice and new Carbon Industrie (CI) brakes in qualifying and the race at Silverstone. Did it provide the comparison you were looking for?
“Honestly, yes. It’s never easy to change brakes on a race weekend because it changes much more than just the brakes with things like mapping and adjusting the setup. I think we got some good results from the CI package. Whatever we were running with Brembo – with the right spec and the right temperatures it wasn’t too bad.”
You ran Carbon Industrie brakes in the British Grand Prix while your teammate ran Brembo brakes. What’s next in terms of the brake package we’ll see used at the Hungaroring?
“It’ll be very dependent on cooling. When we’ve got the latest from Brembo, I’m happy with them. But if we can run the CIs, I’m probably going to stick with them.”
What’s the feel you need to have in your brakes to have the confidence to really push the car?
“There are a few things. When you hit the pedal you really want to feel the bite of the brakes. You want the car to slow down immediately. Then there’s the motivation through to the end of the braking, where you want to be able to slow down, or not slow down the car, in the final bit, to get to the apex while managing the locking.”
In five career Formula One starts at the Hungaroring you’ve finished in the top-10 three times, with a best finish of third in your first race there in 2012. What makes it such a good track for you?
“It’s difficult to explain. I’ve always had a good feeling in Hungary. I’ve always liked the track. It used to be very bumpy, but they resurfaced it last year. It’s a low-speed circuit. How the car handles is important. I’ve been lucky to have had cars that have performed well there over the years.”
You’re constantly turning the wheel at the Hungaroring and with the slower speeds, very little air flows into the car. Combined with the normally high temperatures experienced in Budapest, how physically demanding is the Hungarian Grand Prix?
“It can get very hot in Budapest. It’s not an easy race, but on the other hand, there’s not many high-speed corners on the track, so it’s more about keeping your focus and concentration all through the race. Regardless, we’re always keeping fit to prepare ourselves.”
Before the start of the season, all the drivers pushed their fitness level up a few notches to be better prepared for the higher g-forces these current-generation cars would exert on the body. After 10 races, you’re pretty used to the toll these cars put on your body. But will your increased fitness level be noticeable at the Hungaroring, where it’s typically very hot, very little air flows into the car and you’re constantly working the steering wheel?
“The Hungaroring is going to be warm, but that’s fine. I think the fitness level is more of a factor at high-speed circuits like Silverstone, Austria, Malaysia and Japan. Lower-speed circuits can be tougher, but the body is now used to it.”
How difficult is it to overtake at the Hungaroring and where are the overtaking opportunities?
“It’s very difficult to overtake at the Hungaroring. To be fair, I made one of the best overtakes of my life there in 2013, outside of turn four, on Felipe Massa. I got a drive-through penalty for that one for having four wheels off the track. That didn’t matter to me as it was one of my most beautiful overtaking moves ever.”
What made the move so rewarding for you, even with the penalty?
“Because it came at a corner where nobody is expecting you to overtake. It was an outside overtake on a high-speed corner. The penalty, I thought, was questionable, but I just enjoyed the move. It was a key time in the race for me to be able to try and win. I really had to push hard and I just really enjoyed that overtaking maneuver.”
We’re halfway through the season. How has it been to find and keep a tire’s working range?
“It’s something we need to get better at. Clearly, it’s very complicated and we haven’t got all the keys yet.”
How important is finding the tire’s optimum performance at the Hungaroring in terms of performance but also tire management?
“It’s key everywhere. You can be super-fast or you can be super-slow, depending if you’re in the window or not. You do need to work hard to get in the window. We look at all our options and what we’ve done in the past.”
A lot of grip, a lot of braking and a lot of high-energy demands all conspire against tires at the Hungaroring. How do you manage the tires and get the most out of them?
“It’s going to be our number one priority to get the tire to work for us and analyze the degradation, which can be high on some compounds. If we get the grip, we’ll get the lap time. Then we can do more pit stops and have more fun.”
Do you have any milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Hungaroring?
“I’ve had some great races at the Hungaroring. I had my first pole position in GP2 there in 2008. I had some good races after that in GP2. I also qualified on the front row of the Hungarian Grand Prix back in 2012.”
What is your favorite part the Hungaroring and why?
“I like sector two, the flowing section of the track, which is quite nice.”
Describe a lap around the Hungaroring.
“Straight line to start before big braking into the first hairpin. Turn two is a very tricky corner – a long left-hand side corner going downhill. It’s important to stay on the left from the exit for the throttle application to turn three. You want to be flat, and then high-speed turn four. Turn five is very bumpy – a long right-hand side corner, then you get to the chicane. After that there are some flowing corners which are really cool. Then you get to the last three corners. You need to brake big into the 90-degree, right-hand side turn, then the last two turns are the key. You finish with a long left corner, and then a very long right turn, where you really want to get going to get the lap done.”