Interview – Ahead of Singapore GP
The past two grands prix have been at high-speed circuits where teams opt for minimal downforce. Belgium seemed to work out well for you and the team, but that wasn’t the case in Italy. Despite having to qualify in the wet on Saturday, what made these two high-speed tracks provide such different outcomes?
I think Monza was more just about the drag and the efficiency of the low downforce. At Spa-Francorchamps, there were a few more corners where we could exploit a bit more of the potential of the car. So yes, we struggled a bit more in Italy. The pace looked good on Friday, but over the grand prix it was a bit more complicated and difficult.
Now you head to a street circuit where downforce is much more necessary. Is the Singapore Grand Prix a venue that suits the Haas VF-17 better than the high-speed tracks?
I think it will. Every time we run maximum downforce, the car seems to work better. We’ve got a better efficiency between drag and downforce, so that’s good. The key for us in Singapore will be to get into the tire window. If we do so, we’ll be in a good place. But again, that’s not easy to achieve.
Singapore is one of only three night races on the Formula One schedule, but it’s also the original night race. Do you like competing at night?
I do like the Singapore Grand Prix. I do like competing in the night. It’s pretty good fun. It makes some great footage, and clearly Singapore is one of the most beautiful races you can have by night. It’s pretty awesome. It provides something a bit different on the calendar. I’m very much looking forward to it and seeing what we can do there.
Because the Singapore Grand Prix is at night, is there a heightened sense of speed?
It’s actually easier at night because the lights never change. The luminosity is always the same. You stick with the same visor, and driving at those speeds in those conditions is absolutely fine.
Can you describe the atmosphere generated by a night race? Is there a heightened sense of excitement and anticipation because the Singapore Grand Prix is so visually stimulating?
It’s pretty cool. Everyone loves it, especially the VIPs, who then go partying after the race. It’s a special one, for sure. It’s a race everyone waits for. It’s a tricky track, and you’re racing at night downtown when it’s very hot and humid, so there are a lot of factors that make it exciting.
Singapore’s layout forces drivers to run close to the track’s walls for the majority of a lap. While the margin for error is always low in Formula One, is it even lower at Marina Bay Street Circuit?
Yes. You pretty much have to hold your breath and hope for the best, especially when you’re pushing in qualifying, as you run so close to the walls.
How do you handle the bumpy nature of Singapore’s layout, and are there specific sections of the track you have to remember to avoid?
Especially between turns three and four, and on the long straight, it’s very bumpy. You really want to find the right line there. When you make an overtaking move there, you’ve really got to be sure you’ve got the car with you as it’s very tricky.
There are 23 turns at Marina Bay Street Circuit, the most of any Formula One venue. Which ones are the most treacherous and why?
To be honest, every corner is tricky. It’s difficult to just pick one.
Between the bumps and the heat, how physically taxing is the Singapore Grand Prix?
It can be very physical. All week we never see the sunlight, so that takes a bit of energy away. Then it’s humid, it’s hot and it’s always a long race. We usually reach the two-hour limit. It’s very, very demanding. I remember back in 2013, I lost four kilos (nine pounds) of water during the race, which is quite a lot.
In addition to its physicality, is the Singapore Grand Prix mentally exhausting because of the close proximity of the walls, its multitude of turns and high safety-car frequency?
Mentally it’s very difficult, as much as it is physical. It’s clearly one of the races where you need to be at your fittest in the season.
Despite the mental and physical nature of the Singapore Grand Prix, drivers love it. Why?
Simple, we love a challenge. That’s why we race in Formula One and that’s why we drive these cars and race at over 300 kph (186 mph). We love it.
Because of Singapore’s high heat and humidity, do you do anything special in advance of the race and during the race weekend to stay hydrated?
I think as long as you’re fit as you can be, that’s the most important thing. I cope pretty well with the heat, normally. I just get myself ready, jump in and go for it.
Where are the overtaking opportunities at Marina Bay Street Circuit?
On the long straight after turn four, and then again when you come back after the bridge on the second longest straight into the braking zone.
Prior to racing at the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Formula One, did you have any experience at that track?
Was your first Formula One race at Singapore in 2009 your first time racing under the lights? What did you think of the experience?
It was pretty cool. The lights are perfect, so you don’t really feel like you’re racing at night. I didn’t get many laps first time out, but it was a great experience.
What is your favorite part of the Marina Bay Street Circuit?
Good question. I like turns one to three – the first complex, basically.
Describe a lap around Marina Bay Street Circuit.
Main straight going into turn one, heavy braking, easy to front lock. You want to carry through some speed there. You go into a tight hairpin with a tricky throttle application. Then turn four is a mid-speed corner going into the longest straight on the track, big braking at the end of that. Then a right-hand side, 20-degree turn followed by a left-hand side, 90-degree turn. Then you go to the left carrying some speed with a right chicane. It’s pretty tricky going under the bridge. There’s a bit of a bump, tricky braking at the end before that left hairpin. On the back straight it’s important to get good traction. Big braking to go into the next right-hand side, 90-degree turn. The next braking zone is a bit tricky, then the chicane at (turns) 18 and 19, having passed the stadium, where there’s no room for error. Last sequence – lot of inside curb through turn 21. We see a lot of cars touching the wall on exit there. The final corner is the second quickest on the track. It’s pretty cool. You carry top speed from there to the start.