Finding and then holding onto the tires’ proper operating window proved a challenge last year. How has it been so far this year?
“It’s still a challenge and it’s still really what makes the car go fast or not. We put a lot of effort into that, and we’ve got some good people helping us to make sure we do that right.”
For the first time in recent memory, Pirelli isn’t bringing a sequential set of tire compounds. There’s a jump between the Yellow soft tire and the Purple ultrasoft, with the Red supersoft not a part of Pirelli’s lineup. How drastic is the difference between the soft and ultrasoft, and will you miss that gradual change between compounds?
“I guess it’s going to open strategies, especially if there’s quite a lot of degradation on the ultrasofts. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do. In China, the weather can be challenging – it can be cold or hot. A lot will depend on that.”
Overtaking, or a lack thereof, has been a topic of late. What would you like to see happen to encourage more overtaking during a race?
“I think that’s something Formula One is working on. Clearly, it’s not easy to overtake, but we know that Melbourne’s one of the trickiest circuits to overtake on. I don’t think we need to jump to conclusions. We can wait a few races to see how it goes.”
Are expanding the DRS zones one way to increase overtaking opportunities? What are the pros and cons to that?
“There are no cons, only pros. You just go faster in a straight line, and yes, it’s a way to do it, clearly.”
When you’re behind another car, what does the “dirty air” or turbulence from that car do to your car? How does it affect the feel of your racecar?
“You lose downforce, as if you have a smaller wing on your car. You slide more, and when you slide more, the tires overheat. When that happens, the grip goes even more, which means you slide even more. It’s a cycle. That’s basically what’s happening. Normally, you lose a bit more of front end than rear end. Generally, it just feels like you’re on a lighter downforce package.”
So, after talking about operating windows for your tires and DRS zones for overtaking, how does Shanghai shape up in terms of finding the right tire balance and being able to overtake?
“Overtaking in China is always pretty good – it’s always exciting. The balance is really difficult to find because there’s a lot of demands on the front tires, which makes it tricky. One of the main concerns is trying to find a way to get the best from the front tires.”
In six career Formula One races at Shanghai International Circuit, you’ve had three point-paying finishes and all of them came from a top-10 starting spot. It shows how important qualifying is, but it also seems to showcase your talents. Is there something about Shanghai that plays to your strengths?
“No. Shanghai is a tricky track because it’s very different from the early stages in the year. It’s a front-limited circuit, meaning that the car needs to work well with front tires. If it doesn’t, then it gets very tricky. Overtaking in Shanghai is not impossible. There’s the long backstraight with DRS helping overtaking maneuvers. In general, if the car is good in qualifying, the race should be quite good. If not, then in the race you’re going to struggle. If you qualify in the top-10, you should finish in the top-10. If you’re not, then it’s harder. I’ve had good cars in Shanghai, therefore I’ve been able to score points.”
What is your favorite part of Shanghai International Circuit and why?
“I like the high-speed corners at (turns) five and six. It’s just an amazing part.”
Is there a specific portion of Shanghai International Circuit that is more challenging than other aspects of the track?
“Yes, turns one, two and three. It’s very challenging. There’s a lot of demand on the front tires, and it’s not easy to find the perfect lane. Then being up on the backstraight, that long right-hand side corner, going onto the throttle, as well, is important because you’ve got one-and-a-half kilometer of straight line. You need to be as early as possible on the power.”
Explain a lap around Shanghai International Circuit, especially now after having competed there with the faster, current-generation car.
“The biggest difference with the current-generation car is the entry speed into turn one, the minimum speed between turns five and six, and the braking at the end of the straight lines, which is very late. Those are the spots where you really feel the difference in the current cars.”