Belgium is the home of Haas Automation’s European headquarters. You’ve been to many appearances and interacted with many Haas Automation customers. How have they embraced the team and Gene Haas’ endeavor into Formula One?
“Every time we do something with Haas Automation it’s been very well organized and we always receive a very warm welcome from all the guests attending. It’s been great to be representing Haas Automation in Formula One. It’s a big name in motorsports and a big name in industry. Whenever we meet their customers, especially when we’re with Gene (Haas), they’re always very happy. It feels like a big family, which is nice to be a part of.”
Spa has been called a driver’s track. Why?
“It’s just a great track. There are very high-speed corners and there are a lot of turns, different types, some high speed, some low – just a good variety overall. It gives you a good feeling to drive.”
Spa has always been an incredibly fast racetrack. Was that sensation of speed heightened last year with this new generation car? If so, were there any sections in particular where you noticed the uptick in speed?
“Spa is a very high-speed circuit with a lot of good fun and good memories, but I’ve got to admit that last year from turn five to the backstraight of turn 15, the whole middle part of the circuit has been much faster. We’ve had that feeling from the extra grip and downforce of the new cars.”
Spa has high-speed straights and corners combined with a tight and twisting section, especially between turns eight and 15. How do you set up your car to tackle all the different aspects of the track? Do you have to make sacrifices in one section to gain an edge in other sections?
“You always see different approaches at Spa. Either you’re fast in sector one and sector three, which are the high-speed sectors, or you’re fast in sector two, which has more of the corners. Both work pretty well, so it’s a matter of how you want to approach the race.”
Can you describe the sensation you feel inside the car when you drive through Eau Rouge and Raidillon? Are you able to take that section flat out?
“The first lap you go through flat out, you feel sick, like you’re on a rollercoaster because it goes up and down. You’re thinking, will I make that for the race? But, once you’ve done it once, it’s all ok and you just enjoy the g-forces.”
How important is it to enter Eau Rouge in clean air to ensure you have the maximum amount of downforce available?
“It’s certainly a corner where you don’t want to have a mistake. Qualifying in clean air is certainly quite good. On the other hand, if you get a big tow, you can have a massive advantage going into turn five. There’s a bit of an argument for both philosophies there.”
Your most recent podium was earned in the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. You started ninth and made it all the way to third, finishing behind the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. How did you make up so many positions?
“We had a good car in Belgium that year. I had qualified fourth, but started ninth due to a gearbox penalty. We had a good strategy and good timing with a safety car, too. I managed to overtake a few cars and get on the podium. Honestly, it was one of those weekends where everything just goes to plan.”
Prior to the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix, your last podium came in 2013 at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. How good did it feel to get back on the podium, especially after enduring a 2014 season where you only had two point-scoring finishes?
“It was great for all the guys, and for myself. We had a perfect weekend on the track. For everyone involved, it was a very good feeling. I guess it was kind of the same feeling as scoring the first points for Haas.”
Does a race like you had at Spa in 2015, where after a trying season in 2014, remind you that podiums are possible with determination and hard work?
“If I turn up at a race weekend not thinking that I’m the best, or that I can’t win the race, I’d be better off staying at home with my children. I always want to be on the podium. I always want to try to win the race. Of course, it depends a lot on the car, but in the end, you can never give up and you always strive to give your best. That’s the mentality you should have.”
Do you have milestones or moments from your junior career that you enjoyed at Spa?
“I won the GP2 title there in 2011. That was a great year.”
What is your favorite part of Spa?
“I can’t choose just one part and say it’s my favorite. The whole circuit just comes together nicely.”
Describe a lap around Spa.
“You start off with the hairpin at La Source. It’s a very low-speed corner. You need a good exit to go flat out up to Eau Rogue and then you’re on to turn five, the first right-left corner. That’s normally in fourth gear. Turn seven is quite good fun. It’s a high-speed corner going down. Then you’ve got turn eight with tricky braking. You need to be well positioned on the right hand side of the exit for turn nine. Then you’re downhill again massively to the double-left turns 10 and 11 – the fastest corner of the circuit. Then it’s on to the second right-to-left corner, carrying a bit more speed than you did into (turns) five and six. The next double right hander is very important to go to the backstraight, which is very long. You then go through the Bus Stop chicane – you need big braking. Then you have a very tricky low-speed corner, where the exit and the traction are tricky. It’s very difficult. If you get it right, you get a good lap time.”