You’ve been taking part in pit practice lately. What roles have you played during these practice sessions and what has it been like to see pit stops from outside the racecar?
“It’s actually quite fun. You know, I never changed a wheel before the Japanese Grand Prix. I was asked to come and push the car, because I’m part of the Operational 60, which I find surprising but, anyway, I was part of it. I got there and was asked if I’d ever changed a wheel. I said no, so I had a go. I loved it. I’m glad I don’t have to do it in a race. That’s a lot of pressure for the guys and it’s hard work. It’s great to spend time like this, though, and to get to do what the boys are doing every weekend. I did it again in Austin. I pushed the car. It’s quite hard work, it’s a heavy thing.”
If you weren’t a driver, what position would you want to have on the pit crew?
“Definitely not the front jack. Definitely not the rear jack. I would go for the gun.”
How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect the car, from engine performance, to brake performance to aero performance?
“Because we’ve got an engine turbo, we don’t lose that much performance. So, that’s a positive of the turbo era. Then, of course, the cooling of the engine, the cooling of the brakes, the downforce you get is very low compared to the wing you’re running. We have to work with it. I’m hoping we’re more prepared this year than in previous years. Hopefully, we can have a good race.”
How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect you physically, especially during the race?
“Not so much. I guess I’m used to the height from the mountains in Switzerland.”
Grip has always been in short supply at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. How do you compensate for the lack of grip?
“That I don’t know yet. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully, this year I’m much better than I was last year.”
Finding grip means getting the tires into their proper working window. With 18 races having been run this season, have you discovered any tricks to the trade in getting a particular tire compound into its appropriate working range, and if so, how do you keep it there?
“I think as the season goes on you’re always better toward the end than you were at the beginning. You know more things. We have a very limited amount of testing, so the races become tests as well. If you had the knowledge you have at the end of the year at the beginning, you’d be much better. Every year is a new start. It’s fresh, and with everything new, it’s difficult. I think we’re getting stronger every year. We’re getting better and better. We’re using every opportunity to get more experience.”
Explain what you do in qualifying to get the tires into their proper working range so you can extract the maximum amount of performance out of them for a fast lap.
“It depends a lot on the circuit. Some circuits you need a slow out-lap not to heat the tires too hard. Other circuits you really need to push hard on the out-lap to generate the temperature and the grip. It really does change circuit to circuit. We just have to go and see.”
The stadium section seems to be the most talked about portion of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez because of its sheer scope. What is it like to go through that area with all the fans in attendance during the driver’s parade, and what is it like to drive through there at speed during the race?
“There’s a great atmosphere in Mexico. It’s probably one of the best of the year. The driver parade, going through the stadium, is special. During the race you don’t see it, but after the checkered flag, it’s great to see it. The podium being there makes for a great image. It looks awesome from the outside.”
What is your favorite part about Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez?
“I like the first three corners. They’re pretty good.”
Describe a lap around Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
“Long straight line going into turn one with big braking, 90 degrees right-hand side, followed by a small chicane. It’s very important to get the second part right because you’ve got another long straight line. Then you’ve got another 90-degree left corner, and then a 90-degree right corner. That’s followed by a very weird double right-hander. It’s very difficult to find a line. Then you go to the middle section which is flowing, with mid- to high-speed left and right corners. Next it’s the entry to the stadium – big braking here, very tricky with the wall facing you. Then it’s a very slow hairpin in the stadium, as slow as Monaco. Finally, it’s the double right-hand corner with very important traction going into the old part of the oval to finish the lap.”