What was your first experience of racing a car at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and how did you get on?
“I think it was back in 2004 in a Formula Renault Eurocup race. There was something like 45 cars on the grid back then. I know we didn’t qualify that well, and in those circumstances, Spa always becomes an interesting race. When you see the circuit on TV, it’s one of the few where you really see how up and down it actually is. But when you get there in real life, it really goes up and down. I think the maximum gradient of Eau Rouge is something like 20 percent. It’s a big thing. In a faster car though, the better Spa gets.”
Describe the feeling of wheeling a Formula One car around Spa-Francorchamps for the first time, picking up speed and testing the limits of the circuit. What stood out most on your debut there in a Formula One car?
“Obviously, at Spa it’s all about the speed, you really see that. When you drive a Formula One car you go down Raidillon, reaching 300 kph before you go there then you feel like the wall’s in front of you. The corners are very flowing through the middle part of the track, then you’ve got Pouhon, the double-left corner – which is absolutely mega. That’s probably the best corner of the whole season. The low speed corners, the last turn and first turn, they’re quite key for overtaking. The key is always finding the right balance between the flowing corners and those two low speed ones. Every year in Spa though, when I go through Eau Rouge for the first time in the weekend, I feel sick. My stomach really goes up and down, but it goes away after the first timed lap. It’s an amazing circuit.”
You last stood on the Formula One podium at Spa in the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix after a heroic drive in the troublesome Lotus E23. Where would that drive rank in your list of personal bests and is it extra special to savour a podium at such an historic circuit?
“Yes, obviously it was a very good weekend for us – well, sort of a good weekend, there were a few issues outside of the track, but on track everything was good. From free practice the car worked really well, then I think I qualified fourth. In the race I came back from ninth, we had a gearbox penalty after quali. Everything worked to plan in the race. I could overtake the Red Bull, the Williams and we had a good level of drag versus grip. On that day it just felt easy – those are your best drives as everything just feels natural. Taking a podium at Spa is always very special. Especially for me, I’ve had a bit of a hate-love relationship with Spa. Obviously, a lot of people remember the start in 2012, but I’d rather remember the 2015 podium.”
Off track you keep yourself busy now, amongst other things, managing your own esports team? What led you down that path and what excites you the most about that side of the industry?
“Well the lockdown and self-isolating this year pushed things forward. I really enjoy managing my esports team, finding the sponsors, talking to the drivers and looking at which races they’re going to do. I also get involved in some of the races. It’s time consuming and now that the season has started, I’m not as involved as I was early on, even though when I get home I do a bit of driving myself. I always keep an eye on the results and make sure our cars are good. I just think it’s great that anyone in the world can drive against guys like Max Verstappen, Lando Norris – they’re on the games, as well as myself and so on. It’s great fun. Yes, it’s different from real racing, but it’s also as close as it can get in terms of simulation. It’s great that we get to chat with people, race against them, and things like Twitch make it easy to engage with people.”