LRGP prepares for round six of the season in Monaco.
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Nick Heidfeld: “The atmosphere is amazing and it’s a crazy race”
You made a strong performance in Spain after starting the race at the very back of the grid?
Yes, I was satisfied with finishing eighth after starting last. I had to be determined and fight through the field with a number of overtaking manœuvres so it was good fun for me behind the wheel – I enjoyed the race a lot. And similarly to Turkey, with one or two laps more I could have gained a couple of positions from the two Mercedes cars, but it was still a good result and gives me lots of confidence going into Monaco.
Looking ahead to Monaco – how do you think the team can compete there?
Monaco is a very different track from the Circuit de Cataluña. The circuit is not a dedicated race track which means it is used by public vehicles. It is more bumpy than a race track, but the surface is actually very smooth meaning it is very slippery. We will be using Pirelli’s softest tyres for this race, and this will be a key factor. It will be interesting to see how we can compete there, but in the past the car has been well-suited to the circuit and I’m confident it will be the same this year.
Talking about the tyres, which is a hot topic at the moment, how do you expect them to behave?
Well, over the course of the weekend, the track surface has historically improved more than any other circuit on the F1 calendar. This time around it will be interesting to see by how much and in what way it improves because these Pirelli tyres work very differently from the Bridgestone tyres we used previously. I expect tyres will be a key factor in Monaco, as they have been at the other races too.
Tell us more about the experience of the Monaco Grand Prix – it’s known to be quite a busy few days…
Well Monaco is one of my favourite circuits and it usually a really fun race. The schedule is unique as we run on Thursday (starting a day earlier than usual) but we do not drive at all on Friday. We then return to action on Saturday – with P3 and Qualifying – and the Race on Sunday. Even though I have competed here many times, it does feel different to the other races and a little strange when you are used to the normal race schedule. But, you have to remember Monaco is its own race – it is and will always remain unique.
What elements of the Monaco race make it so special and memorable?
Well, if I had to recommend a race for spectators to go to I would tell them to go to Monaco – it is such a special event. The location is fantastic and there is such an amazing atmosphere all around us, it’s a really crazy race. It is not the easiest circuit for the team to work at, as it’s such a small location, but it is an essential part of Formula 1 and it is a great spectacle for everyone involved.
Vitaly Petrov: “When people think of F1, they think of Monaco”
You had a difficult race in Barcelona at the weekend – what was your take on events there?
Yes, it was difficult and naturally I was disappointed that I could not take advantage of the strong position I secured for myself in qualifying. I could have had an even higher position going into the race, but in qualifying the middle sector of my last lap was weak. In the race itself, I did not drive so successfully in certain parts after I stopped, but what I did learn from the experience is that ideally we would like to have more new, fresh tyres. Tyre degradation was a real factor there, and I think it affected my drive on Sunday.
What are going to be the key aspects to concentrate on in Monaco?
It’s a different type of race, a one-off. Qualifying will be very important. I feel we can qualify for the race very strongly and near to the front – this will be the key here, of that there’s no doubt. If you don’t qualify well, it makes it very difficult to move up a long way because there are not too many overtaking opportunities. It’s a tight circuit and opportunities are at a premium so Saturday will be an absolutely crucial day for us.
Do you feel driving at Monaco is something special?
It is, it really is. It’s an unusual race, different to the others because of the layout, the schedule over the weekend and how close spectators are to the action. It is a place where, as a driver, you really have to concentrate because it is a tight circuit. But, I have good memories there because I finished second there in GP2 back in 2009 so I’m looking forward to coming back and trying to achieve some more success. What you also have to remember is that Monaco is a massive fixture not just in motorsport but in all sport. When people think of F1, they think of the Monaco race. For that very reason, we know this is the big one.
How would you compare being an F1 driver now compared to this time last year?
Well, we have the KERS and Drag Reduction system (DRS) to deal with so there is considerably more for a driver to think about in the cockpit. At the moment, it is good having them (KERS and DRS) because it helps the overtaking considerably, so I think it’s a good thing. For me, this is not the main issue at the moment – the tyres are what we have to understand because these are affecting the outcomes of races.
Eric Boullier interview – ‘A word with the boss’
It was a race of contrasting fortunes in Spain, what are your emotions following such a mixed result?
On the one hand it was frustrating. Vitaly qualified sixth on the grid and could have been even quicker on his qualifying lap on Saturday. During the race he dropped some places, so considering these factors, we did have greater expectations with his car. On the other hand, we are pleased for Nick who started the race at the back of the grid and came all the way up to 8th before crossing the line, so that was positive. On top of that, he was fast chasing both Mercedes so it could have been even better.
The season is looking more settled now, and a pattern appears to be emerging with race results – what does the team need to do to keep up with the improved Mercedes team?
We’re not very far away at all. Our car seems to be fast, we just still need to find some consistency in our way of creating successful strategies and, of course, pit stops. If we do that, we will be there. If we do not miss any laps (in qualifying), we will get a good grid position for the race, and during the race itself it looks like our car can compete for top six. Once we are all in line together, we will be there.
As we look to Monaco this week, what are your thoughts going into this unique race?
Historically Enstone cars have been good in Monaco, and I think our car will be good there this time too. The tyre strategies will be very complicated, but it could also work well for us so we will see how we get on. The track itself is so different to anything else you will see in the sport’s calendar – it is twisting and turning with very few chances to pass other cars. Not only that, but the track evolves over the weekend – because of the fact it is a public road normally – so we can expect to see cars improve their performance after Thursday. As a team, we can hardly wait for the weekend.
As a Team Principal, what is the experience like at the Monaco GP where you feel that much closer to the action?
The Monaco weekend is like stopping breathing! We have a very busy weekend, with less sleep and lots of work to ensure we get the best we possibly can out of it. I’m confident we will do well here.
How significant is the Monaco race to the sport of F1?
Monaco is one of the key races we have in the calendar, for historical reasons, for glamour reasons and even for sporting reasons because it’s a very specific track. It’s a very unique race on the calendar, which makes Formula 1 magic.
With DRS authorised for the race, do you think it can be used safely and at what stage of the lap can we expect to see it?
The concern about DRS usage in Monaco is focussed on its potential use in the tunnel. This will not be a factor in the race, as the DRS sector will be on the main straight only. However, in Free Practice and Qualifying, DRS use is unrestricted. The teams will therefore attempt to use the wing as much as possible around the lap. There will be some places where it will be possible to use without difficulty, and other places where the drivers will not feel confident. In this respect it is identical to every other track so far this season – the driver has to judge where he can safely activate the DRS. All attention is focussed on the tunnel, as there will be a good lap time benefit for using the DRS here if the car can manage it. Some feel that the incentive to benefit will force drivers to take unnecessary risks. My own view is that the drivers will build up their confidence gradually during free practise and by the time qualifying arrives they will know in how much of the tunnel they can safely use the DRS wing. Often in the past the tunnel has been very tricky to take flat out at the start of the race weekend when the track is poor. This has not caused the drivers to crash, they have simply built up their pace gradually until they were confident that it could be taken flat – I think the same approach will emerge with the DRS
James Allison – Tech Talk
Monaco is the first real high downforce race of the season – what changes can we expect to the car, and how long does it take to develop such a package?
There won’t be big changes to LRGP for Monaco. We will run a higher downforce top rear wing, but the days of highly specialised bodywork kits for Monaco are a bit behind us. Monaco is less power sensitive and more downforce sensitive than other circuits. However, the profit from this is not massive and the opportunity cost of producing Monaco specific parts has to be carefully considered. In general it is a better strategy to spend your aerodynamic resources attempting to produce improvements that benefit the widest possible range of circuits.
Historically, Enstone cars have performed well at high downforce tracks – will we see a repeat of that here?
I hope so. The historically strong performance of our cars at Monaco and Hungary probably owes more to the bumpy nature of the tracks than to the downforce level in particular. Our cars have tended to handle well over the bumps and this gives the drivers confidence to push the car to its limits.
Pirelli’s supersoft tyres will make an appearance – what impact do you expect this to have?
We ran the super soft during winter testing and, as you might expect, it offers grip gains over the soft tyre at the expense of increased wear and degradation rate. Monaco is less demanding on the tyres than the winter testing tracks, but I suspect it will still prove to be a stern test of the durability of the supersoft.
With frequent pit stops becoming a regular feature this year, will this make the race more of a lottery?
All pit stops carry with them the risk of substantial loss of time and track position as a result of errors. These errors can have a decisive effect on the outcome of a race. All the teams know this, and are all working hard to try to eliminate all sources of error. At LRGP we had a couple of poor races at the start of the year with our pit stops. Since then our crew has put in a lot of effort to bring us back to the correct level. The prime focus is to make repeatable stops first and foremost before gradually chipping away at the stop times.
Much has been placed on the use of tyres in Qualifying – will this take on an added importance in Monaco?
I’m not sure that it will have added importance, but it will remain an important consideration. If the indications from free practice reveal that the tyres are hanging together in race trim, then the inherent difficulty of overtaking at Monaco will mean it is less crucial to conserve virgin tyres. If the tyres look critical in free practice, then there will be a very strong incentive to save sets for the race.
With the proximity of the barriers and risk of contact, is the suspension modified for Monaco?
Monaco always involves a few brushes with the armco and sometimes a bit of contact with other cars. LRGP has historical information about the sort of loads put into the suspension as a result of these minor incidents and the strength required to withstand them is factored in when the suspension is designed at the start of the year.
Bruno’s Guide to Monaco
Describe Monaco in three words:
Sunny, hilly, adrenalin
Favourite restaurants and bars in Monaco?
I like some very simple places, with a relaxed atmosphere, and good, simple food. I like to go to Sass café, La Saliere and La Spiaggia.
What do you think of the track?
It’s my favourite – it’s a flowing track and very challenging. It requires a hugelevel of concentration at all time. The slightest mistake means a crash. It is also very technical. Winning in Monaco is something every driver wants to do. The place, the atmosphere, the fans, make the race something really quite special.
Best memory of Monaco?
Without a doubt, winning GP2 there in 2008. It was quite emotional to hear the Brazilian national anthem, knowing what my uncle had been able to do in these streets in days gone by.
Did you know?
Vitaly was on the podium at Monaco in 2009 in the GP2 Series, finishing in second place in the feature race.