Nick Heidfeld interview
“I’m proud to be representing Lotus Renault GP on the grid”
The Nürburgring is a track Nick knows well having cycled, sledged in the snow and achieved his first and only pole position at the venue. As he explains, it is this familiarity that he hopes will lead to more points at the weekend.
You scored four points for the team at Silverstone, a reasonable result considering it was a difficult weekend for the team?
It is definitely not what we were hoping for, but if you look at the problems we faced on Friday and then Saturday when I qualified 16th, I managed to finish 8th on Sunday which is I think the best I could have done. It was actually a fun race, with some nice battles out there, and we faced some interesting weather conditions going from a wet part of the track to a dry part. But, four points is not what we’re aiming for – we need more, deserve more and we must be proactive in making that happen. I really believe that we will be able to score a greater number of points over the next few races as we have some more interesting developments to bolt onto the car.
At the Nürburgring you will be in front of your home crowd – is it always special for you to race in Germany?
Yes, it is always special to be in Germany, there’s no doubt about that. There are obviously a lot more fans supporting me there, and especially at the Nürburgring – I have so many nice memories from racing at this track. Learning how to ride a bike, driving a go kart and sledging in the snow are all things I did at the Nürburgring. I also won some races in junior categories there, and of course got my first pole position in Formula One at the track, so coming back is like a trip down memory lane.
How enthusiastic are the German fans?
They are very enthusiastic and they have every reason to be because firstly Sebastian (Vettel) is leading and fighting for the championship, and secondly we have a number of German drivers in the championship giving it their best shot. I’m proud to be one of those drivers and proud to be representing Lotus Renault GP on the grid.
What do you expect from the car at this race?
I know, as James Allison has confirmed, that there are some bigger developments coming than we had at the last couple of races. There has been a tremendous amount of work going on in the wind tunnel so I am very hopeful that we will take a significant step forward. We have had to demonstrate our patience during what were a couple of challenging races recently (Valencia and Silverstone), but now is the time for us to take that step forward and compete with the top teams again, which is where we belong.
What are your targets for this race?
Well, my objective is always to perform the very best that I can. I hope that the car is strong, so that we can go back to qualifying in the top 10 (which is exactly where we should be) and then get even stronger in the constructors’ championship; we will need to take the fight to Mercedes who just overtook us but we know we are more than capable of a fourth placed finish this season.
Vitaly Petrov interview
“As usual, aerodynamic efficiency will be the key”
The Russian experienced a tough weekend at Silverstone but, with significant upgrades to come for Germany, he is convinced the team will be back on the way up.
Vitaly, how would you summarise your British GP weekend?
Honestly the experience of the venue was fantastic because the British Grand Prix has so many fans, there are just so many passionate people and it was our home race too. Unfortunately our on-track performance was not great over the three days. We had a very poor qualifying which left us in P14 and P16 – well below where we should be qualifying. The wet weather didn’t help us, and the rule changes (mapping) clearly had an impact. During the race, I got an ok start but we really struggled with the tyres and I found the car pretty undriveable in the wet conditions. I was unable to get to grips with the inter tyres, which affected us badly and we were just unable to protect ourselves from the other drivers such as Michael (Schumacher). When the conditions dried, we picked up our pace but it was not enough because we needed the car to be stronger than it was, so generally I was disappointed because I thought the high speed corners would suit us well. However since then, I think that we as a team have understood what went wrong and will move on from it in Germany.
You are at the Formula Sochi Festival in Russia this weekend. Does it make you proud to be able to bring F1 to the attention of your own fans?
I think it’s been very important to come to Sochi and demonstrate all the sport has to offer. Formula One is getting more popular in my country, and we have a Russian Grand Prix in a few years (2014) so now is a good time to say ‘look, this is what F1 is all about!’
What are your expectations for the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring?
Well, last year the race took place at Hockenheim, but of course this year driving at the Nürburgring will be different. The weather can be quite changeable there, which will again have an impact but the main thing we need is a strong set-up for the car. As usual, aerodynamic efficiency will be the key. It (the car) hasn’t performed at the level we know it can, and it has been off the pace for a few races now so we must get it right quickly to turn our season around. Additionally, it’s very important we reach Q3 in qualifying so that we can score more points come Sunday afternoon.
What’s the minimum you expect from the next two races?
Once again, we will be aiming for the maximum number of points, but we need to look at the whole weekend and get our performance up immediately from P1 right through until the race. Since Silverstone, we have been putting in the work to ensure we give ourselves the best possible chance at the Nürburgring. The speed with which we introduce our new upgrades is the critical factor in our success and I’m convinced that having these upgrades in place for Germany will give us more of a chance.
Eric Boullier interview – ‘A word with the boss’
As the team prepares for one of the F1 calendar’s biggest races, the Team Principal & MD discusses LRGP’s unique spirit, and his hopes that it will help raise the team’s performance at the weekend.
Eric, it was a tough weekend for the team at the home race…
Yes, it was and there was a general feeling of disappointment within the team. That said, it was good for Nick to recover from 16th on the grid to 8th position when he crossed the line – it was a positive and determined drive from him. At Silverstone, we were unable to recover from the tricky period the team has been going through, however since then we have continued to work really hard in the factory to improve the situation. We have some good developments coming, which unfortunately were not available for Silverstone but will be ready in Nürburgring. I am very confident these will take our performance forwards, closer to where it needs to be.
Nick managed to put in one of his trademark performances to work his way through the order…
Yes he did, Nick’s good at those kinds of performances. He did well to work his way up the grid, and we were relieved to score some points even if we did lose our fourth position in the Constructors’ Championship to Mercedes GP. We will be looking to claim that back at the Nürburgring.
How difficult has it been to keep team morale high recently?
It’s always a challenge, especially if the results are not forthcoming. But, I enjoy this side of things; my job as a Team Principal is to reassure people, keep spirits high and give people targets that we can reach. It is one of the most challenging aspects of the job because you are dealing with human relationships, sporting and political issues, and there will always be good and bad times. However, the main thing is to stick together and make sure we reach the heights that we know we can.
In Germany, can we expect some improvements to the car?
Yes, we most certainly can. There will be some upgrades on the car which will help considerably. Also, on the race team side, we must not miss any opportunity that we are provided with. We know we haven’t been fast enough recently, but with the hard work we are all putting in, it will get better. It has to get better.
Two races remain until the August break- what can we expect from the team?
We definitely need to catch up with Mercedes GP, who has overtaken us into fourth spot in the Constructors’ Championship which, with our pace, is the target this year. We can make some considerable technical changes, and we may also use a reverse exhaust system; this is something we still have to evaluate. There is a lot to look at, but we must make some positive steps in the next two races.
James Allison – Tech Talk
“I would prefer to let the car do the talking”
Rather than give chapter and verse on what the team intends to bring to the Nürburgring, James is confident the R31 will be doing all the talking come the weekend.
Overall, what can be learnt from the British Grand Prix?
Sadly, just the simple fact that although we redeemed ourselves to a degree in the race, we are not fast enough at the moment.
What can we expect in Germany?
I hope that it will see the start of us clawing our way back to respectability with a reasonable series of upgrades to the car.
The Nürburgring – what challenges does it present?
Nürburgring does not have any particular outstanding features, but it provides a fair all round test of the performance of a car. Probably the most unusual aspect of Nürburgring is that we only go there every two years. It is standard practice to consult the notes from the previous year prior to going to each circuit and, in Nürburgring’s case, these notes are two years out of date and therefore less helpful in offering pre-event guidance. For example: last time we were at Nürburgring not a single car on the grid had a blown diffuser.
After a strong start to the year, the performance in terms of pace has fallen back relative to other teams – how can you explain this and what is in place to rectify the situation?
It is easy to explain, less easy to correct. F1 is a notoriously tough sport where the teams are both highly competent and also straining every fibre to try to improve. Improving slowly is the same as going backwards and we have improved too slowly. While the analysis is facile, finding the gains to remedy the shortfall is not. I am confident that we will shortly deliver these gains, but I would prefer to let the car do the talking in the coming races rather than to give chapter and verse on what we intend to bring to the track.
Can you explain the wind tunnel upgrade and its impact on development progress?
Our upgrade has allowed us to switch from a 50% model to a 60% model. It doesn’t sound like a big thing when you say it like that, but any F1 aerodynamicist would nod in agreement at the huge workload involved.
Although we call them “models”, the word does not do them justice as it conjures up images of a toy. F1 wind tunnel models are nearly as complicated and almost as expensive as their full size counterparts. They are beautiful pieces of engineering and it asks a lot of the aero department to generate the headroom to take on such an upgrade whilst not letting up on the development of the car.
In addition to the model, there are changes to the tunnel infrastructure that need to be put in place: We had to modify the mounting system for the model and the wheels to cope with the new design. We had to develop new electronic measuring systems to cope with the higher loads. As each part is 20% longer, has 44% more surface area and 73% more volume, we had to upgrade our manufacturing systems to ensure that we could still cope with the throughput of making all of the thousands of wind tunnel test components at the same rate as their much smaller 50% counterparts.
Finally, we had to modify the tunnel working section to accommodate the larger model. This involved stopping the tunnel for 12 days, stripping the entire working section back to its bare skeleton and then building it back up for the new model. This is a huge budget of work, but I am proud that we have achieved it without impact on the programme other than 12 days of lost development. I am also happy that the weeks that have followed its installation have justified the investment as they have been very rich in terms of downforce gained. Our challenge now is to get these gains to the track.
Drivers’ Guide to Nürburgring
Describe the Nürburgring in three words
NH: Many nice memories!
VP: Changeable weather, forest!
Favourite restaurants and bars?
NH: At the Nürburgring it’s all about racing, racing and more racing!
VP: I do have lots of places I like to eat whilst in Germany, but for me this weekend, it’s work, work and work!
What do you think of the track?
NH: I like the new circuit a lot but of course the old circuit is even more special, the old Nordschleife.
VP: Very technical and challenging, but I like to race there.
Best memory of the Nürburgring?
NH: My pole position and a second place in the same race.
VP: Racing in GP2 there
Did you know?
Nick Heidfeld secured his first and only pole position in Formula One at the Nürburgring in 2005. He went on to finish the race in second place.