Kimi Räikkönen: “The nice thing is that it starts so late”
After a challenging Indian Grand Prix, our Finn heads to the scene of his first race victory for Lotus F1 Team fired up for a strong result
How’s the feeling heading back to the scene of your 2012 race victory?
You just approach it like any race. I had a good result there last year, but I had a very boring race there the first time I visited in 2009. I’d prefer to have another good result, but you don’t know how strong you’ll be until you get to the circuit.
What do you think of the Yas Marina?
It’s a great place to go. The circuit is connected to big entertainment centre and you’ve got all the boats moored next to the circuit. There are often a lot of passionate fans watching the race and for me the hotel is walking distance from the track which I like. It’s also good to race at a circuit where you have had a strong result before.
Anything else in Abu Dhabi that’s good for you?
I like to be on a familiar time zone so you can wake up normally and do everything in the expected order. That’s one of nice things with this race; especially with it starting so late.
What do you think of the circuit itself?
The facilities are second to none. The track layout makes it really challenging for overtaking as there are not too many places to pass. You really have to qualify well to be at the front and get a strong result from there. There are many corners, you need good overall downforce and grip, plus the car has to ride the kerbs very well too. It’s a track where you really hope to get everything nicely together during the whole weekend. When you succeed with that, it’s a good place to race. I have had one very boring race being stuck in the middle group and then one great race fighting for the victory at the top. I know which I prefer.
Your race in 2009 wasn’t one of your favourites then?
That was a boring one I can tell you! I finished back in twelfth position and there was nothing I could do about it. Those sorts of races are not the best.
How did it feel to take your 19th win in Abu Dhabi last year?
I was very happy for the team; myself also obviously, but mainly for the all the crew and everyone at Enstone. It was a hard season so the win was well deserved for everyone and just what we needed. It was something great for all the fans who have continued to support me and the team too. For me, it was just another win on the list. It’s great of course because it had been a few years, but the wins before were very similar; we didn’t have the best car, but we fought hard and still won.
How does the evening race timing influence the race?
An evening race means I can get up later! Having a mixture of day and night makes a different challenge from circuits that we see anywhere else. We start with the sun and finish with the lights. It’s different, interesting and spectacular for the fans to watch too.
You’ve had some great races where you’ve moved up the order superbly; what’s the key to overtaking in Formula 1?
You cannot plan it beforehand. Often an occasion comes suddenly and you have to jump on it immediately. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes not. More often nowadays you have to sit for quite a while behind somebody to work out where you can do it. Sometimes you just have to wait to see if the guy in front makes a mistake or if his tyres are finished quicker than yours; that’s when you do it.
How was your Indian Grand Prix?
We tried something different with a one stop strategy and it didn’t work, but we didn’t lose anything by making a late second stop over running the normal two stop strategy. I had a brake problem for all of the race where they were overheating, and this got worse in traffic so I couldn’t overtake.
What’s your target for Abu Dhabi?
A race like last year would be good, rather than the one I had there in 2009.
Romain Grosjean: “I’ve been on the podium for the last three races; I like it there!”
A storming drive through the field from seventeenth to third made three consecutive podiums for Romain Grosjean, who heads to Abu Dhabi with four-in-a-row very much the target
What do you think of the Yas Marina circuit?
It’s an amazing facility and it looks so impressive. It’s not used as much as some circuits over the course of the year so we know we’re going to get lower grip at the start of the weekend. For me, the layout is not my favourite – there are too many second gear corners for my liking – but not every circuit can be your favourite and the E21 certainly seems to be liking every track at the moment!
What types of memories do you have of Abu Dhabi?
My history in Abu Dhabi isn’t bad. Last year wasn’t the best weekend for me, as I qualified tenth and did not finish the race. It was however a great race for the team, so we know what is possible. I’ve been on pole position in the GP2 Asia Series and finished second in that race, then won a GT1 racing World Championship round there. My comeback to Formula 1 was also during an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix practice session in 2011, so I’ve got some good memories of the place. It would be nice to have some more…
The Indian Grand Prix was quite some drive for you from 17th on the grid to the podium?
If you had told me after qualifying that I’d be on the podium in India I would have said you were crazy! At the start of the race our prediction was fourth place at best if we could make a strong start and have a perfect race from there, so it was an amazing result and a great performance from the team. A friend of mine in the media said he would eat his hat if I made a one-stop strategy work, so I’m looking forward to seeing that.
With a different outcome on Saturday, would the win have been achievable?
If we’d started further up the grid then a fight for second would definitely have been possible, but Sebastian [Vettel] was just too quick. Congratulations to him; he’s a nice guy, a great driver, and I hope to be challenging him for that World Championship in the future…
Does the schedule of a late race affect you?
I quite like it as it means you can get more sleep and I like to sleep! The logistics of the race are pretty good as you stay right next to the circuit and the facilities are amazing. On the Friday you don’t start the first practice until the afternoon, then qualifying and the race itself start pretty late in the afternoon too so it’s different from a lot of races we do. Everything seems to work well like this, but in reality when you’re in the car you’re not thinking about the time of day; you’re thinking about the lap time!
What about the heat?
It’s certainly a contrast to the weather in Europe at the moment! The cockpit of a Formula 1 car can be a pretty hot place even when it’s cold outside, but certainly Abu Dhabi is one of the hotter places we visit. It’s very important that you take lots of fluids throughout the day – not just when you’re in the car – as you can get dehydrated if you’re not careful.
What’s your target for Abu Dhabi?
I’ll come with the same philosophy as those last few races to give and do my best. I’ve finished on the podium in Korea, Japan and India. It’s a good feeling being there. Without my engine problem in Singapore I could have been on the podium there too. Certainly in this latter part of the season, our latest car with the revised Pirelli tyres seems to work very well and I can get a good performance from it at different circuits. I only want to be scoring points for the team and you get the most points from being on the podium!
Eric Boullier: “We’ll give the other teams some headaches”
It was another strong result for the team in India – albeit with a little drama along the way – leaving Team Principal Eric Boullier buoyed by the positives heading to Abu Dhabi
How well placed is the team coming into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
We are pretty well placed to continue fighting for podiums and aiming for that valuable second position in the Constructors’ Championship. Our car – the E21 – continues to impress no matter what the circuit, and that we are still able to make improvements to it so late in the season is a real testament to all the great work that goes on at Enstone. We’ll keep fighting hard until the end of the season and we’ll give the other teams some headaches.
It was a good points tally for the team in India?
We scored well, but it wasn’t a perfect performance as we messed up Romain’s qualifying and Kimi had a brake problem in the race. These are two areas we need to address, but on race day everyone performed brilliantly. Romain had a very strong drive and managed to conserve his tyre performance right to the end. He was fast despite having to nurse his engine, and being on the podium was a good reward for the whole team. Obviously it was disappointing that the tyres couldn’t last long enough for Kimi, as being third and fourth would have been an amazing result for the team and very useful in the Constructors’ Championship, but he managed his car’s brakes well to take a solid points finish.
Was there an issue with team orders in the race?
Romain was two seconds a lap faster than Kimi at that time, so it was not even a team order. By asking Kimi to let Romain pass, we just made the obvious choice, as Felipe [Massa] could have stolen our podium. With hindsight, this radio message could have been sent in a less emotional way. There was a lot of tension, a lot of potential technical problems, and some of the words that flew around were simply not appropriate. I know that quite a few people were surprised and I can only apologise for that on behalf of the team. It won’t happen again.
Romain continues to be impressive on track; where do you think his upturn in form has come from?
Romain has moved to another level since the German Grand Prix in many areas. His confidence is strong and he’s not affected by setbacks as much as he may have been previously. Certainly in India, we as a team made the wrong call with his qualifying strategy and he ended up in seventeenth on the grid. The Romain of old may have let his head drop, but we saw in the race that he drove in a very intelligent and measured manner; even when we started having engine problems. It was a very impressive performance. Also, as a team we have a very good handle on our car, the most recent updates such as the long wheelbase are working well, and the mid-season change to the tyre specifications by Pirelli also seems to have benefitted him.
Abu Dhabi was the scene of a great win last year; how far has the team come in the last twelve months and can it win again this season?
Another win in Abu Dhabi would be fantastic and if Kimi could do the same again it would be a superb result. In a year we’ve made good progress. Our understanding of this year’s car and our design development processes are coming on well. We brought out the long wheelbase version of the E21 to prove a new method of assessing and evaluating
our design development path, and this has proved to be a success. This is very good news for the future; especially as we look ahead to such significant changes in 2014. We head to this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a strong car and we’re in a position where both our drivers are performing very well at the moment, so anything could be possible.
Alan Permane: “We have potential to be even stronger in Abu Dhabi than last year”
After a somewhat eventful Indian Grand Prix on the Lotus F1 Team pit wall, Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane looks ahead to the challenge of Abu Dhabi
The team scored its only race victory of 2012 in Abu Dhabi; what was the secret and is more of the same possible?
Kimi put in a fantastic drive and was able to capitalise on Lewis [Hamilton’s] retirement. Similarly to our current E21 chassis, last year’s E20 managed its tyres extremely well and it happened to do so particularly well around the Yas Marina Circuit. With that in mind – added to the fact that Pirelli have been a step more aggressive in terms of tyre allocation this season – there’s no reason to suspect we can’t have a very strong weekend again here.
What’s the secret to this tyre management?
It’s part of the entire design philosophy of the car. It’s something we’ve worked very hard on over the past few years, but certainly not something we’re going to be making common knowledge! Of course the flip side of this comes at circuits where the tyre allocation is perhaps a step too hard, in which case we struggle to switch the rubber on and our strength becomes a weakness. The aim, of course, is to build a car that is effective in either circumstance, and I think that’s where Red Bull are so strong.
What’s required from the car at the Yas Marina Circuit?
You need a car which is capable of doing two things that aren’t complimentary of each other. You want a setup which is fast down the straights and supple over the kerbs, but also gives responsive change of direction for the chicanes and good grip through the slower second gear corners towards the end of the lap. It’s a fine balance to find between making time down the straights or through the twisty bits. Of course, this compromise must also factor in the tyres as running less downforce can be kinder on the life of the rubber in some circumstances, but at the same time a higher downforce setting will help avoid the fronts sliding on corner entry and the rears spinning up on exit. Having the medium and soft compound once again – as per last time out in India – will be a challenge I’m sure. Making the soft tyre last in the heat of Abu Dhabi will undoubtedly be tough.
Does a twilight race provide an extra challenge?
It doesn’t really affect us in all honesty. We need to keep one eye on track temperatures as they will start to drop away as darkness falls, but the drop-off is not particularly significant. We usually see ambient temperatures of around thirty degrees and this doesn’t change dramatically even in the evenings so it won’t be a problem; particularly with the tyre allocation here.
What’s the latest about Romain’s engine problem in India?
We’re working closely with Renault Sport. The issue seems to be a repeat of the one we faced in Singapore where a leak in the pneumatic system caused a loss of air pressure. Fortunately, we know exactly what we have to do to fix it and Romain’s engine has gone through the correction process put in place after Singapore. Our engine partners are also checking – and double checking – every single race engine at Abu Dhabi to ensure that the same problem does not reappear.
Tyres are a hot topic once again; what tools do we have to prevent things like graining and blistering?
The teams don’t really have much to defend against graining in all honesty. You can set the car up to be more protective of whichever front tyre will suffer the highest stress – the right front in Abu Dhabi’s case – but that will simply delay the onset rather than completely eradicating the issue. The Yas Marina Circuit doesn’t have the same style of long corners as seen in India or Korea, so we’re unlikely to see the same levels of graining this weekend and it should be the same scenario in terms of blistering.
Analysing Abu Dhabi – An Engineer’s Guide to the Yas Marina Circuit
Turn 1: The first corner is medium speed – taken at around 130kph – leading into the high speed Turns 2 + 3; both of which should be flat out in qualifying and only giving the drivers something to think about when they are on heavy fuel loads.
Turn 2: A defining corner for setup. You need sufficient front wing to eradicate high-speed understeer here, which defines how much front wing is used overall as the remaining corners around the track can all use less than that required for this corner.
Turn 5: One of the bigger braking demands on the circuit; down from around 300kph.
Turn 7: A second gear corner taken at around 70kph, strong engine pickup is vital out of Turn 7 for a good entry onto the circuits’ longest straight.
Turns 8 – 9: Arriving at the end of one of the longest straights in Formula 1 – with maximum speeds of around 320kph – heavy braking down to second gear and around 80kph is required for Turns 8 – 9. The kerbs are used aggressively through this combination, so a soft car is beneficial.
Approaching Turn 11: Another long straight with top speeds in excess of 300kph leads into a second heavy braking zone for Turn 11. The Turn 11 – 13 sequence requires good change of direction from the car.
Turns 11 – 21: The final sector is all very low-speed with a lot of second gear corners; reminiscent of a street course. Seeing the cars dive under the brightly lit Yas hotel is one of the greatest spectacles of the year.
Rear Wing: The more recent circuits – Suzuka, Korea and India – have required a high-medium downforce level. While the Yas Marina continues this trend, it also factors in a need to maintain good speed on the long straights while maximising grip in the low-speed final sector.
Front Wing: Turn 2 is the crucial corner for determining how much front wing is used. More front wing is required here than for any other corner, so you need sufficient front wing to prevent excessive understeer at Turn 2 without causing too much detriment elsewhere.
Suspension: The kerbs are more pronounced than seen at some other tracks, in particular Turns 8,9 and through the last sector. A soft car which rides the kerbs well helps here, but it’s a trade off between having a soft car which will ride over the kerbs and one which is stiff enough for the driver to have a sharp change of direction which is necessary for the chicanes – 8-9 and 11-13.
Brakes: There are reasonable braking demands, especially into Turns 5, 8, 11 which have quite high speed approaches to the low speed corners. Temperatures will need to be monitored as will wear; these are not likely to be an issue, but more attention is paid to them here than at other tracks.
Engine: The day to night schedule makes ambient conditions vary significantly and grip levels, tyre warm up and air pressure will change. The engine needs to respond to this new set of parameters, so careful engine management and flexibility is crucial.
Tyres: The consecutive allocation of the medium and soft compound Pirelli tyres should not present too many issues, with both tyres likely to suit the circuit – opening up the potential strategy permutations.