Interview with Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grossjean, Eric Boullier and Alan Permane.
After five races and four podiums, Kimi heads to Monaco a tantalising four points off the drivers’ Championship lead. As our iceman explains, the challenge of Monaco is quite different from that of the circuits seen so far this season.
You must be feeling pretty good with your championship position and the performance of the car this season? "Well, we’re not in first place so we can’t be too happy. For sure it’s not a nightmare, but we’ve still got a lot of races yet to come and anything can happen in Formula 1. Monaco’s a different challenge, so we’ll have to see what happens there this year."
Last year’s Monaco Grand Prix was not one of the team’s better outings, so you’ll be hoping for better this year? "We certainly won’t make the mistakes we made last time. There were a few things we didn’t do right over the weekend and we suffered because of that. Sometimes that’s the way it goes, but the important thing is not to make the same mistakes again."
How do you define the Monaco Grand Prix? "It’s useless to put races in different categories, because all of them are as important as each other if you want to win a Championship. However, as a real special race there is nothing like Monaco; there is no better feeling than to get things going well there.
To race in the streets of Monte Carlo is really different from everywhere else and it’s a challenge I look forward to every year. It is very, very difficult – almost impossible in fact – to have a clean weekend down there."
You won in Monaco in 2005; how did that feel? "I’ve only managed to get it right once before and you really experience the greatest feeling you can get by winning it. My win in 2005 ranks up there with my most memorable, so to win it again would be just as special."
What’s the challenge behind the wheel? "It’s such a narrow, twisty track; you have to be extra sharp and focused through every single metre. It gives such a good feeling; a fast lap around Monaco. Overtaking is almost impossible, so to really enjoy racing there you have to be in the front."
What about the atmosphere? "Monaco is always special. It’s an interesting place to go to, with a lot of fans and a lot of parties going on; or so I’m told. It’s a completely different atmosphere from anywhere else."
What’s your approach to the weekend? We have to focus on qualifying. It’s a difficult place to race as it’s so narrow and – as I said before – passing is nearly impossible. I was stuck behind Rubens [Barrichello] in 2009 and we had KERS then, but you just couldn’t get past.
We’ll have to see how the tyres perform and if there are any good strategies to be made, but the most important thing is to qualify well. It’s difficult to know how good the car will be in Monaco as you can’t simulate its characteristics; certainly not at any of the circuits we’ve visited so far this year anyway.
We can say the E21’s been fast everywhere else so let’s hope it’s also fast there."
With qualifying so important, is it a worry that this doesn’t seem to be one of the e21’s strongest areas? "We’ll do the best we can, but of course everyone will be trying to be on the front row. It’s not impossible for us, but we won’t know how good we are until we get there.
"We know that tyre changes have to be made so there are opportunities if you run a different strategy to your rivals, but it’s certainly more difficult here than anywhere else."
It was a short and not so sweet Spanish Grand Prix for Romain Grossjean, so heading to Monaco and the nearest thing to a ‘home’ race, he’s hungry for a good result.
How frustrating was the Spanish Grand Prix? I can’t lie and say I wasn’t frustrated! As a driver you want to race every lap possible, especially when you’ve got a good car.
That said, at least with a technical problem like we experienced it’s easier to move on as it was immediately obvious that it was a component failure rather than being caused by a mistake, contact or driving off the track.
In the race itself, I didn’t make the best start but after that I was on the pace and we know we’re able to have strong race strategies, so there was potential for a good result. The car was feeling pretty good until the issue with the rear suspension.
When did you feel there was something wrong? "It was a sudden sensation that something was wrong, and it was clear straight away that we wouldn’t be able to continue in the race. I returned to the pits and that was the end."
What do you do after a short race like this? "Get out of the car, speak with your engineers to confirm if there’s anything more which can be done, then you join the crew to watch the rest of the race. Sometimes you can give some extra information to the engineers on the pit wall which might assist them.
After the chequered flag you have a quick debrief as you would after a race where you’ve completed all the laps, though if there are only eight laps to talk about it doesn’t take too long. The full post-race analysis takes place with the engineers afterwards, back at Enstone."
Monaco next, a track you really love... It’s going to be fantastic to be racing there again. It’s like a home race to me and it’s a circuit I really love. We were quick there last year so I hope we’re quick again. It’s a crazy week with all the focus and attention, but everyone loves Monaco. I’ve got a week to get some rest before it all starts. I can’t wait.
What is so special about monaco? "Monaco is a very special event in its own right, and the atmosphere is quite crazy! As a driver you have to stay calm and relaxed and try to do your job. It is a track that doesn’t allow any mistakes. You have to respect it and that is the key there. For me it’s fantastic for there to be so many French fans, and I’m looking forward to their support."
It’s a very particular and distinct track; how do you think the e21 will perform there? "Well this is what we will discover. Monaco is quite a specialist track and it is very difficult to say if a car will be suited to it or not. It’s bumpy on the straights and it’s a very low grip surface.
All these things mean that you never know what to expect. On a more normal racetrack you know more what you are going to get. I hope we will have a pleasant surprise and that the car will suit Monaco’s unique challenges. That would be nice."
What do you want to achieve in the sixth race of the season? "I have to be honest and say I want to be on the podium again. I experienced it for the first time last season, and it felt just as good this year too. A podium result in Monaco would be amazing.
Heading to what many call the jewel in the crown of the Formula 1 season, Team Principal Eric Boullier talks tyres and hunger
There’s been a lot of talk about tyres and now it’s been announced that there are changes to come; how does this sit with the team? "There aren’t many sports where there are such fundamental changes to an essential ingredient part-way through a season. Just imagine for a moment that, because a football team can’t run as fast as its opponent, the dimensions of the pitch are changed at half time! That there are changes to come can be seen as somewhat frustrating, and I hope they are not too extreme. It’s clear that Pirelli have found themselves in a difficult situation and under pressure from different quarters."
Last year, when we were designing our 2013 car, each team received information from Pirelli and everyone did the best job they could to develop a chassis which would make best use of the tyre characteristics. We even ran with some experimental 2013 tyres at the end of last season, to assist us in confirming our development paths. As with every season, some teams do a better job than others with their designs, and some drivers are more adaptable than others to the changes of both car and tyre.
It is frustrating when you’ve developed a car from a set of tyre specifications which are available to everyone – for tyres that are the same for everyone – to then be told that they are being changed mid-season. That said, we have a team of talented designers and engineers who will be working twice as hard to ensure we adapt to these changes in the most competitive manner.
Last year the team celebrated its 500th Grand Prix in Monaco; how would you rate the first races of the second 500? "Since Monaco last year we’ve had twelve podium finishes including two wins – in Abu Dhabi last year and Australia this season – so we’ve been doing a pretty good job. Like everyone in motor racing, we’re not entirely satisfied unless we’re winning races and leading championships, so those are certainly what we’re pushing for."
It was a short race for Romain in Barcelona; how do you ensure a failure like this doesn’t happen again? "It was frustrating for Romain and frustrating for the whole team. A Formula 1 car is made of so many components, and despite all the checks every once in a while a failure happens. Our technical team has taken immediate action, identified where the problem was and redesigned a new part for Monaco onwards."
For Kimi it was pretty much a perfect race again? "It’s clear that Kimi is driving very well at the moment and our car is capable of consistently delivering strong performance. There are some clear areas where we want to improve, with the car and with the team, but we have had a very strong baseline when we’ve visited every track so far this season; we’re hopeful of the same in Monaco."
How has the team reacted to the changes to the technical department? "James Allison is well liked in the team, so we’re all sorry to see him go. That said, we have a very strong technical department made of many people. It’s an illustration of the strength of talent at Enstone that we were able to promote from within, and Nick Chester has been working on adopting his new role for some time now.
We have plenty of upgrades to come for the E21, as well as the additional challenge of reacting to the forthcoming tyre changes. We’re confident we can maintain performance and development with this year’s car whilst at the same time developing an exciting car for 2014 and the new regulations."
What’s the team’s outlook right now? It’s good that we’re consistent, but we’re greedy and want more wins. We are hungry for more points and we want to keep being in the battle at every race.
Trackside Operations director Alan Permane gives his insight ahead of Formula 1’s trip to to the unique challenge that is Monte Carlo
Are there any goodies in the Monaco upgrade bag? "Similar to Barcelona, we will be bringing a new rear wing which follows the same concept as the one we ran in Monaco last year. There will also be a new front wing and some modifications to the floor, so plenty to keep us occupied. We’re confident in the upgrade package for this race and the car has worked well at every circuit so far this season, so there’s no reason it won’t be strong here."
Qualifying is a key element to a good weekend in Monaco; where do we stand? "It’s no secret that this is an area we’ve been looking to improve and we haven’t done a bad job in this regard. We took a front row slot in China and – disregarding Mercedes – we were less than a tenth from the front runner in Spain. I wouldn’t go as far as to say our qualifying pace is perfect as it’s clear there are still gains to be made, but we’ve certainly made significant inroads into understanding how to get the most out of the tyres over a single lap, in addition to balancing setup for both qualifying and race pace."
How have the changes made to the sport in recent years altered the dynamic of racing in Monaco? "A few years back I can honestly say we would head to Monte Carlo without even considering race performance. The entire weekend was focused on qualifying, with practice spent seeking nothing but ultimate pace on the minimum amount of fuel possible to complete a run. That isn’t quite the case anymore, and this weekend will require a fair amount of assessment work with both tyre compounds.
We ran the super soft compound in qualifying and briefly at the start of the race in Australia, with the same true of the soft in China, so our knowledge of their behaviour thus far is relatively limited. In recent years Monaco has generally proved to be a one stop race, so we’ll need to ascertain what each compound is capable of ready for the race on Sunday."
Given the nature of Monaco, what are the race strategy considerations? "At pretty much any other circuit where degradation is a factor, to a certain extent you can stop whenever you like, come out behind slower cars and overtake using DRS and soon. This simply isn’t the case in Monaco.
If you pit very early and come out behind the back markers, you’re likely to be stuck there for lap upon lap; losing a vast amount of time in the process. Assuming a one stop race is a possibility, you need to calculate how early you can feasibly complete that stop without emerging in traffic, which is a fairly unique strategic challenge."
Lotus F1 Team