Interview with GP2 Development Drivers, Allan McNish and Franck Montagny
Former F1 driver Allan McNish ran a faultless week at the wheel of the GP2 car at Circuit Paul Ricard between the fourth and eighth of October 2004. Allan was tasked predominantly with tyre evaluation, and spent much of the test session putting the car through its first paces on a wet track. His work over the course of the five days has enabled the GP2 and Bridgestone engineers to decide on a base-level set-up for wet conditions and a control wet tyre for the series.
Allan will return to the wheel of the GP2 car at Circuit Paul Ricard from the 20-22nd October, with Franck returning to action at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain on the 1st and 2nd November.
Q: Allan, you've had your first taste of the GP2 car last week. You notched up 102 laps on the last day, whilst also setting a new lap record for a GP2 car at Paul Ricard. What were your initial impressions?
McNish: The thing that I was very pleasantly surprised about was how similar the GP2 car was to a Formula One car. Even though it doesn't have as much downforce, grip or overall power, in terms of its capabilities it is a Formula One car, only a little bit smaller. From that point of view it does give a very nice feel and understanding for what it will be like for those drivers who progress from GP2 to F1.
Q: Was it strange getting back in a single-seater?
McNish: Not really. Current sportscars drive like a single-seater. The only major difference is that they're something like 300 kilos heavier and have slick tyres. It took a bit of adaptation to get used to the grooved tyres again, but I have to say that the memories just came flooding back.
Q: So you enjoyed yourself?
McNish: Oh yeah, especially last Friday when we ran 102 laps. I was really used to the car by then and enjoyed myself massively. Even though the car doesn't have traction control, it's very driveable. You've got 600 horsepower going through two tyres so you've really got to work the throttle and be smooth and consistent, but the great thing is that if you oversteer going through a 160-180kph corner, you just put on a bit of opposite lock, keep your foot in, and get going again. That's more of a fun element than a laptime element, but I certainly enjoyed it!
Q: How much is there to tweak, and how much of a difference can those tweaks make?
McNish: There's quite a lot of things you can change to play with it. However, there are obviously certain restrictions. For example you can adjust the dampers but can't change the make. It's things like this that give a driver a real feel for what certain parts of a car do, without allowing costs to escalate. From a drivers' point of view the one area I was most intrigued about was the ground effect created by the tunnelled floor. That has got a big difference in so far as the downforce comes from the floor itself, not really from the wings. I found that adjusting the wings didn't have the same massive effect that I would initially have expected. But that's great because, in theory, the guys will be able to sit right behind people going through corners without losing any grip.
Q: How powerful does the engine feel and how much torque does it have?
McNish: The torque is significantly greater than you'll find in an F1 car. We had to do a bit of work initially to smooth it out because it was quite raw and quite aggressive, but as the car has a fly-by-wire throttle system we were able to do that relatively easily with a bit of mapping. We managed to make the car drivable, but still make it challenging so these guys will still have to work for a living.
Q: Franck, moving to you, what's it been like getting back behind the wheel of an F1 car? Was there much difference from the GP2 car?
Montagny: In a way it's a big difference, mainly in terms of grip because in F1 we're using so many different tyre compounds to suit the type of circuit or the weather. But I was really surprised at how similar the GP2 car actually looks compared to the F1 cars. The G-forces in the quick corners are greater in the F1 car, but in a GP2 car the medium and slow speed corners and the braking are really, really similar.
Q: What about the technological side of the car?
Montagny: GP2 is much more physical as you don't have traction control or power steering, but I think that, overall, it's going to be really close to next year's Formula One cars. With the new F1 regulations, the 2005 F1 cars will be a bit slower and they will have less grip, so GP2 will be very similar.
Q: What do you think the series will teach young drivers?
Montagny: It's going to be a really good foundation. For sure there will still be another step to Formula One, but as I said, with the new aero and technology in F1 next year, the two series will be much closer. The F1 cars won't be as perfect as they used to be, and the guys will have to fight with the car more. GP2 will teach them what they'll need for F1.
McNish: GP2 gives a driver a strong indication and a feel for the speeds and the technology that will be thrust upon him in Formula One. From that point of view I think it's a big, big step. When you jump into an F1 car for the first time, the carbon brakes are a massive thing to get sorted out in your head because you'll be braking for a corner and all of a sudden you've got to cope with 5-G. You've never had anything like that before. Then you turn into the corner and you've got to adapt to the way the tyres react, and you've never had to do that either. GP2 is giving the drivers a very controlled but still a strong feeling of what they'll be subjected to. They'll have to work with their engineers, there's no question about it. They'll have to think on their feet on set-up and race strategy modern F1 isn't about simply driving the pants off a car from start to finish, it's about a series of short bursts in which you have to adapt to changing circuit conditions and how your tyres and car setup react to those changes. You've got to use your brain. GP2 will teach drivers a different type of race-craft to what they've been used to before, a more intelligent way of racing.