Lotus' Räikkönen: “Spa is the greatest racing circuit in the world”
Drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean, Team Principal Eric Boullier and Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane share their thoughts on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
After a strong second position last time out in Budapest, Kimi Räikkönen arrives at one of his very favourite circuits – where he has four wins already to his name – with everything to play for...
You were second in Budapest before the summer break; how good would it be to go one step better at Spa? "Usually I’ve achieved a good result at the Belgian Grand Prix, but what has happened there before doesn’t help me right now. Of course, it doesn’t cause any harm either and it would be great to win at Spa for a fifth time. Extra points are always good and if you win the race no one scores more points than you."
How has your history been at the circuit? "For me there have only been good memories from Spa and it’s great to go racing there. You can’t get the same kind of a feeling anywhere else.
What are the challenges of the track and should it suit the strengths of the E21? "Spa offers very challenging high speed corners and you need to get the right set up for the car. As we've seen so many times this year, a good grid position is extremely important. It will be very decisive at Spa too, even though it is may be easier to overtake there than at some other tracks.
It’s crucial to have a good car aerodynamically to tackle the fast corners and it’s a long lap, so to get the right time you really need to maintain the best rhythm. So much depends on the qualifying result, so we need to find a decent setup on Friday and Saturday and have a solid qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.
I don’t know how it will suit our car this year. Last year we were not very strong there. I think we know the reasons and for sure our car is better this year, but is it good enough to be fighting for a win? We will see on Sunday."
Why has Spa been so good to you in the past? "Sometimes there are certain circuits where everything seems to run smoothly, and then there are other circuits where I have no luck at all. Of course, we will do our very best to win this race. I have been on the top step of the podium a few times at Spa and I want to be there again."
Does this make Spa one of your favourite tracks? "I bet every driver likes Spa. For me it is the greatest racing circuit in the world. It is my favourite place. I have liked the place since my first ever visit there in 2000 with Formula Renault."
How are you feeling about your championship position? "I am now back in second which was a good way to enter the summer break. I finished ahead of Seb [Vettel] in Hungary so obviously scored more points than him there. To beat him, we need to be winning races and if we keep finishing second like we’ve done many times this year it’s probably not going to be enough for the championship, but you never know what might happen."
Where can improvements be found? "Well, obviously I keep making my life difficult on Saturdays in qualifying so then we pay a price, but we still have a good car in the race. Now we have tyres that are a little bit different we have to understand exactly how to use them. We made progress in Budapest so it should be easier in Spa, but that will be the same for everyone. To win, it’s always better to be starting near the front."
Romain Grosjean: “I’m feeling more and more comfortable”
After 'the one that got away’ in Budapest, our Frenchman heads to Belgium full of vigour for the race ahead...
What are your thoughts about Spa-Francorchamps? "What a track; it’s fantastic! It’s a superb rollercoaster of a circuit, then there’s the added bonus that they speak French meaning it’s almost another home race for me after Monaco and Canada. It’s going to be good. If we have the pace we displayed in Budapest at a more normal circuit with better overtaking opportunities – and a bit wider track too – then I think good things could well be possible."
How is your feeling with the E21 now you have half a season behind you? "Certainly in the last few races I have felt very good in the car and have been able to push in qualifying and the race. It’s a good place to be heading into the second half of the season where there are very good opportunities for some great results."
How do you think the E21 should suit Spa’s challenges? "It should fit our car pretty well. In fact, the second half of the season looks good overall in terms of how the tracks should suit the E21. Hopefully we’ll have everything we need to win races. I’m looking forward to it as it’s a special track and I also won the GP2 Series title there in 2011, so it’ll be good for me to be back there again."
If you could sum up these first ten races, what would you say? "That’s a difficult one, but I guess I’d have to say the word ‘potential’ is the key. For sure we’ve had some difficult moments and maybe the results haven’t always been what the team deserved, but the potential for top finishes has always been there."
What’s been your highlight of this year so far? "A much easier question! Not many people know yet, but just after the race in Hungary my little boy Sacha arrived into the world so I am now a very proud father! On track... well, I would like to say the pass on Felipe [Massa] in Budapest – which at the time I thought may have been the best of my career so far – but of course with the penalty I suppose it’s not the same.
The podium in Germany would have to be my next choice; not just because it was a great result for the team, but because we were genuinely fighting for the win right to the end which was a pretty good feeling."
And on the flip side? "Monaco was not my best weekend, that’s no secret. The pace was there, but for one reason or another I just didn’t put everything together when really a strong result was definitely achievable. I still owe the mechanics and composites guys a drink for that; hopefully it will be some victory champagne later in the season..."
How are you feeling heading into the second half of the season? "Very good. We proved in Germany and Hungary that we can compete right at the front of the grid and I think if we can continue to improve at the same rate we will be looking pretty good for the remaining nine races.
I’m feeling more and more comfortable in the car every time I drive it which is certainly a good sign looking forwards. After our performance in the last few races, I honestly believe my first win is now just around the corner."
Eric Boullier: “We head into the next nine races on a real high”
Eight podiums from ten races have given Eric Boullier plenty to smile about in 2013 so far, and the Team Principal is hoping for more of the same from the back nine...
How would you sum up the first half of the 2013 season? "Overall I’d say it’s been a positive start. There have been a lot of high points, but also perhaps some less satisfying moments. We’ve taken eight podiums from ten races so far, which is a great achievement for the team and shows that once again we’ve clearly made a step forwards from the previous year.
Of course, amongst those highlights we’ve had three races – Monaco, Montréal and Silverstone – where we did not score as many points as we should have done, but the important thing is that we recovered from these small blips to challenge for wins at the Nürburgring and also in Budapest. For me it’s a big posit ive to show that we have the capability as a team to bounce back and sustain a challenge against opponents with greater resources at their disposal."
If you could pick one moment as your highlight of the year so far, what would it be? "Well I think that one is quite obvious. We’re here to win, and the victory for Kimi at the opening race in Melbourne was a special moment for the whole team.
How do you rate the performances of both drivers at this mid-stage? "I would have to give Kimi ten out of ten. He’s done a terrific job right from the beginning of the season and his remarkable run of twenty-seven consecutive points finishes speaks for itself. No matter what happens he’s always there, as we saw in the final few laps at Monaco. He is playing a big part in pushing the team forwards, and of course having such a popular character in the seat has its advantages too.
For Romain it was a more difficult start to the year coming off the back of a tough season in 2012, and it maybe took him a little while to sett le down and start performing to the best of his ability. With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure to see him learn from those experiences and to start delivering the kind of results we’ve always known he is capable of.
In Germany and Hungary he really put together the complete package over two consecutive weekends, and this should now be his baseline. He knows that if he wants to be winning races and fighting for championships then he must deliver this kind of quality drive at every Grand Prix. If he can keep up this level, Romain can be a future contender for titles, I’m sure of it."
At the start of the season you stated P3 in the Constructors’ standings as the target; is this still the aim? "The championship is so close between ourselves, Ferrari and Mercedes at the moment that we really need to be aiming a little higher to make sure our goals are reached.
I think therefore that to target P2 is a better ambition, and we will be pushing harder than ever to sustain that challenge. We have an ambitious group of people at Enstone and a top three placing at the end of the year is very much possible, which would be a fantastic achievement for everybody involved. We head into the next nine races on a real high."
The 2014 calendar looks set to be pretty full... what’s your take on this? "I think we first need to wait for the full calendar to be confirmed before assessing the situation in too much detail, but it certainly seems like we’ll have some extra races next year and at some different venues too which is goo d for the sport.
We’ll also see the return of in-season testing, but we have the resources available here at Enstone to make sure the race team don’t get over-worked. Without doubt it’s going to be busy and we’ll need to make sure we achieve the right balance, but as a team we’re more than able to manage the schedule."
With major rule changes just around the corner, how do you see the remainder of 2013 unfolding? "I think we will see most of the teams – with the exception maybe of Red Bull – slowing right down in their development of this years’ cars in preparation for the challenge of 2014.
With this in mind I think we are in a very strong position for the second half of the season, as our car is currently competing at the very front of the pack. We also have a strong upgrade package for Spa which will most likely form our baseline for the remainder of the year, so our aim should be to continue fighting for podiums right to the end."
Alan Permane: “I fully expect us to continue fighting at the front”
Describing the first half of the season as ‘pretty good’, Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane expects the team to be fighting for podiums right up to the end of year...
We’re now entering the second half of the season; how would you rate the team’s performance in the first ten races? "On the whole I’d say we’ve had a decent start to the year. It’s frustrating to sometimes come away from a weekend knowing we haven’t quite got the most from the car, but at the past few events we’ve brought some successful updates that are working very well.
Out of ten rounds so far we’ve had eight podium finishes – including a victory at the opening round – so it’s been pretty good overall. Of course, we always want to win more races – we’re here to fight for World Championships – but second in the Drivers’ Championship and a very close fourth in the Constructors’ battle – within touching distance of second and with a healthy gap behind – is a good position to be in. We’re battling with teams that have arguably got a lot more resources at their disposal, so I think we’re doing a very good job with what we have here at Enstone."
Hungary was our first race with the revised Pirelli tyre construction / compound combination; what have we learned from that? "From Budapest we’ve learned that the ‘new’ tyres seem to suit our car relatively well. We can only assess their effect on performance relative to the competition around us, and I’d say we’ve not done too badly on that front.
Mercedes for example seem to be very well suited to them, but Ferrari perhaps not so much. Although we were slightly quicker than them in both Germany and Hungary, ourselves and Red Bull look very evenly matched. I wouldn’t say they’ve changed our position too much."
Belgium presents a different challenge... "Yes; a total contrast to Budapest in pretty much every area. Similar to Canada, Spa is a much lower downforce layout than most venues we visit with significantly lower temperatures; usually between fifteen and twenty degrees ambient.
We will also be using the hard and medium compound tyres which – combined with the cooler climate – have not been our strength I think it’s fair to say. We have however been putting in a lot of time and effort to get the harder tyres working better in lower temperatures, and I’m fairly confident we’ll head into this race remaining equally competitive.
Spa is a circuit which should surely suit the Device; is it on the radar for this weekend? "Absolutely. We haven’t made a final decision yet as to whether it will be deployed, but we’ve been conducting a lot of simulation work with the concept to help clarify that decision and there’s a good chance we’ll see it make an appearance.
Coming off the back of the summer break, has there been any time for further upgrades to be prepared for this race? "Although we have had a decent gap of four weeks between races, two of those are eliminated by the enforced factory shutdown. This still leaves two weeks of course; a period of time sufficient to bring a few new parts to the table as we would normally do in such a gap.
The advantage we have with Spa being so close geographically is that we can be working on the cars back at Enstone right up until the Tuesday night before the race, and still have sufficient time to get them to the circuit ready for work on Thursday morning. We’ve got several updates coming up – both mechanical and aerodynamic – so we’re confident of making another step forward."
With 2014 and the associated regulations changes drawing ever nearer, do you anticipate a notable switch in development focus for the rest of the season? I expect most, if not every team on the grid to be focusing the majority of their design and aero resources on next year’s cars by this stage. The changes are so significant that – without unlimited resources – you really have no alternative but to have switched your focus in this respect if the aim is to be competitive in 2014.
You may see a few small upgrades appearing as the races tick away, but I suspect we’ve witnessed the last of the major overhaul packages. If this rings true throughout the paddock – and I think it will for most teams – then I fully expect us to continue fighting at the front for the remainder of the season."
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