Steve Nielsen: "We're looking forward to Monaco and feeling confident" Steve, after three strong races, the team came away from Barcelona with just four points. What was your verdict on the weekend? The verdict is pretty simple: we were...
Steve Nielsen: "We're looking forward to Monaco and feeling confident"
Steve, after three strong races, the team came away from Barcelona with just four points. What was your verdict on the weekend?
The verdict is pretty simple: we were pleased with qualifying, but less so with the race result. Vitaly's accident in third practice was unfortunate, because it left him on the back foot going into qualifying: he lost track time, and also suffered a five-place grid penalty after his gearbox was changed to repair the damage. As for Robert, he did an excellent job to qualify seventh, and from there we were hoping for a good solid points finish. Unfortunately, he didn't have the greatest first lap, and it's more important than ever under this year's regulations. It's a shame to say it but you're basically reliant on others making mistakes after lap two -- and especially in Barcelona where overtaking is so difficult.
The team demonstrated its quality once again this weekend: they did a herculean job to repair Vitaly's car for qualifying, and both drivers made up ground at the pit stops...
It's hard to praise the team enough for the job they did this weekend. They worked into the small hours on both Thursday and Friday nights in order to prepare the cars, and fit the latest developments to them; they did a brilliant job to repair Vitaly's car between practice and qualifying; then they delivered flawless pit stops during the race. It's a great credit to everybody involved.
Rival teams announced major developments for this race, but in qualifying the team seemed to have maintained its competitive position. Was that a source of satisfaction?
We were very pleased after qualifying. It's no secret that we had a difficult test here during the winter, and we were all a little apprehensive ahead of the race weekend. But the car performed well. Of course, it was a shame to do well in qualifying, to race so hard and only score a handful of points. But I think we can be optimistic that we have a car capable of racing strongly at every circuit.
The cars will be back in action in Monaco on Thursday. What are your expectations?
We're looking forward to Monaco and feeling confident. Robert's driving fantastically well, while Vitaly is getting stronger with every race as he gains experience. But more than ever, Monaco will be about qualifying and the start.
Traffic is a notorious problem there. Are you expecting a busy time on the pit wall?
I think it's first qualifying that everybody is dreading, with 24 cars out on track and some big performance differentials between the fastest and slowest. The challenge will just be to get a clear lap. But it will be a real lottery, and some big names could easily go out in Q1.
Is it an extra challenge that the race is a back-to-back?
Back-to-backs are tough enough anyway but when Monaco's the second race of the two, everything's got to be ready a day earlier because we practice on Thursday. That makes a steep hill just a little bit steeper. It was a bit of a breakneck 24 hours to get the team and equipment to Monaco, but everybody is now working hard to make sure we're ready to go in first practice on Thursday morning.
Midnight run: a race against the clock
When the 2010 race calendar was published last year, the news that the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix were to be held on consecutive weekends caught the attention of every team manager up and down the pit lane. Back-to-back races are always a challenge, but add Monaco into the mix and the whole business becomes even more complicated.
That's because Monaco is a bit different to every other race on the calendar. For starters, it begins a day earlier with the cars rolling out for free practice on Thursday morning. Also, space is at a premium, and shoehorning the trucks into the tight confines of the Monaco harbour means there's always a big queue on the tight and twisty road leading into the principality.
The first challenge facing the team was to get the cars from Barcelona to Monaco as quickly as possible, as Race Team Coordinator, Geoff Simmonds, explains: "Because time was so short between these two races, we implemented some new tactics in order to make sure we arrived in Monaco in plenty of time. We arranged a sleeper coach to leave Barcelona on Sunday night, around midnight, taking the support crew to Monaco. These guys arrived early on Monday morning, along with the trucks, and got straight down to work setting up the garage and support networks."
The rest of the mechanics and engineers had a more leisurely drive to Monaco and arrived on Monday evening so that they were ready to start working on the cars on Tuesday. But, as Chief Mechanic, Gavin Hudson, confirms, the team had its work cut out on Sunday evening to ensure the cars were ready for the midnight departure from Barcelona: "To save time on Sunday we introduced a new service procedure between these two races. Normally all the suspension parts would be stripped off the car and returned to Enstone for inspection, but instead we serviced all the parts in situ on the car. This helped us get the cars packed away quicker and on their way to Monaco."
Another complicating factor the team has to cope with is the introduction of a new motorhome to coincide with the start of the European season. It's bigger than the old version and far more complicated to assemble and pack down. To deal with this the team brought in some reinforcements from Enstone to assist the regular crew of eight, who would normally do all the heavy lifting on their own. This meant the motorhome was dismantled by daybreak on Monday and on its way to Monaco. All being well the motorhome crew will have two full days on Tuesday and Wednesday to build it back up again ready for Thursday.