Among the thousands of Spanish Ferrari fans supporting their favourite team at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend, one of them will be watching from inside the Ferrari garage. Marc Gene joined Luca Badoer as a Scuderia test driver this year and...
Among the thousands of Spanish Ferrari fans supporting their favourite team at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend, one of them will be watching from inside the Ferrari garage. Marc Gene joined Luca Badoer as a Scuderia test driver this year and for him this will be a special weekend.
Spain has been slow to pick up on F1, with rallying and motorbikes proving more popular, but this year's race is expected to draw a capacity crowd. "F1 has reached a status in Spain that no one thought possible and the last race in Imola drew as big an audience in Spain as one of the top football matches," comments Gene.
"It is very impressive and it all started in 1999 and 2000, when De La Rosa and myself became the first Spanish F1 drivers after a break of around a decade. Since then it has increased in popularity year after year. This year's race is a sell-out, although they could have sold a lot more tickets and people here have been talking about little else except the grand prix for the past week."
Barcelona has been the most popular F1 venue for winter testing, but the teams got a shock this year as resurfacing completely changed the grip level which was always very high, because of the abrasive surface. "The new surface has reduced the bumps and it was also meant to make the track less tough for the rear tyres," explains Gene.
"But the front tyres suffer a lot here with fast long right hand corners. Worrying about the front tyres is a new concept in F1, because here it was always specifically the left rear that took a lot of punishment and generally in F1, it was always the rears that suffered.
Every track has different characteristics and already this year we have seen some drivers in trouble with tyres towards the end of the race, but I do not expect Barcelona to be much different to any of the other races so far this year."
When it comes to tyres, the Spanish tester knows his subject, as much of his work since joining the Scuderia has centred on tyre testing. "This is the first time I have worked on developing tyres with Bridgestone, even though I worked with them when I raced for Minardi and even going back to go-karts," he recalls. But now, I am working very closely with their technical department and it has been very interesting because they have a different way of working and they have a very close relationship with Ferrari."
"As far as the tyre development is concerned, we know that some drivers may have slightly different driving styles, but we know that a tyre that is good for Luca (Badoer) or myself, is also going to be good for the two race drivers. With other parts such as set-up or traction control, you might have to take the race drivers' preferences into consideration when making a technical choice during testing."
So, after a few months in the job, how does Gene assess his team? "Ferrari has a different approach to other teams I worked with. Ferrari is unique in many ways, but from a driver's point of view, the thing that has impressed me most is the way information flows. All the departments really work together and that translates to the whole team. When we win, the whole team wins and when we lose everyone loses. It is the most compact team in F1."
"Information also flows between we four drivers. It is very good and I have never experienced that before. The other thing I have realised is just how important Ferrari is as a brand and that puts greater emphasis on my work with the media. News about Ferrari goes round the world in an instant. It is a unique experience and one I would recommend to any driver! Only when you are inside the team do you realise how special it is."
The hardest part of any test driver's job is the fact that he does not get to race. "I accept my situation and I don't fight it," says a philosophical Gene. "I just try and do my job to the best of my ability and honestly, I do not think much about not racing. Barcelona will be the exception to that rule, as I will be racing, but in the Trofeo Maserati which takes place on the same weekend in Barcelona, but it's not the same as F1 of course!"
"I have raced in F1 here in 1999 and 2000 and the most lasting memory is of all the Spanish flags in the grandstand and the reception I got on the parade lap going onto the grid. It is a special feeling seeing so many people from your own country supporting you."
This year, all that support will be directed at Renault's Fernando Alonso, so as a loyal Spaniard, will Gene be cheering for his fellow countryman. "Oh no!" he laughs. "My heart is red now! All I can want is what is best for Ferrari and I know many Spaniards who think the same way, because Ferrari tifosi are fans regardless of who is driving. I've got nothing against Fernando and of course he is a great driver, but I only want a Ferrari driver to win this weekend."