LRGP prepares for round nine of the season in Silverstone (UK). Interview with Nick Heidfeld, Vitaly Petrov and Eric Boullier – and a Tech-Talk with James Allison!
Nick Heidfeld interview
“Silverstone is different to the other places in F1 – it’s unique”
With another plucky point for the team in Valencia, Nick discusses how he thinks the new Silverstone track could suit the team.
Looking back to the European Grand Prix, how would you summarise your weekend in Valencia?
Well, the race itself was not as successful as we hoped or even expected it to be after Saturday’s qualifying. P9 and P11 is not what we target, but given our pace on the Friday and Saturday it was clear that was where we were. On Sunday we were hoping to fight with Mercedes because we usually have a stronger race pace than we do in qualifying, but that was not the case. I was aiming to battle for sixth or seventh position but, in the end, it wasn’t to be; finishing in P10 was not a result of any particular mistakes so we have looked at where we can improve for Silverstone.
The race in Valencia had a few more battles than we saw in previous years there – is that proof that F1 has got more exciting for spectators?
Yes, definitely. The Valencia race is quite a recent addition to the calendar, and during that time it hasn’t been known for its excitement or overtaking. This year there was some, which shows that the changes that were drafted into Formula One prior to this season have made it more exciting; there was not as much overtaking there as at the previous races this season but still it made for a good spectacle. Vettel may have been leading the whole way, but P2 between Alonso and Webber changed quite a few times so that was entertaining for people.
What steps need to be taken to ensure you finish higher up the points in the coming races?
As I’ve said before, we understood some of the problems we encountered but you cannot wave a magic wand and change these things overnight. Everyone is working very hard in the factory but the question on all our minds is what’s going to happen with the change in regulations from Silverstone. We will wait to see if that changes the pecking order or the gap between the teams, and then go from there.
Looking ahead to the British GP – do you think the track, with its faster corners, will suit the R31 well?
First of all, we will need to see how Pirelli’s choice of tyres (soft and hard) will affect the race – so that’s going to be an interesting aspect. I’ve not actually driven the new track here yet, so that will be exciting for me. I’ve driven at Silverstone plenty of times before but last year I didn’t, and I know that since then they have changed the layout. I think Silverstone will suit our car a lot better because at the other high speed circuits this year we have been relatively strong. And, with the new regulation changes it’s going to be exciting; some people think nothing will change, some think that we will see changes but it is all just guesswork. A number of people think we will be one of the teams most badly hit (by the changes), but I doubt it. Let’s see who’s right!
You finished second at the British GP before – does the challenge of driving at a new-look Silverstone excite you?
Yes it’s always nice to drive at a new track but, on the other hand, if you look at the layout of the old track it was a great track to drive at. On the old circuit there was Bridge Corner, which was quite special; a lot of people involved in racing would say this was quite a unique section but it has gone now. I’m not sure what the new circuit will be like, the first part is the same with a lot of high speed corners such as Stowe. Silverstone is very different to a lot of other places – it’s a unique place that’s for sure.
Vitaly Petrov interview
“It is our home Grand Prix and I would love us to have a good result.”
Vitaly looks forward to Silverstone, a track he has some good memories of following his GP2 victory in 2006.
Have you had a chance to sit down after Valencia to analyse the race?
Yes, of course. I spoke with my engineers back at the factory to understand the race. What happened at the start was my doing – I touched the paddle on the steering wheel which is very sensitive and was in second gear when the lights went off. Obviously this shouldn’t happen again so we made the necessary change on the steering wheel to avoid this in the future.
We saw quite a few teams performing well in Valencia around us. In a certain way, it reinforced the fact that we must keep on pushing to develop the car and work hard.
Silverstone is a classic venue and the team’s home race. Do you enjoy racing there?
Silverstone is an interesting track and it has a new pitlane which we will use for the first time. The circuit has good high speed corners, and it’s the first GP of the season where we’ll have high speed corners like these, so we’ll have to see how the tyres will behave. I have good memories of Silverstone; I won there in GP2 in 2006 so it always makes it enjoyable to come back to a track where I’ve done well in the past. The typical British weather also means that rain or sunshine will be pretty unpredictable – but that makes the charm of Silverstone!
What type of set up does the circuit require?
We will take the baseline set up we had at Silverstone last year and build on that. Of course, we will have to take the tyres into account. The first sector is quite high speed that requires one type of set up but the car would almost need a different set up for the second and third sectors with slower corners were more traction is required. Basically the car will need to respond to the different demands of the circuit. As usual we will make the most of the free practice sessions to get ready for the race.
What objectives do you set yourself for the British Grand Prix?
We need to concentrate on making fewer mistakes and to try to continue to work hard to improve our performance and our strategies.
Of course, as it is our home Grand Prix and I would love us to have a good result but we have to work towards giving ourselves the best chances to do so.
Eric Boullier interview – ‘A word with the boss’
Eric explains his excitement at competing in the home race which, with a new-look Silverstone, should provide for a memorable weekend.
Just the one point in Valencia, the team must have been looking for a stronger weekend?
It was obviously a disappointing weekend, which was not reflective of our level of performance and the level of work and dedication that the team has been putting in. I’m hopeful that we have understood why we didn’t have the right pace and got to the bottom of our problems. We will continue to work closely together, and stick together, to make sure we get stronger and stronger.
There was more overtaking in the race than we had seen in previous years – is that proof that Formula One has become a better spectacle this year?
Yes, I know there were a lot of comments in the media about the Valencia race. Perhaps it was not as dramatic as some of the others this season, but still I think it was a good show and we definitely had an excellent level of reliability from all the team’s cars this weekend. It’s clear, however, that not every race can be as hectic as the one we saw in Montreal.
Looking ahead to the British Grand Prix, what would it mean to have a strong race here on home turf?
I think it’s important as an English company, and as an English F1 team, to do well at your home race because there’s more local attention. It’s also a tough fight because most teams on the grid are English as well, so it makes it even more exciting. The Silverstone track layout is very good, and we’ve seen many overtaking manœuvres here in the past so we can expect a strong show and a spectacular race. Obviously we are looking forward to seeing the new complex, which should make this event an even greater success.
Regarding the new regulations – about the engine mapping – what effect will this have from Silverstone?
It’s a complicated issue and difficult to state their exact impact just yet. What’s certain is that we need to anticipate the changes to the regulations in the best way we can. It will definitely affect every single team, and it’s up to us and our engineers to cope better than our competitors with the changes.
Silverstone is known for its fast corners – will that suit the car well?
Considering the races in Monaco and Valencia and our performance there, we can definitely expect the high speed corners to suit our car much better.
We’re eight races into the season – what’s your verdict of Lotus Renault GP’s year so far?
My feelings are quite mixed; we had a very strong start to the season with a couple of podiums, but obviously we have now had a few races where we haven’t performed as well as we need to. We know we have to react well; we think we have a clear understanding of what may have gone wrong and we’ve started to correct it. If our car was so good at the beginning of the season, we must be able to get that level of performance back for the remaining 11 races. Now is a good time to really, really push and comprehend why we haven’t been able to keep our pace relative to the other teams on the grid.
James Allison – Tech Talk
“We will adapt quickly to the engine management rule changes”
LRGP’s Technical Director looks forward to seeing how the R31 will fare at one of Formula One’s classic races – the British Grand Prix.
What can we expect at Silverstone?
After three races with only slow speed corners it will be interesting to get back on to a circuit with several challenging high and medium speed corners. As has been extensively discussed, the changes to the engine management rules will make it tricky to know exactly how the car will stack up relative to our competitors, but I am hopeful that we will adapt quickly to the challenge. Another possible area of interest is that we may face a situation, like in Barcelona, where it is better to stay in the garage than it is to use any of the Option tyres in qualifying.
What are the challenges of Silverstone?
Silverstone is one of the classic F1 circuits. Compared with the last few Grand Prix races, it offers a very wide range of challenging corners which range from fiercely quick to quite slow and technical. Having such a large difference between the fast and slow places a heavy demand on both the driver and his race engineering team to extract the most from the car. In addition, there is always the capricious British weather to contend with.
How have the changes of the circuit in the last few years made a difference?
Last year’s modification did not really change the essential nature of the track very much; there was a nasty bump in the middle of a fast corner where the old circuit joined the new, but we understand this has been smoothed down somewhat now. Having a new pit complex may change the time lost in the pit lane, which may in turn have a marginal effect on the strategy choices – we will figure all that out in free practice.
How much of a change is it having the race just down the road from the factory?
Once the race weekend gets under way for the race team it makes little difference that the track is in our own back yard – they have their heads down at the circuit. For the guys in the factory it is an opportunity to see the car in action, and it is also much easier to rush a new component to the track at the last minute.
How do the new qualifying engine mapping restrictions affect the team?
The changes caused some bureaucratic headaches for the team but there is little performance effect on the configuration of the car.
The full force of the FIA note relating to engine mapping comes into force at Silverstone – can you tell us more about the new situation?
The headline changes for the Silverstone GP are as follows: when the driver lifts his foot fully off the throttle pedal, then the ECU maps must be set up so that the engine [to all intents and purposes] closes the throttle – previously it was possible to configure the engine maps to leave the throttle open and reduce the engine power by other means. Furthermore, when the driver lifts fully off the throttle, the ECU maps must be configured to cut off the fuel supply to the engine – this is intended to prevent so called “hot blowing” where the energy of the exhaust gas is increased by combustion.
How do you feel this will impact LRGP relative to the other teams?
It is not easy to judge the effect of this change on our competitiveness. The loss for each blown floor car will come from two separate effects – how much downforce will be lost and, in addition, how much will the loss of this downforce upset the balance of the car. All blown floor cars will lose downforce under braking as a result of these new restrictions. Some teams will lose more and some teams less; it is hard to know exactly what relative loss LRGP will suffer. However, it is possible that we will suffer less on the balance shift side of the equation because our forward exit exhausts produce their effect quite near the middle of the car. This means that as the exhaust blow waxes and wanes, it does not really disturb the aerobalance of the car too much. With a rearward blower, the downforce from the exhaust is all generated at the rear axle. As the new rules reduce the blowing effect on corner entry much more than corner exit, it is possible that the rearward blowers will tend to suffer more nervousness under braking and more understeer on exit as a result of the new restrictions. We will find out at Silverstone!
Drivers’ Guide to Silverstone
Describe Silverstone in three words
NH: Home of motorsport
VP: Technical, fast, unpredictable weather (well, that’s four!)
NH: There’s some great, typical English pubs around!
VP: I don’t know any specific places but I’ve been to some nice pubs with some engineers nearby Enstone.
What do you think of the track?
NH: I enjoyed the old track for the same reasons I’ll enjoy the new one – it has a lot of high speed corners. Turn one is quite straightforward but after that there are lots of interesting parts of the track, not least The Complex which includes a number of quick corners following each other closely. It’s a very unique place to drive.
VP: Silverstone is an interesting track and it has a new pitlane which we will use for the first time. The circuit has good high speed corners, and it’s the first GP of the season where we’ll have high speed corners like these, so we’ll have to see how the tyres will behave.
Best memory of Silverstone?
NH: My second place there in 2008.
VP: I won a GP2 series race at Silverstone in 2006, in the wet.
Did you know?
We’ve got a new geometry front suspension to try, which we will evaluate on one of the cars on Friday.
Source interviews and pictures: LRGP