After taking his second podium finish of the year in China our Iceman heads to the desert heat of Bahrain cool, calm and collected.
You must be in good spirits following your podium in Shanghai?
It was a pretty okay weekend, but it wasn’t the win and it’s still early in the season so we’re not celebrating too much yet.
What are your thoughts on the next race in Bahrain?
Obviously, it was a good race for us as a team last year. It was my first podium for Enstone, and we had a good fight all the way. We took a gamble during qualifying, and it didn’t work out well for us. This meant we missed out on the top ten, but we managed to use our tyres pretty well in the race and we ended up fighting for the top step of the podium, which is always a good thing.
You fought for the win with Sebastian Vettel last year; with the benefit of retrospect, was there anything different you could have done to get past him?
I could have tried to overtake him on the other side! I only had one shot and I picked the wrong side. After that I was unable to fight back and second was still a pretty good result, but it’s always better to finish on the top step of the podium.
How do you rate the Sakir circuit?
I like it. I’ve had some nice races there and picked up some good points although I’ve never won. It’s a little bit different from others we visit and it’s quite nice to be out there in the sand! Wherever you look around the track you can just see sand in the distance and you notice it in the paddock too. It’s a circuit where I’ve never won before, so maybe this year I’ll change that.
How difficult is it to get the car as you want it in Bahrain?
It is not easy to find a good set-up as you do experience the track surface changing over the weekend and sometimes the wind can affect the balance of the car too. It’s one of the more tricky places to get the car exactly right, but at least you don’t often have to worry about rain!
Is there potential for another good result?
Apart from Malaysia we’ve had good races this year, but that said there have only been three races so it’s too early to say anything. Just because we had a good result there last year, it doesn’t mean Bahrain will be good for us again this year. We have to try and do the best we can in every race and try to score some points to keep us in the fight. If everything goes our way, it will be a good result again. However, it is useless to promise anything beforehand. This is motor racing and whatever can happen, will happen.
How was it to get second place in China?
Second wasn’t quite what we wanted, but in the circumstances it was the best that we could manage. I wasn’t 100% happy because we didn’t win, but it is what it is and second place was a good result after a bad start and the incident with Sergio [Perez].
Do you think you will start modifying the bodywork of your car in the future?
It’s unfortunate when a slower car gets in your way like that and you never know if it could happen again. Obviously the car is not designed like that otherwise we would use it all the time, but I was surprised how good it was still. Obviously we had some trouble with understeer and some other handling issues, but we had to try to live with that and the pace was still pretty okay.
Tyres seem to be quite a talking point again; what does Kimi Räikkönen think?
I think you can push on these tyres, but it’s never perfect. You cannot always push 100%. I think they are very good in qualifying and have good grip, so it’s up to you and you have to look after them a bit more in the race. It’s not really any different from last year – at least for us anyway – so I don’t really understand why people are complaining.
After a tough Chinese Grand Prix weekend, Romain returns to the scene of his first Formula 1 podium in a determined mood; eager to garner a good points tally.
What are your feelings heading to Bahrain?
I have good memories after a strong race there last year that’s for sure! Our car worked well and we seemed to like the heat so it’s a race I’m looking forward to it. We should see some consistent weather too, which always helps when you are trying to set up the car for the weekend.
Finding the right setup and getting the car exactly as you want it seems to be quite a challenge at the moment?
I would be lying if I said the car is exactly where I want it and we are having quite an adventure to get the setup and feeling from the car how we want it. This is very frustrating for a driver, as you want your car to be obedient – to do what you want it to do – and to do it in a consistent manner. Certainly, we’re not the only team who are having a difficult time early in the season, but it’s something we really want to get on top of as quickly as possible. I’m spending a lot of time with my engineers and we’re all working hard to make improvements.
What worked so well for you in Bahrain last year?
It’s a track I knew from before Formula 1 and it has characteristics that I like in a circuit; some big braking into certain corners, some good change of direction with the double-left in the middle of the racetrack and it all flows quite nicely. Last year we got a good balance with the car and were able to make use of the E20 being kind to its tyres. The E21 shares that characteristic, so let’s hope we have more of the same this year.
How did it feel to get your first podium here twelve months ago?
It’s was a great feeling to get my first podium, and a really proud day for the whole team who did an incredible job. I think we got everything right that weekend.
It’s fair to say that your weekend in China wasn’t exactly what you wanted?
I wasn’t happy with ninth place, but at least it was points finish. It was a long, tough race and again we not able to make it work quite as well as we wanted. We started sixth on the grid and I thought we had a good chance to end up within the top five, but unfortunately we could not manage it.
Where do you think your race unravelled?
We struggled all weekend to get the balance right. It felt a lot better in qualifying but in the race I just couldn’t find the performance. I made a good start, climbed a few places and was sitting close behind Kimi for a short while, but then the tyres just fell off the cliff and I dropped right back. As the race went on I ended up getting stuck in traffic which obviously didn’t help, but I still have some work to do to try and find more from the car.
What’s the target this weekend?
The priority is to find that connection with the car. I want to be right up there fighting for podiums and showing the speed I showed last year. Hopefully we’ll get there soon, and I think Bahrain would be the ideal place to really start getting some good points or even a return to the podium. We’ve been quick there before, so there’s no reason why we can’t do it again.
Technical Director James Allison talks us through the difference between Kimi and Romain’s cars, how changing the damaged nose in China wasn’t worth it and why he’s cautiously optimistic about the forthcoming Bahrain GP.
2nd in the Drivers’ Championship and 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship isn’t a bad place to be; talk us through China from your perspective.
It’s not as good as 1st and 1st but it’s definitely ok! The race was good. Considering we had a grim start and were then involved in a tangle with [Sergio] Perez on lap fifteen, it was a reasonably strong second place so we can be quite happy with that. It’s also satisfying to see that the cars have gone adequately well at a number of tracks now; albeit slightly masked by the rain in Malaysia. Having said that, I think we’ll only be properly happy as a team when we’ve got both our cars up where they need to be, and that’s really the main focus now.
Tell us about Romain and the problems he’s having with the car.
The truth is that it’s certainly not Romain causing the problem. Romain is fast, smooth and good at looking after tyres, however we have not yet managed to give him a consistent car that lets him bring his talent to bear. It’s not him; it’s that we haven’t got it quite right for him yet and what seems to be clear from Kimi’s weekends is that the car is a tricky little beast to get just right. We have managed that with Kimi in two of the three races and we need to make sure we’ve giving Romain all the opportunity to shine as well.
Some people might ask why you wouldn’t set up the car exactly the same as Kimi’s if it seems to be working for him. What are the complications between the two different cars?
First of all, both drivers don’t want the exact same thing out of the car. Kimi has a driving style which uses the front tyres a little heavier than Romain, while Romain uses his rear tyres slightly more than Kimi, so they need a different set up anyway. Secondly, we’re not completely certain that even if we were to bolt the same setup onto both cars that we would get the same result in any case, so it’s not just as straightforward as saying we’ll put the same set up on and everything will be fine.
Kimi had a bit of trouble with his nose in China too after that tangle; did it affect his performance and why did we decide not to change it?
We definitely shouldn’t have changed his nose. It probably cost around a quarter of a second a lap and he did it on lap fifteen, so if we multiply that by the remaining forty laps then we lost about ten seconds by the end of the race. A pit stop with a nose change would have cost and extra seven seconds over a standard stop, so you might say we should have changed it and saved ourselves 3 seconds to Fernando [Alonso]. The reality however, is that with Kimi’s position in the race a pitstop would have dropped him down into all the traffic and we would have paid a much heavier penalty than the three seconds difference. The best option was what happened; Kimi adapted his race to make the most of what he had and he drove very strongly with a damaged car to come second.
Based on recent form, Bahrain is potentially a strong track for us; do you think it will suit the E21?
We certainly went well there last year and I hope it will be good for us this year as well! There are things that are special about Bahrain which might make us more optimistic. For example, it is one of the most aggressive tracks on the rear tyres and if we have a particular strength it does seem to be that when we get the car set up just right it does seem to use the tyres rather gently. Secondly, in Kimi in particular, we have a driver who is able to get the car to go quickly without really burdening the rear axle. While we are looking forward to the weekend, it is abundantly clear that there are several very strong teams this year, so we can expect a tough fight as always.
What’s in the Bahrain goodie bag?
We won’t be bringing anything particularly revolutionary on top of the China upgrades, but we will trial a suspension modification – internal rather than to the wishbones – which is an evolution of something we ran to good effect during pre-season. You’re always trying to find the right compromise between the mechanical grip that the suspension’s articulation offers to the tyres and holding the aerodynamic platform at the optimum height from the road, and we believe this is a step forward in helping us achieve that.
When could we see the DDRS making an appearance?
Not for this race as we still have work to do with it. We’ll be trialling the DDRS again between the first round of flyaways and the start of the European season when we have an opportunity to do some straight line testing.