The Host and Nasir give their Austrian Grand Prix preview.
GP2 Rapax driver quickest in opening session at Spielberg
Track length: 7.004 kilometres
Lap record FIA F3 EC: Max Verstappen 2014 (2:11.111 minutes)
Distance: 15 laps
The fifth round of the 2015 FIA Formula 3 European Championship season will be held this weekend at the tradition-rich circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. With Eau Rouge, the 7.004 Ardennes rollercoaster features one of the most famous sections in the motor-racing world and the young drivers are keen on mastering this challenge. Just in his home event at Monza, Italy’s championship leader Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) failed to secure a podium – for the first time this year – so, he is determined to make it back to the rostrum, in Belgium. Tatiana Calderón (Carlin), the only woman in the field, has particularly fond memories of Spa-Francorchamps.
In the current season, Calderón who scored a total of 29 points last year still is waiting for her first points. So, it’s the same situation as last year when the 22 Colombian also travelled to Belgium with no points on her tally – to score her first points at the particularly challenging circuit of Spa-Francorchamps by finishing fifth in the second round of the meeting. On the following six race weekends, the fast Colombian established as regular top-10 contender and always left the race venues with additional points under her belt.
Meanwhile, Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc (Van Amersfoort Racing) and Felix Rosenqvist (Prema Powerteam) are battling for the positions on the very top of the championship standings, with the gap between the three drivers amounting to a total of just 22 points. At the same time, Jake Dennis (Prema Powerteam) in fourth position works hard on closing the gap to the leading trio. The 19-year old Britain is the only one of these four drivers who already secured an FIA Formula 3 European Championship podium at Spa-Francorchamps. Even slightly more successful in last year’s FIA Formula 3 European Championship appearance at the Ardennes track than Dennis, who clinched a third place, was Gustavo Menezes (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin). The 20-year old American with Brazilian roots, currently 10th in the championship, secured two third positions last year, thus being the driver with the best Spa result under his belt on the 2015 grid.
Tatiana Calderón (Carlin): “I always look forward to Spa-Francorchamps as this circuit is just fantastic. Eau Rouge is particularly special although you can go flat out, there, with a Formula 3 car. The entire track is extremely varied – and I am talking not only about the traditionally very changeable Ardennes weather. There are slow, medium fast and several fast sections. You have to find a good set-up for your car and a suiting style of driving – a good compromise between aggressiveness and smoothness. And I think that’s what I succeeded in doing particularly well, last year. My goal for the forthcoming weekend: to score points as you are clearly more relaxed regarding the tasks to come when you have got the first points on your tally. This worked very well for me in 2014 and I hope I will be able to repeat it now.”
The 2015 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a “great race” according to one man who should know: Tom Kristensen, the nine-time record winner and Rolex Testimonee. Mr Le Mans himself. The overall winners at the 83rd running of the race were without question the best in the field, the other class winners also deserving of praise. Luck may play a part in the race; this year’s victors could claim fairly to have earned any that came their way following exceptional performances in overcoming the stresses, strains and competition at the world’s oldest and most renowned endurance motorsport race.
This year’s contest was touted as an exceptional prospect with four major automotive manufacturers represented by eleven of the impressive fourteen strong LM P1 class. Organizers of the race, since founding it in 1923, the Automobile Club de l‘Ouest (ACO) have always placed great store by the fact that the race is a breeding ground for innovation in the automobile industry. The current regulations, introduced in 2014, place great emphasis on fuel efficiency and in the top category encourage the development of advanced hybrid technology to recover and reuse energy generated by the car during racing.
The LM P1 Hybrids receive a set allocation of energy per lap based on their chosen engine/ERS (energy recovery system) combination. Teams can make the choice between big engine/small hybrid system or small engine/ large hybrid assistance. For those teams that raced the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, 2015 would be about evolution rather than revolution in terms of development.
Porsche returned to the LM P1 echelon in 2014. Although quick neither of its cars finished the race, both sidelined with reliability problems. The team made some bold decisions according to its principal Andreas Seidl: “Our objective for this year is to finish on the podium. We have added a third car, which was a big step since it is a lot more than just adding more people to the team but it gives us increased chances to do well at Le Mans.” Every element of the car design was looked at over the winter, and a big change was made to the ERS: “The way the regulations are designed there is an incentive to go in the highest hybrid class. It was pretty clear for our concept that an 8 megajoule system was the way to go.” Early season results suggested it was a good decision: a blisteringly fast car and podium finishes were achieved if not the highest step.
For Audi, winners here last year, improvements were needed to keep ahead of their rivals and results – two wins from two races – in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) indicated the cars might not be as quick as Porsche but could depend upon the highest level of reliability in mechanical and human terms. Unlike Porsche, without a win at this level of endurance motorsport for 16 years, Audi has won 13 of the last 15 races at Le Mans.
Toyota arrived at the temple of sportscar racing on the back of winning the 2014 WEC with spirits low. Their rivals appeared to have progressed further in their close-season developments. The team was putting a brave spin on their situation, as explained by Pascal Vasselon, team Technical Director: “We have made a big step in performance, something like 3 seconds per lap. It should have been enough to keep the lead. The problem is we are facing opposition that have achieved 4 seconds. We definitely believe we have a chance because at Le Mans reliability dominates performance. If we manage the race well we can do well, but no room for mistakes.”
By contrast to the three others, Nissan were the new boys on the block. Similar to Porsche in 2014, it is a manufacturer with considerable racing experience, simply not at this rarefied level. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In this case Ben Bowlby, Team Principal, engineering virtuoso and maverick genius: “The wish to come to Le Mans has been alive for a long time. Ours is a ground up project – an engine from scratch, build a chassis, build a team of people taking all sorts of specialists and making them work together to achieve team spirit. We are going up against15 years of detailed knowledge. If we did exactly the same as the others it would take us a long time. By using innovation we are attempting to leapfrog the design cycle. “
And innovative it has been: a front-engine, front-wheel drive design that immediately sets Nissan apart from the rest of its competitors and every other prototype seen at Le Mans in a decade. Innovation comes at a price at a 24 hour race, especially untested, unproven innovation: “This is a very, very tightly defended crown and very hard to win. If you could just come here and win, it would be worthless. It will take us time but we have set ourselves up with the intention to be competing for victory.”
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is not just about the LM P1 Hybrids. 56 cars formed the grid and included a highly competitive group of LM P2 cars, whose regulations promote efficiency and economy one rung down the technology ladder from the top, and is no less closely fought.
The GTE categories – Professional and Amateur – are, according to the ACO rules, open to cars with “an aptitude for sport with 2 doors, 2 or 2+2 seats, open or closed, which can be used perfectly legally on the open road and available for sale.” The result is a collection of highly desirable gran turismo (grand touring) sports cars from the like of Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Dodge and Chevrolet.
Slower than the prototypes the racing is no less fierce and the category forms a true link back to the origins of the race, when road going cars would be entered. The Amateur tag is another link to tradition, encouraging gentlemen drivers to participate alongside the professionals.
Pastor Maldonado finally opened his 2015 championship points account at the Canadian Grand Prix and is looking to build on his Montréal seventh-place with a strong drive at the Red Bull Ring.
Do you like the Red Bull Ring?
It is an interesting circuit and one I enjoyed visiting last year, even if it was a weekend where we didn’t have the best of results. I think we have much better potential this year with the car and we’ve been looking quite strong recently. It’s great to be able to visit a different type of location for a Grand Prix and the event was really impressive last year; I’m looking forward to returning.
How does it feel to finally open your points account for 2015?
Of course it’s good and there’s a lot of potential yet to come. There are twelve races left in the season so still a lot of opportunity to do well. It’s been frustrating waiting for a points finishing race to come, but now it’s happened it’s like the monkey is off my back and we can push forward for a good season. Certainly, it was a positive weekend for the team in Canada and there’s still lots of potential in the season ahead
How was the Canadian Grand Prix for you in the car?
It was quite an uneventful one and one where I had to do a reasonable amount of managing behind the wheel especially as we went so long on one set of tyres. We weren’t sure how we would be with the tyre degradation, but actually the car felt fine. Of course, I couldn’t push flat out as we wanted to keep to a one-stop strategy as that offered the best opportunity for a good result, but everything worked as we wanted it to. It was good to have an uneventful race and finish in the points.
What was the team’s reaction to you getting those points on the board?
There was a fantastic reaction from everyone in the team and it was great to be part of the team at that moment when I walked back to the garage seeing how everyone was happy for me. Everyone has worked so hard this year and last year too, so it’s really great when you finish a race in the points. This is what we want to do at every Grand Prix and what we want in Austria next
Do you feel that yourself and the E23 Hybrid are a good combination this season?
I think we are a good combination. We do have a good car this year and it’s one which we seem to be able to get working well at different tracks. We know it’s not the fastest car as the Mercedes performs exceptionally well, but it’s one which we can push hard and put up a fight. The other positive is that we seem to be getting on top of all the small reliability issues we had earlier in the year so there’s potential for us to score good points in the races ahead.
What will you be focusing on in Austria?
Just like any Grand Prix we’ll be looking to get the maximum from the car. You need good power in Austria especially with the decent hill there. There are a couple of straights and we’ve been looking good through the speed traps so hopefully we’ll keep that pace. If we can qualify well we should have a great race.
Do you know how to yodel?
This is not something which comes up in our simulation programme but I’m happy to give it a go! Last year’s race in Austria was a great event and left me wanting to see more of the area so why not try some of the local customs!